Are your suggest gift amounts insulting your donors?

Ahh, the gift array. In the world of nonprofit fundraising, that section of suggested gift amounts assembled into neat little buttons has become a classic part of everybody’s online donation form.

Gift arrays have become such a staple that most people don’t question how their use in your donation form helps or hurts your overall revenue — it’s become a case of follow the leader where organizations just assume it’s a good idea because so many other places are doing it. But is it? 

What is your suggested gift array really communicating to your donors? Is it telling them they are appreciated and respected? Or is it making them feel like a money tree being shook out of its roots?

The trick is in how you ask. The classic method of listing your suggested gift amounts has been from lowest to highest, but another trend has emerged in recent years in which nonprofits are suggesting donation amounts from highest to lowest instead.

The idea is that seeing the biggest number first (assuming the donor’s natural eye-path reads from left to right) will subtly convince donors to give more than they otherwise would have.

The psychology at work is not very subtle. This is obviously an attempt set the "standard” gift at the high end, while positioning smaller gifts as good, but further down the ladder. But if it is obvious to us as we discuss it, how transparent is it to your donors? And more importantly, what do they think about it?

A study was conducted to uncover the answer to that question. NextAfter set up a simple A/B test with two otherwise identical donation forms set up opposite trending gift arrays.  
Which gift array arrangement do you think produced the greatest donation rate?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the study found that the high-to-low approach resulted in a net decrease in gifts, both in terms of average giving amount, and total donations made. Across the board, trying to position larger gifts first was ultimately self-defeating.

It’s not hard to imagine why. When you think about the gift suggestions, they are essentially a means of communicating to the donor what you as an organization believe is an acceptable amount to give.

If visitors to your donation page get the impression that their intended $25 donation is an unsatisfactory amount to you (in comparison to the numbers prioritized in your gift array) then they may very well second guess their gift, thinking along the lines of, "Well, 25 bucks won’t amount to much anyway.”

And sure, you wouldn’t be refusing any amount of money, but who wants to feel like their gift is the third or fourth rung "better than nothing I suppose” option? By displaying "suggested” gifts from high-to-low, the lower gifts are psychologically devalued.

All of this takes away from the warm, joyful experience of giving. Every gift should be accepted with genuine appreciating and excitement, that’s how you build lasting bonds with a donor.

What is very interesting about NextAfter’s study is the average decrease in gift amount. While it isn’t hard to picture people getting insulted and deciding not to leave a gift when they see what they can give implicitly insulted, how do we explain the people who did still donate, but less than they would have? It’s likely because the "upgrade” effect a donor might experience from a low-to-high array is lost when the arrangement is reversed.

A donor might see $25 as the first amount suggested in a gift array of $25—$50—$100 and decide to bump up their donation to match the next "tier” gift; they feel more encouraged to do so because their initial, lower amount was deemed desirable from the start. In the reverse (high-to-low), bumping up their initial $25 gift just a little more doesn’t come close to the $100 initial suggestion — psychologically, their gift doesn’t hold as much weight, due to the gift array arrangement.

Think of it this way, it is satisfying to climb a set of stairs towards a goal. Nobody likes the idea of tumbling down them.

Consciously or subconsciously, people read into the way information is communicated to them — the conversation your donation page is having with your potential donors is no exception! No matter which gift array arrangement you decide to use (or if you decide to include one at all), you always want your nonprofit’s messaging to convey a sense of deep appreciation for your donors, rather than a sense of expectation that might just turn them off.

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By Tanya Aquino (RA) on Oct 16, 2019, 12:00 AM

Marketing,Donor Relations

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