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50 Asks in 50 Weeks: The Smarter Way to Raise Money at Your Small Development Shop

Resource Center - Foundation

Do you know how many gifts you asked for last year?

If you’re in a small development shop (defined as two fundraising staff members or less), it’s extremely likely that you asked for less than 50 gifts—probably even many less—and you may not even know it!

One reason that fundraisers, especially in small development shops, don’t raise as much as they could is that asking for gifts often falls to the bottom of a long list of urgent, but ultimately less important work.  This list includes tasks like event planning, database and website management, marketing and other responsibilities.

Think of all the money you would raise if you were able to ask two, three or even four times as often as you currently are.

You may never have thought about it that way before, but it’s true. Asking more frequently, usually results in more raised. Not always, because the asking needs to be done in a smart, effective way, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to try.

It’s about quality, not quantity. However, starting with and following a baseline and knowing how frequently (or infrequently) you’re asking is one major key to fundraising success.

Quality and Quantity in Three Steps

Over the last few years, I’ve developed and refined a concept called 50 Asks in 50 Weeks. The basic premise is that you can ask more often with far greater effectiveness than you ever have before.

The best part is that anyone, even you, with your crazy-busy schedule, can apply these simple principals and significantly increase your fundraising results.

At the AFP International Conference on Fundraising in San Diego I will be talking about 50 Asks in 50 Weeks in a whole new way.

Do you want to raise more money this year? If yes, follow these three steps:

  1. Get Ready – Assess Where You Are
  2. Get Set – Create a Plan
  3. Go! – Implement Your Plan

Whether you currently ask for gifts ten times per year or 100 times per year, you can use this simple tool to raise more money. Once you’re aware of how often you’re asking, asking more frequently will be an extremely obvious way to raise more money. Of course, you have to keep in mind quality, not just quantity.

Unfortunately, asking often gets lost in the shuffle. We need to reprioritize asking – move it forward to the front burner, even if it means that the newsletter doesn’t get out on time.

The goal is to raise so much that you can hire someone to help with your database management, thank you letters and marketing materials.

Step One: Get Ready Assess Where You Are

If you’ve ever done any type of planning, you know that understanding where you are is a critical starting point. Part of assessing where you are involves creating a baseline.

In my book, 50 Asks in 50 Weeks, I outline a specific system for counting asks. Whether you use my system or your own, the key is to be consistent from year-to-year.

  • How many asks did you make last year?
  • How many grants did you apply for?
  • How many individuals did you solicit?
  • How many bulk mail (email or traditional mail) solicitations did you send?
  • How many event sponsorships did you request?

Although this is basic (and for the purposes of this article, doesn’t address the number of gifts you received in each category), it will get you started.

Step Two: Get Ready Create a Plan

In the “get ready” phase, you’ll:

  • Identify prospects
  • Set a goal
  • Create a calendar

It’s important to identify prospects (in other words, prospective donors) for your organization in each area in which you fundraise: individuals, foundations and corporations.

Based on the prospects you have, you can set a goal. Your goal should not be the gap in your budget, but rather the amount you realistically believe you can raise, based on who your prospects are.

Finally, it’s time to create a calendar which reflects your solicitation schedule. The key here is to create a one page development plan, which can be pinned up above your desk.





Bulk Mail

(email & traditional)












































































Once you’ve filled in the blank spaces on your grid, you will have 50 asks, or more!

Of course this oversimplifies the process. Your asks may not be evenly spaced throughout the year, and you will not have the same number in any given category. Adjust the schedule to make it work for you (blank spaces are okay).

Step Three: Go! Implement Your Plan

Now it’s time to ask!

In step 3, accountability is the key to success. I encourage you to implement a weekly development team meeting to stay on track. 

Already have a weekly development meeting? Well, this may be different. This meeting includes the executive director, development staff, administrative staff and appropriate board members. It can be in-person or by phone and only lasts 15 minutes! 

There are only two items on the agenda and they stay the same every week:

  1. What ask(s) did we make last week?  How did it go and is there any follow-up to do? If so, who is responsible?
  2. What ask do we have coming up? Who is responsible for making it happen?

I know it sounds simple, but accountability is another major key to success.

As you’ve probably heard, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. What are you planning on doing differently this year to raise more money?

The Major Gifts Challenge

Although many development directors at small and mid-sized organizations are good at grant writing and event planning, most need more expertise in the area of individual giving or face-to-face fundraising. To address this need, I’ve created a free opportunity to help you raise more major gifts for your organization. Your only obligation?  Just two hours per week whenever it’s convenient for you.

Regardless of whether you’re already raising major gifts or have never asked for a major gift before in your life, the Major Gifts Challenge is for you.  Don’t miss this wonderful opportunity to take your asking to the level.

I hope to see you in San Diego!

Amy Eisenstein, CFRE is a leading nonprofit consultant whose fundraising expertise has helped hundreds of local and national organizations. She will be presenting at the 2013 AFP International Conference on Fundraising in San Diego on Monday, Apr. 8 from 8:00 – 9:15 a.m. Eisenstein’s presentation will be based on her philosophy of 50 asks in 50 weeks. Stop by the AFP Bookstore at the conference for Eisenstein’s book signing on Monday, Apr. 8 from 11:00 –11:30 a.m. For more tips and tricks about how you can raise more money this year, click here.

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