Pick ten random nonprofits, go to their website, click donate, and you are more likely than not to come across the industry standard $25, $50, $100, $250, other, or some variation thereof. While it may be easy to assume that these are the result of some sort of research or organization-driven insight, too frequently online ask arrays are driven by platform built-in defaults, copying what’s working offline, or “gut” instinct, rather than an insight and data driven approach.
That is not to say that there aren’t organizations out there that have heavily invested in, and understand the power of, building the right online ask, amount and structure to drive not only conversions, but average gift and giving frequency. I am simply suggesting that they are in the minority of nonprofit organizations.
While ask-array testing is almost a religion offline, online it hasn’t gotten that much attention. But organizations can and should not only test their ask array as frequently as possible, they should also spend time evaluating what their current ask looks like, and ask themselves if there is already data on hand that would indicate immediate changes which could lead to revenue and donor conversion gains.
Below are some ask array development proven practices, that every development team should make sure to incorporate into their fundraising approach. Most of these can apply across channels, but some are specific to online.
1) Use data to understand how much you should ask for. Let’s say you have the standard $25, $50, etc. ask array. Run a report of all the gifts you’ve received in the last year or 6 months. Create a pivot table or other report (depending on the tool you are using), that groups together the values by volume and total revenue by that gift value. Now sort by most frequency of gift. I bet you will find some interesting data. You’ll probably see a ton of gifts at the $10, $15, and $20 level. This doesn’t mean you need to lower your ask – rather understand there will always be lower dollar donors. On the other hand, you may also see some interesting trends. Perhaps you don’t have a $75 ask, but you see that 10% of your donors are giving at that level via the “other” option. Sounds like it might be time to test the value or add it to your ask array. Similarly, I once worked with a religious organization that had the standard ask online in $25 increments. But looking at their data, donors were all trending toward multiples of $18, an auspicious number. The organization was already using multiples of 18 offline but had not thought to look at their online data. We changed the array and donations increased.
2) Use the same data above to understand the order in which you are structuring your ask array, as well as indicating any default value (for example, $25 is preselected on the donation form). Visual cues are key for donors who scan or who are in a hurry to understand what you expect from them. The order of the array, as well as any indicated default value, are both cues you are sending to the donor (which he or she can of course choose to disregard) as to what you expect from their wallet.
a) Your lead ask amount is the one donors are most likely to remember/process. For donors who do not already have a specific dollar amount in mind, they will use this as a cue. So, if you start with your lowest value, say $25, you will find many donors giving at this level. Try organizing your ask in reverse order: of course most donors won’t give to you at the $500 amount, but it will require donors to look further down all your options and not pick the lowest value. Or lead with a mid-value like $75. Test these options. Don’t just assume they will work. But time and again, testing shows these kinds of adjustments improve revenue.
b) When you preselect a value, you are signaling to your donors that this is how much you expect them to give to you, while providing them the option to give another amount. If you preselect the lowest value, then you are by default trending toward the lower common denominator. It may turn out in your data that while 25% of your donations come from $25, 20% are coming from $50, and their associated revenue (at the higher gift level) is actually much higher. Changing the default selected value to $50 can significantly increase revenue.
3) Show the impact. One of the best things an organization can do when asking for money is to show the impact that money will have. This can be accomplished not just through the marketing and call to action leading to the donation transaction, but at the time of the transaction itself, and specifically, at the ask array level. For example, a food bank might say: $25 can provide 100 pounds of food; $50 can feed a family of 4 for 2 weeks, etc. This allows the donor to associate the specific impact of giving, rather than a general presumption of do-gooding.
You may be thinking, “This may be easy to do for a food bank, but our organization’s mission does not fall so easily into such buckets.” That is absolutely a valid struggle that many organizations have. But think creatively, and remember the importance of using language like “may” and “can” rather than “will” to make sure the funds don’t get designated.
Let’s say you are a health care organization that focuses on research and patient outreach. You may not be able to say something like $25 will buy 17 beakers for a scientist, but you can be more general: $25 gives a mother hope; $50 lets a child know there are people committed to curing this horrible disease. Remember: when being creative like this, it’s always important to test your creativity to confirm it works, but adding impact statements are very likely to make a big difference.
4) Don’t assume you need an ask array. The idea of some number of ask values and “other” has been engrained in our development brains—and there is a good reason for it—it works. But there are some organizations who are moving away from the full array and just leaving an “open” ask, letting the donor enter any amount they like (assuming it is above your minimum threshold). While this is not a known and proven practice, this is something to be tested and thought about if you’ve already optimized, leveraged, created separate sustainer arrays, etc.
5) Provide a more reasonable sustainer array. Speaking of sustainer: how many organizations do you know that have a generic ask array and then just have a toggle between one-time or sustainer? Most. Too many organizations do not have dynamic ask arrays or forms that provide a more reasonable sustainer ask array. I may be willing to give you $100, but I am NOT going to toggle to make that a sustaining gift – you are asking me to increase my giving by 12X! On the other hand, if I selected $100, but then you ask me if I’d prefer to give $10 a month – you’ve now upgraded me by $20 ($10 X 12 months = $120) and provided a more reliable revenue flow. Consider how you might adjust your form to focus on this aspect of the ask array: should you ask donors first if they are interested in a sustaining gift and then show the ask? Should you create separate forms donors can pick from, for example using Kimbia’s form chooser widget to provide a visually attractive, yet optimized, donation experience? The answer is test and yes.
So, whether you are just getting started online, transitioning platforms and taking the time to evaluate how much you ask for, or looking for ways to drive that extra revenue, focusing on the ask array is an important aspect of not leaving money on the table and helping donors understand how much to give to you and the impact that giving can have.