One of the biggest challenges for new fundraisers or those working for a small organization without heavy computer support is often, “What’s the right amount to ask for?” When you are building a face-to-face relationship, you can get clues from the conversations you have with the donor (though it’s never easy!).

But if your contact with a donor is in the mail or online, your choices may be more limited. Especially when you mailing list is smaller, it’s costly to create a specialized version for too many segments based on past giving.

The debate between largest gift and last gift as the anchor for the ask string may never be resolved, but that’s not a reason to give more than a passing thought to how to create your ask. Nick Ellinger, in his free download, “The Science of Ask Strings,” writes, “Heuristics lead to cognitive biases, where we skip over a number of steps in the thought process to arrive at conclusions.”

In other words, what we do can help our donors make a decision about how much to give – and that is a necessary step for them to complete the giving process. The article cites numerous examples, but here are a few to consider:

  1. The average of a donor’s past gifts is most useful for donor retention. Application: test this by building an ask string off the average gift in the last 12 months and see how that compared to one built off the last gift or the largest gift.
  2. Use the last gift as the anchor when your goal is reactivating lapsed donors. Application: test this by using the last gift as high amount and offer an array of downgrades for this segment. After all, your goal right now is reactivation, not upgrading.
  3. Ellinger cites a study that tested $95 vs. $100 in an ask string. The $100 ask increased revenue significantly. Application: test an array of ask amounts with smaller, incremental changes. A switch of as little as $5, as this example shows, can make a meaningful difference.

The common point of each of these applications is “test.” Simply assuming could mean you are leaving money on the table. Begin by testing two variables and then apply those learnings to a future test. But make sure when you test that you have enough volume to provide meaningful results.

If nothing else, the message form this report is, “Don’t take anything for granted in fundraising.” Even the lowly ask string can have a big role in a successful campaign.