If you’re like most nonprofits, you have a fundraising pledge card template. You’ve been using it for years and it includes a series of ask amounts (sometimes called a gift string, gift array, giving ladder, ask array, or ask ladder).
It’s a tried-and-true method that has been proven to increase direct mail fundraising response rates versus an open-ended form that asks the donor to come up with an amount on their own.
But here is the million-dollar question: Do you put the ask amount numbers in order from low to high, or from high to low?
Our recommendation – based on decades of direct mail fundraising for nonprofits – is to present your ask strings in ascending order (the numbers start small, then get higher as you read left to right).
Your campaign pledge card should be in ascending order
When reaching out to your targeted audience: new donors, potential donors, or donors who have lapsed (inactive for a set number of months or years), the goal is to ease these people into giving.
If you’re inviting a former donor to give again, you’ll want to create an appeal using soft, emotional and inspiring language. Your ask string should mirror that approach – starting at a comfortable level that allows the donor to ease him or herself back into the habit of contributing to your organization.
The same principal applies when soliciting new donors. While every fundraising campaign has heard stories about a stranger who suddenly appears and writes a million-dollar check to your organization – reality is quite different. Donors don’t just come out of nowhere with giant gifts – they start small and increase their giving based on their donation experience and view of the organization.
By ordering your ask string in a way that starts with a reasonable amount and then increases the request as the donor continues to read the card, you’re more likely to get a first-time donation to your appeal.
Avoid displaying ask strings in descending order
Fundraising is all about making your donors feel loved and appreciated. Your goal is to make sure that each donor knows their gift is important and valued – no matter the amount.
That message of appreciation gets muddled if you send your donors a pledge card and the first ask amount they see would require them to double or even triple their current giving level.
Use this pledge card example: a donor who has supported your organization with an annual gift of $750. The donor believes deeply in your cause and is excited to give again. Then, she receives your direct mail fundraising campaign in the mail, and goes to fill out the reply card where you’ve put the request amounts in descending order. Suddenly, the donor’s gift doesn’t feel so great anymore.
To the donor, her previous gift level appears to be the lowest possible gift on your string:
If she makes that $750 gift again, she’ll feel like she’s only doing the bare minimum. She’ll feel like a cheapskate. This not only provides a poor experience for your donor, it actually improves the chances they don’t give at all.
She reads through your suggested amounts, and as she does, she thinks:
- “$1,800 – whoa, that’s a lot of money – way more than I normally give”
- “$1,200 – that’s still a lot. What the heck?”
- “$900 – where’s the amount I normally give?”
- “$750 – okay, there it is. But wait, why is this the last option?”
Then, she starts to feel indignant because you’re making her feel cheap. And because you’re asking her to give 5 times more this year than last year! Don’t you know who she is? Why are you being so greedy?! Important to note, there is a specific number of ask amounts you should include on your pledge card.
We see this scenario play out time and time again. But, there is a better way.
Present the perfect ask string
Backed by human psychology and our own fundraising strategies and research studies on creating the perfect nonprofit pledge cards for fundraising…just present the ask string in ascending order.
That same donor, who gave $750 last year, will have a much different experience as she reads the ask string from left to right:
- “$750 – yep, that’s what I usually give, I’ll probably check this box, but let me check and see what the next level up would feel like”
- “$900 – yeah, I could probably do that.”
- $1,200 – you know, I’ve had a really good year, and I love this organization, so maybe I’ll step up this year and do this.”
- “$1,800 – nope, way too high for me right now, let’s go back to $1,200 or $900.”
There is a night and day difference between the two giving experiences. In the first, the donor feels irritated, undervalued, and indignant. In the second, the donor feels appreciated and GENEROUS when she decides to increase her gift.
Don’t just take it from us
In Tom Ahern’s book, If Only You’d Known…You Would Have Raised So Much More Money, the author write about a test he conducted where, “…the largest-to-smallest ask string raised 25 percent LESS. The largest-to-smallest gift array, in fact, was a two-time loser: not only were fewer gifts made, but the average gift was also smaller.”
Want to raise more money and improve your average response rate? Start presenting those asks in ascending order!