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My First Ask -- How Much Do You Want?

June Callwood
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Have you ever wondered, “How do I get rid of this person?”

It could be a new co-worker who drones on about his Porsche and its 3.6L displacement. It could be the office gossip who keeps telling you who was caught after hours with whom. Or it could be the panhandler soliciting spare change, the telemarketer, or the door-to-door salesperson.

We often want to escape from an interaction. Do our potential donors ever feel the same way about us?

Maybe. But that doesn’t mean you’ll lose the gift. It does mean you’ll get less than you hoped for.

Decades ago when I made my first “ask” for an obscure little cause, I gathered quickly that the man I was sitting across from was less than enthusiastic to see me. I got the appointment because I could say that a prominent community member suggested I meet with him.

As I started into my well-rehearsed pitch, the man brusquely interrupted to ask his burning question:

“Will you leave my office right now if I write a check for $1,000?” That was a decent gift for the time and for this particular cause. But it was considerably less than what I had in mind.

June CallwoodThis fellow clearly wasn’t interested in the cause. And he had no reason to pander to me, a young unknown fundraiser. But I was in his office because I had invoked the name of a highly regarded Canadian personality: June Callwood, the visionary volunteer, author and social activist.

I believe his real question to me centered around two things: “How much do you expect me to give?” and “How can I give as little as possible and still satisfy the ‘obligation’ to my friend?”

I admit I was taken aback by his abruptness. But I did manage a laugh and said, “Well, June Callwood said you might be able to give $5,000. Is that possible?”

I had read, no doubt like you have, that once you ask you must stop talking – immediately – and wait for the person to respond. So I simply smiled. In fact, I couldn’t stop smiling.

It seemed a good hour – I bet it was no more than 60 seconds – when he finally blinked and said, “Will you leave my office if I give you $2,000?”

I told him that would be very generous. Two minutes later I had a check in hand as I rode the elevator back to reality.

Over the years, fundraising has got easier for me, and the cheques bigger, but this is just about my all-time favourite ask.

And if I’m in your office, and you want me to leave, I won’t depart for less than 5 figures today.

This article is adapted from Harvey’s Amazon #1 bestselling fundraising book: The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks and the Answers All Donors Crave.


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  • David Vaisbord

    I met June Callwood in Toronto in 2006 less than a year before she passed away, and I'll never forget her vitality, intelligence and charm. I was researching a film about a famous medical marijuana activist, with whom she had had a lot of contact over the years. She gave me some very good advice, which I took. Oh, and Harvey don't miss my ASK at I've finally launched my funding campaign for the Little Mountain documentary! David V
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