By Gina Calvert

The Value of Ask Ladders in Increasing Generosity

Ask ladders are dynamic groups of suggested donation amounts presented to givers in an online giving experience. Also called personalized ask ladders, ask strings, ask arrays/amounts, or giving/gift ladders, this giving form tactic can play a role in increasing donation amounts.

The concept is based on something called the pique technique, which is about capturing attention. An interesting 1994 study of this technique (Source) followed panhandlers asking pedestrians for money. It revealed these surprising asks/results about asking for specific amounts:

  • Can you spare any change? = 44% donated
  • Can you spare a quarter? = 64% donated
  • Can you spare 17 cents/37 cents? = ~75% donated

Ask ladders are known to encourage greater giving. Just seeing a larger number than they had planned can prompt a giver to reach a little deeper into their “pocket.”

How to Plan Your Ask Ladders

There are at least two directions you can go here:

Arrays Based on Giving Behavior:

If someone’s last gift was $100, their next giving experience could automatically nudge the giver to donate a larger gift. This is done by presenting a gift array that starts below but includes $100, and suggests higher amounts, along with the option to give any amount they wish, higher or lower. (i.e. $75, $100, $200, Other:_____). If their last gift was $25, the array might be $15, $25, $50, $100, Other: _____.

Arrays Based on Ministry Need:

Combining an ask ladder with impact equations (tangible results) may inspire givers to increase their donation. For example, if you state that each $20 donation will purchase a box of medical supplies for an upcoming medical mission trip, go ahead and spell out additional amounts: $20 = 1 box of medical supplies, $40 = 2 boxes, $100 = 5 boxes, $500= 25 boxes. (Yes, they could do the math themselves, but there’s an psychological advantage to putting those numbers out there for them.)

Pro tip: Adding your goal (number of boxes you need) further nudges givers to go bigger.

How Ask Ladders Help

A 2016 University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business study explored the value and psychological effects of ask ladders (Source). Dr. Oleg Urminskey, Associate Professor of Marketing, explains the findings:

“There are two different psychological effects happening simultaneously. For instance, if a larger amount is suggested, people tend to donate more, even if they don’t donate the [higher] suggested amount. The default actually changes their frame of reference. So, if I am not donating the suggested amount of $200, then a $100 donation may seem like a better option than a $50 donation, because it is closer to the default.”

On the other hand, he says: “Setting a low default increases participation because it validates or gives permission to make a small contribution. We call this a warm glow at a discount. The problem here is people who could have given more, give less.”

To summarize all of that: Higher asks can result in larger gifts; smaller asks can result in more gifts.

The Value of More Givers vs. Major Givers

We tend to value major gifts more highly than smaller gifts, but the fact is, more givers can be a positive trend. Here’s why: Each giver represents future potential. The more there are of them, the more potential future gifts. And no one giver has the power to sink your financial wellbeing.

Banks know this. When they look at the strength of a church’s finances to determine loan risk, they prefer to see the budget supported by a large base of consistent givers rather than by a small base of major givers. A large base of smaller gifts represents greater stability for the future. So don’t be afraid to test small gift amounts in your ask ladders.

Things to Consider

Plan a diverse strategy:

Urminskey’s study was backed by two actual campaigns that focused on giver types:

  • New givers (no previous gift) were more likely to give when offered smaller gift amounts.
  • Every previous giver gave more when offered larger gift arrays than their previous gift.

Experiment with ask arrays:

Dr Urminskey’s campaigns set ask ladders to automate gift amounts for next gifts with just 3 options: 1) half of last gift, 2) last gift amount, 3) double last gift. You can set more increments in your array, but always include a open option.

Vision2 Ask Ladders

If you’re interested in trying ask ladders, Vision2, the comprehensive giving and stewardship solution, contains this feature, which allows:

  • Custom gift arrays for each ministry designation you offer.
  • Offering catalog items with suggested donation amounts (i.e. prayer shawl). Images can be included.
  • Automated, customized gift arrays based on previous gifts.

Curious about Vision2? Send us your questions.