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A Choice Donors Can Believe In

How often have you seen a letter or e-mail from a nonprofit/community benefit organization giving you multiple choices of what you can support? I’ve seen lots of them, and early on in my career, I probably wrote lots of them, too.
Intutively, it makes sense, no? Give the prospect or donor lots of options to support. They’ll gravitate to one, right? They’ll pick their favorite from the list and write their check to support that program or service.
Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works, according to principles of direct response research. Fact is, if you give most donors a laundry list of services, they won’t be able to focus. In most instances, these donors or prospects will get confused by all the options. And when confusion sets in, the prospective donor will frequently opt out.
Barry Schwartz wrote Paradox of Choice for the Freakonomics column of the NY Times. @jhusson tweeted about this recently. The link: The bottom line: too many choices discourages choice. The research shows, if you give a small number of options to consumers, this can work in your favor; if you give a wide array of choices, headache and decision-avoidance will follow. In my view: less is more.
So, when you’re making your pitch for a donation, keep this in mind:

  • Keep it simple and make the pitch direct and uncomplicated
  • Limit the number of choices you’re asking the donor to support
  • If you’re suggesting a gift amount and the donor has a history with you, indicate last year’s gift as an option, and offer graduated increments upwards…with a ____ at the end
  • Connect the appeal with people receiving your service
  • A story about a person receiving the service is the best approach

By the way. A tip of the hat to Jim Husson, Senior Vice President of University Advancement at Boston College, for posting this on Twitter. Jim has a solid perspective on what makes donation work.

Oh. And the more you practice, the more you look at what “the competition” is doing, the more you meet colleagues in this business and share ideas, the more effective you’ll be. And your board will love you!

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