It is a well-worn and true cliché in the fundraising world that a primary reason many donors give is “because they were asked.” But when it comes to how you ask, the situation gets a bit murkier.
What is the best way to ask a donor that will prompt them to make their best gift for a certain purpose at a certain time? One specific area of confusion and concern we often encounter among even experienced fundraisers is the idea of a suggested gift amount.
Is it rude to pressure them to give that much? What if they planned to give, but I ask for too much and I offend them? Am I asking them for enough? Would they give more if I left the amount unsaid?
These types of questions often lead to significant hand-wringing, and sometimes delayed solicitations as professional fundraisers weigh how much to ask for from their donors. The research on suggesting gift amounts, however, is not as robust as the research showing that the act of asking spurs donations.
That is why I was intrigued by a recent study conducted by two University of Chicago professors in partnership with the development office of the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point. Their experiment found that suggesting a gift amount had very interesting effects. The study utilized different scripts to solicit random groups of prospects contacted through a phonathon. Some potential donors were asked to give a specific amount ($20) while others were asked to give without a specific target gift.
The study generated the following key findings:
Obviously these results are very focused on a low dollar gift, and don’t necessarily translate to major gift asks, but it does give us a well-tested hypothesis that suggests not only are people more likely to give when asked, they are also more likely to give you what you ask for if you are specific. This article explores a number of other angles on the topic and is worth a read for those who like experimental philanthropy research.