There is no platonic ideal for an ask string. It varies organization to organization, piece to piece. Testing is really is the only way to determine what asks work best for your organization.
Nor is it a place where asks translate well by medium. Generally speaking, an average online gift can be 2-3 times higher than an average mail gift (why, you ask, would you then bother with mail? Because retention rates on online giving are much, much lower than mail or telemarketing).
There are two types of ask strings – one fixed, when you don’t know who is going to give what, and one variable, when you have a history with a donor.
Tests that work for both
- Generally, you want at least three options. Probably no more than seven. In there is a lot of room for testing.
- You will more often see ask strings ascend, but testing descending can frequently add value. Sometimes having them somewhat out of order works best – I’ve seen controls that ask for $15, $10, $25, or $50.
- No dollar sign. There is some psychological evidence that seeing signs of money actually make people thriftier (hence why they are omitted on pricey restaurant menus). Try without
- What do you call your other category? Some say an indicator like “Your most generous gift:” or “Your best gift:” strikes a better chord than “Other:” (How could it not?)
- Circle the goal. Often, you will circle an amount that isn’t your highest, but isn’t the lowest, with a note along the lines of “Your $X gift today would really help those incontinent badgers you love so much!” The idea is to try to upgrade the donor or get a higher gift amount in acquisition. Social proof – adding a line like “most people in [your city] give this amount – can also help. This helps a donor classify your organization and avoids awkwardness like the question of how much you should tip your Uber driver. (Seriously, how much should you tip your Uber driver? Please leave comments in the notes, as it’s one thing I can’t effectively test.)
Fixed ask string tests
- Mission tie-ins and odd amounts. Why ask for $15 when $17 is what you really need to help buy art supplies for an inner city youth? This compelling why also creates a strong tie between the letter and the response device.
- Social/cultural tie-ins. If you are focusing on a particular audience or demographic, some numbers have important tie-ins. Some Jewish people believe in giving in multiples of $18 (Chai in Hebrew means living; the letters of chai add up to 18, so “giving chai” is considered to be especially fortunate). In Chinese, eight is especially lucky and 88 more so, as the number eight is pronounced similarly to prosper or wealth. Eight is used like nine is in the US in prices (e.g., $1.88 versus $1.99 – they really just both mean $2). Conversely, four is unlucky in both Chinese and Japanese, because it is homophonous to the word for death in both languages.
- Where to start? A good rule of thumb is to start your ask string around where your current gifts are, but you may find that you test up from there. Another tip is to look at the list you are renting – if you are getting donors $20+, you wouldn’t want to start your ask string any lower than $20. If it’s $5+, you may (or may not) go that low.
- Do you have to use these? If you can make your acquisition purchases in segments (e.g., give me all of your $10+ donors and all of your $50+ donors), you have dual benefits – you can use the $50+ donors as multis and you can start one ask string at $10 and the other at $50.
Variable ask strings
- Highest previous contribution (HPC) v. the previous contribution. Let’s say you gave $50 to a nonprofit, then $25. Should they next ask you for $50, $75, or $100? Or $25, $37, and $50?
- Multiplier: HPC, 1.5 HPC, and 2 HPC is probably most common, but I’ve seen HPC, 2 HPC, 4 HPC, and 8 HPC be effective (on a matching gift campaign in particular, where the idea of doubling is already planted)
- To round or not to round? If someone make an odd gift of $27, should you next ask them for $27, $40.50, and $54? Generally not; cents don’t make sense. $27, $41, $54? $30, $45, $60? Rounding out ask strings can help you get out of weird numbers that consistent upgrading can create (e.g., if you donate $30, then upgrade by 50% each time, that’s $45, $67.50, $101.25, then $151.875. And if you haven’t got a ha’penny, then God bless you). On the other hand, if someone is giving $18 or $88 for a reason, it also rounds that out.
As with many things, testing this online is far easier and cheaper. But testing online is a different blog post for a different time.
Has anyone else found success with an innovative ask string? Please post in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.