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AdvanceWork: Testing Assumptions

By Elizabeth Hedstrom




Problem: An increasingly common practice in phonathons — using an initial ask amount of $1,000 or more when calling nondonors — seemed questionable to Gregory T. Hawley, annual fund coordinator at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. "Direct observation was telling me that $1,000 was scaring off a lot of folks," he says.

Solution: For the university's fall 1999 phonathon, Hawley devised four scripts, each with a different four-tiered ask structure. His student callers tested each structure on a group of 250 nondonors.

In keeping with conventional wisdom, the worst results came from the lowest ask structure. A request for $100, $50, $25, or a gift of any size generated an average gift of $39.86 and a pledge rate of only 15.6 percent. But the highest ask structure — $1,000, $500, $250, and $100 — produced the second smallest average gift, $67.44, with a 17.2 percent pledge rate.

The best results came from a comparatively modest request: $250, $100, $50, or $25. It inspired gifts averaging $86.32 and a pledge rate of 19.6 percent. The other mid-range ask structure — $500, $250, $100, and $50 — resulted in the second-largest average gift, $72.20, and a 16.8 percent pledge rate.

"Constituents with no history of giving are more likely to give to a cause, and to give a significant first gift, if they perceive the effort to be serious," Hawley, now director of annual giving at Alfred University, concludes. "They are less likely to give to an effort, however, if they feel their gift will not be of significance."

His advice for other campuses is to "test practices, even practices we believe are proven. You might be surprised at what you find." And, he stresses, "Test for yourself. Each institution's donor base is different."

About the Author Elizabeth Hedstrom

 

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