Read Before Your Next Ask String Test

Nick Ellinger
January 3, 2020

Read before your next ask string test

Since we published The Science of Ask Strings, we’ve gotten the question “what should my ask string be?” or “what should I test on my ask string?”

The answer is always always “It depends.”  You can make great steps with simple tweaks in your ask string.  But you must first know where you want to go. The two directions can simplified as “more donors and lower average gift” and “fewer donors and higher average gift.”

This is because while there are some tactics that we talked about in the Salsa Labs webinar that can improve both average gift and response rate (e.g., including $100 in your ask string), most such tactics will get you one at the expense of the other.

This the idea of Pareto efficiency.  Yes, the same guy that discovered the 80-20 rule.  He also posited that there are some circumstances where you can’t get any better without trading off.  To oversimplify, would you rather have five $20 donors or two $50 donors?

There are advantages to each.  In the “more donors” camp, you have:

  • Economies of scale. With volume comes price discounts, lowering your costs.
  • Opportunities for customization.  It takes a critical mass to make it worthwhile to do customization that can lift revenues.  Donor scale helps you reach that.
  • Lower acquisition costs.  Lower average gift donors are usually less costly to acquire.
  • Hidden gems.  ASPCA did a study years back and found many of their planned givers were those who had donated $5 or $10 at a time.  Turned out, they were saving their money in part to make a large bequest.
  • Additional reach and constituents.  Fundraising isn’t the only reason to reach out to the public (gasp!).  Scale can help with advocacy efforts, awareness of your cause, and programmatic reach.  More donors means more reach for more than just fundraising.
  • Something easy to explain to your boss.  Don’t underestimate the persuasive power of a graph going up as it goes to the right.

In the higher average gift camp, you have:

  • Donors that pay for themselves.  While some $5 donors may be hidden gems, the rest may cost more to get a gift from than the gift value itself.  I’m strongly on Team Overhead Ratios Don’t’ Matter, but you cross the line when you are throwing good money after bad.
  • Greater fundraising efficiency.  If that matters to you.
  • Locked-in higher-level donors.  The goal with lower-dollar donors is to get them, then upgrade.  Not only do most donors not give again, but the ones that do usually do not upgrade.  Thus, a higher-level gift means a higher-value donor.
  • Higher retention rates.  Someone who gives more generally is more likely to make the next gift as well, another reason these donors will have higher lifetime value.
  • Focus.  The converse of economies of scale – you can spend more effort focusing on the fewer donors than matter more.

These are not mutually exclusive strategies.  You may decide that your goal for lapsed donors is more donors – we just want them to give again – but that the goal for active donors is to get a higher average gift.  Or just trying to get any non-event gift from event donors versus maximizing direct response donors’ value. Or separating out your most committed donors or the ones with the most relevant donor identities for you and pushing the envelope on value.

However you slice it, ask strings are a perfect place to push that level one way or the other.  In the aforementioned webinar, we talk about how you can boost average gift with anchoring and strong defaults, response rates with social proof, and how to make the decision about revenue trade-offs.  Hope you enjoy!

Nick Ellinger is Vice President of Marketing Strategy for DonorVoice, working with clients like Catholic Relief Services, Ducks Unlimited, Share Our Strength | No Kid Hungry, and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Foundation to maximize their fundraising efforts.

Topics: Nonprofit Marketing
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