What you ask for matters.

If you haven’t finished your end of year appeal, one of the decisions you are probably agonizing over is the ask amount—what numbers to put in your “gift string” or “gift array”—those numbers that you will use on your response card or envelope to suggest gift sizes to donors.

Thinking carefully about these numbers is wise.  What you suggest matters.

And if you’re agonizing about which numbers to suggest, there are good reasons for your uncertainty.  Despite the buzz about “big data” and our ever-better tools for analyzing it, determining which suggestions are the most effective ones for your donors is still as much of an art as a science.

Suggesting too small of a number results in smaller gifts, but suggesting too much is no good either.

Generally, when you present the donor with larger amounts, you tend to receive larger gifts and, conversely, when you ask for smaller gifts, you get smaller gifts so choose your ask carefully.  However, as Ruffalo Cody points out in a newly released white paper on gift array testing, unrealistic, overly aggressive ask amounts backfire and result in lower levels of giving.

Ruffalo Cody’s white paper is helpful.  Here are some key take-aways that can guide your ask strategy:

  • Present donors with no more than 3 different ask amounts (as well as the “other” option).
  • Arrange your gift array from lowest to highest.
  • Personalize the gift array.
  • There is no consensus on the formula to use to determine the suggested gift amounts.

This is the origin of the agony.  We all know it matters, but don’t know what to do about it. 

The most commonly used formulas are these:

  1. Suggest to the donor gift amounts that are (a) equal to the donor’s gift from last year, (b) 1.25 times the donor’s prior year gift, or (c) 1.5 times the prior year’s gift.
  2. To suggest more aggressively, offer your donors the choice of amounts (a) equal to the donor’s last year’s gift, (b) 1.5 times the donor’s prior gift, and (c) 2.0 times the donor’s prior gift.
  3. Even more aggressively, suggest an amount that represents (a) last year’s gift + (+$10 or $20), (b) 1.25 times option a, and (c) 1.5 times option a.
  4. Another strategy employed by many is to tie the suggested amounts to the cost of a unit of service.  One organization in my community, for example, calculated that the cost to provide one hour of therapy to a child that was recovering from abuse is $44.  The organization’s ask revolved around that amount (and guess what I gave? – $44!). Use your unit of service as your suggested ask guide.

Consider your gift array choices carefully.  While one strategy doesn’t fit all, it’s clear that asking matters.