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How to Set Suggested Donation Amounts in Your Direct Mail Appeal

Most fundraising professionals know that direct mail fundraising appeals are still one of the best ways to engage donors and raise support for their important cause. Yet, many nonprofits are still sending every donor the same letter and the same suggested donation amounts, instead of considering different donor personas. Today, we’re discussing how to set suggested donation amounts to increase donor retention and improve your fundraising results! 

The best appeal letters include personalization pertaining to each donor and setting individualized ask amounts on the pledge card. Yet most nonprofits either ask donors for the same default amount, set high/medium/low suggested amounts, or incrementally ask donors for 10% more than the previous year. 

By individualizing your direct mail fundraising letters and ask amounts, your nonprofit can stand out from the stack of mail your donors receive every day. This article covers why some strategies leave money on the table, the science behind setting the right suggested amount, and how to improve your direct mail fundraising. 

Direct Mail for Nonprofits- What Works and What Doesn’t 

Our team at AskGenius wanted to find out how fundraisers set suggested donation amounts in direct mail appeals. So, we asked nonprofits across the United States to send us copies of their fundraising pledge card template or donation form . One thing the research found was these nonprofits were using one of two types of pledge cards. The first is an open-ended pledge card – giving the donor the freedom to write in their donation amount on an open line. The second is a pledge card with suggested ask amounts – presenting the donor with a prewritten set of numbers to choose from, commonly called an “ask string”. The open-ended pledge card worked best for major donors, and the pledge card with suggested donation amounts worked best for everyone else. These strategies can help increase the average donation. 

Our research also determined that most nonprofits were doing one of three things: 

  1. Sending every donor the same suggested donation amount- we know a default amount makes your life easier and gets the mailing out the door faster, but it leaves a ton of money on the table! 
  2. Sending donors generic high, medium, or low ask amounts- a better strategy, but not quite there; this strategy could still bring about asking for too low of a donation amount. 
  3. Sending donors suggested donation amounts that slightly higher or about 10% more than last year’s gift- they have the right idea to invite the donor to increase their donation, but a flat percentage increase across the board isn’t the right fit for every donor and still often leads to under-asking. 

The best results come from setting custom suggested donation amounts for each of your donors based on all that hard-earned data you have stored in your database. Though it can be time-consuming, that extra care in setting personalized ask strings pays off dividends. AskGenius also built a tool that can help you save a lot of time personalizing ask amounts.  

Most Nonprofits Don’t Ask for Enough in the Direct Mail 

After years of working with nonprofit clients, AskGenius found that many nonprofits are reluctant to ask donors for increased donations on their pledge cards, fearing they will alienate some donors. Most fundraisers were taking the easy route by setting an average donation amount as the standard suggested donation in their mailings. Remember though, fundraising isn’t for the faint of heart- you’ve got this! Be brave and set higher suggested donation amounts by using the science behind ask strings and donor personas.  

Begin by understanding donor personas:  

  1. Steady Eddie– no matter what your suggested donation is, Eddie is going to remain steady and give that same $100 year after year.  
  2. First Gift Fran– Fran is a first-time donor and represents the biggest opportunity for increased giving, but first you need to provide a delightful donor experience! 
  3. Campaign Cathy– she supported your capital campaign. Now use your direct mail appeal to recognize Cathy’s campaign generosity and set an ask amount based on her capacity as indicated by her capital campaign gift. 
  4. Checkbox Charlie– he will give any reasonable amount he is asked for, so ask for a reasonable increase while expressing your appreciation. 
  5. Infrequent Earl– he gives generously, but not every year. If you’re basing your ask amounts off gifts from last year’s appeal, you might miss the mark and under-ask if he took that year off. You need to understand Earl’s giving patterns and ask accordingly. He’ll end up being your second biggest opportunity to raise more money. 
  6. Hidden Gem Helen– she has been giving $100 for a few years, but you realize she has much more potential after seeing her name on a building. Don’t send her suggested amounts. Instead, go reach out in person.  

Once you understand donor personas you can begin to customize the ask amounts in your direct mail for each donor. These donor personas can help your nonprofit with the question of how to ask for a suggested donation amount. The answer is customization for each donor. With an outstanding, heartfelt donation ask letter and a response card with individualized ask amounts for every donor, you will start raising more money than ever before. You will begin to see your average donation go up, thus increasing the money raised for your important mission. 

Asking for Donations Might be Easy for You, but the Science of Suggest Donation Amounts May Seem Overwhelming 

Even the most seasoned fundraisers sometimes struggle to find the time to determine the best wording for their fundraising letters or the right formula for setting suggested donation amounts. Year after year they use the same, tired strategy and suggest the same average donation amounts for every donor, because “that’s how we’ve always done it” and it’s convenient. But convenience doesn’t delight donors and it doesn’t raise the most money. The nonprofits who have the best performing direct mail create highly personalized letters and set custom ask strings for donors on their donation forms. 

Tools like AskGenius can help set personalized ask amounts for every donor, taking into account the science behind ask strings, using data you are already collecting, and wealth screening information. Click here to sign up for a demo of AskGenius today.  

View our recent webinar to hear more about the science and strategy behind donor personas and the science of setting suggested donations.  

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