Stuck in a formulaic rut? Know this: little changes to your nonprofit’s gift string can make a big difference to your bottom line. Here, a few ways to break free...
Call it a gift string, ask string, ask array - or simply the series of suggested donations on your donation response form.
But however you describe your gift string, how much you ask for is just as important as how you ask. Too much can be off-putting, too little drives your donations downward.
This article looks at two tried-and-true gift string equations, along with a few examples of what can happen when you think outside the tick box.
Let's begin with the basics: gift string formulas.
When deciding on amounts, most nonprofits and nonprofit agencies apply one of two formulas:
1. Percentage of Prior Year Gift: when you have a giving history for your donors, a typical formula to apply to your gift string will be 1X, 1.25X, 1.5X (or 2X) the prior year's donation.
So if I gave $40 last year, this year my gift string might be: $40, $60 and $80.
2. Fixed Amount Increase: this simply involves adding a fixed amount to the prior year's gift. So, gift+10, gift+20, etc. Using the same forty dollar gift, this yields: $40, $50 and $60.
Note: If you don't have a giving history, you'll need to pre-select fixed amounts.
And to prevent a donor disconnect, sound advice from Mal Warwick's Newsletter: "any gift string mentioned in your letter should be consistent with the reply. For instance, if you list a string of '$25, $35, $50, $100, or more' in your letter copy, try to use the same string on the response form."
But, donors being real people and all, formulas don't tell the whole tale, as World Wildlife Fund recently realized...
Midway through "Anatomy of a Control" in the December issue of Inside Direct Mail (print edition) sits a brilliant example of donor-centered thinking by World Wildlife Fund.
Knowing many of its donors were struggling through this tough economy, WWF decided to challenge the ever-popular 1/1.25/1.5 formula described above.
It began testing lower ask amounts, specifically .75, 1, 1.25, and 1.5 the prior year's gift.
As you might predict, the average gift did drop. But, according to Inside Direct Mail, "response has increased and overall revenue has increased" [my emphasis added]. In fact the article notes that WWF has since retested the string with the same results.
Plus, two more breakthrough gift string strategies. Both found on SOFII:
1. You can ask for more ... a lot more ... nearly four hundred thousand dollars more. Greenpeace did, to the tune of two hundred fifty thousand British pounds (two hundred thousand of which it received in a single gift.) Greenpeace's Big Ask, on SOFII.
2. You can ask for nothing at all, and let the donor decide instead. The results may, well, surprise you: The Surprise Us! case study, on SOFII.
So, now that you have the skinny on gift strings, one question remains: how will you rethink yours?
Let me know how you do.