Five Maples’ Fundraising Blog

It’s time to lose your old remit envelope

Let’s examine a common question of appeal mailings: Should I use a variable reply card with variable ask string instead of a remit envelope with a static ask string?

The short answer is yes. Why?Variable Reply Card vs Static

Here’s a scenario for you: Your teenage daughter asks you for $100 to go out with her friends (again?!). Being stern but fair, you hand her $50. Fifty seems like a reasonable amount based on her request. Little do you know, she’s only going to the movies, and really only needs $25, but that’s beside the point.

This is called anchoring. Your mind stuck on the initial ask and made a decision based on its influence. Read more about it here.

The point is, inappropriately asking your donors by using a static ask string can have a negative effect on your appeal and annual fund for a few reasons:

  1. You may be setting the bar too low, and donors who could give more are anchored to donate at a lower amount.
  2. Alternately, smaller donors could be scared away by your largest ask amount ($5000 or $1000).
  3. If you’re appealing to previous donors, you aren’t taking their giving history into account.

Remember, asking for charitable donations is the fundamental meat of an appeal. It is nearly impossible to create a remit envelope that appropriately covers your whole range of donors. So, in your appeals, ask the right way, with the most impact, and best results:

A variable ask on a variable reply card.

A variable reply card is a better experience for your donor. With their contact info pre-printed, it’s easier and quicker to fill out. More importantly, you can include customized ask strings based off each donor’s giving history. This means the three amounts are reasonable and appropriate for the individual. Always list the three ask amounts from highest to lowest, aiming to move donors up to the next round number level.

Example 1: The last gift was $25. The ask string should read: $100, $50, $25

Placing the highest ask first makes $50 seem like the reasonable choice. If $25 was the first choice, your donor would be anchored to the lowest amount and $100 would look like a huge stretch. The numbers are round, easy to absorb and select.

Example 2: The last gift was $41. The ask string should read: $100, $75, $50.

The numbers are round and easy to cognitively digest, which is why we round the third number up to $50.


Don’t recycle your remit envelopes yet!

Although Nick Ellinger, author of “The Science of Ask Strings” (an industry-favorite reference doc about everything ask strings) says to avoid the static ask whenever possible, he does recognize that there are a few circumstances when it’s appropriate.

  • An acquisition mailing where your recipients are nondonors and therefore do not have any giving history with your organization.
  • “Soft ask” communications—non-appeal mailings—like newsletters, donor impact reports, holiday cards, magazines, etc. In these cases, including a remit envelope with a static ask is a soft reminder and doesn’t contribute to over soliciting. If someone is moved by the information you’ve provided about the great work you’re doing, they may turn in a gift.

Download our guide “How Ask Strings Work” for more ideas on how to incorporate a variable ask into your appeals (or get some more tips from your clever teenage daughter).

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