While many fundraisers use data analytics to determine the ask strings for fundraising appeals, others “go with their gut” to make that determination. However, two researchers at the University of Chicago took it a step further and conducted a study to determine the impact of suggested gift amounts on donations.

While the results are fairly intuitive to a seasoned fundraiser, they still are worth reflecting on as we plan our appeal strategies. Not surprisingly, a higher gift array generates larger gifts – but not as many donations as a lower gift array. In other words, a lower ask amount generates more participation as people feel the “cost of admission” is more in line with their giving intentions. However, a higher ask will cause many donors to actually give more; but the downside is that fewer of them will actually give.

One of the conclusions of the research was that neither a higher gift array or a lower one is guaranteed to raise more income. So in the absence of a hard-and-fast rule, what should the fundraiser do?

Think about what you want to accomplish when establishing the gift array for an appeal. Are you looking to get more donors involved, or to maximize the net income? According to one of the study authors, “Lower defaults are most effective when organizations are looking to cultivate their donor bases.”

Raising money for a charitable cause is difficult, given competition from the burgeoning nonprofit sector as well as from other options for an individual’s disposable income. While this study doesn’t give us a foolproof formula for how much to ask, it does remind us that paying attention to our main objective is essential. Some goals in fundraising can compete against one another; for example, trying to raise the average gift can reduce overall response.

So the next time you sit down to plan a mailing or online campaign, ask yourself, “What’s a win for this appeal?” That should then influence the gift array you put in front of your would-be donors for consideration.