Five Maples’ Direct Mail Fundraising Blog

Why anchoring improves your average donation.

Any of us who have been trained in making major gifts have been told to ask for a ‘stretch’ amount. Psychologists call the first amount to be mentioned an ‘anchor’.

Noble prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman discusses anchoring in chapter 11 of his best seller “Thinking, Fast and Slow”. An anchor has a priming effect, and Kahneman says that “Any prime will tend to evoke information that is compatible with it.”

How anchoring works.

Anchoring works without the participant being aware of its influence. It is an automatic function of the brain. It works even on experts in their own field, even when they believe they are immune to it.

In an experiment reported by Kahenman, real estate agents were asked to visit a house on the market, evaluate a booklet of information that included a listing price; then determine what they would pay to buy that house. Half the agents saw a high listing price, and half saw a low listing price. The agents who saw the high asking price were willing to pay 41% more than the agents who saw the low asking price. All the agents saw the same house and the same information and used their best professional judgment. The only difference was the asking price.

In another, disturbing, experiment reported by Kahneman, judges with at least 15 years experience reviewed a description of a shoplifter. Then they were asked to specify a sentence. But just before deciding they were asked to roll a pair of dice. Judges who rolled a 9 specified a sentence of 8 months; those who rolled a 3 said they would sentence her to 5 months–an anchoring effect of more than 50%.

Does anchoring work in asking for donations?

Kahneman reports powerful anchoring effects when people choose how much to contribute to a cause. In an experiment he conducted at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, participants were told about environmental damage and asked about their willingness to make an annual contribution to save 50,000 offshore seabirds from oil spills.

  • Some of the visitors were first asked an anchoring question: “Would you be willing to pay $5….”? Some were asked “Would you willing to pay $400…?”
  • Those who were not given an anchor were willing to pay $64 on average.
  • When the anchor amount was $5, the average contribution was $20.
  • When the anchor was $400, the average contribution was $143

Anchoring is why all direct mail fundraising experts advise asking for a specific amount based on that individual’s history of giving and capacity.

That’s why we’ve developed our Recommended Ask String Table for use by direct mail fundraisers. Read the following posts to find out how it works. You can download the table: it’s included in How Ask Strings Work.

For more information on asking, read the following posts:
Why anchoring improves your average donation.
Why you should ask your donors for $100.
Ask strings for donations above $100: How to do it.
How to use ask sentences to sustain and increase giving.

Download “How Ask Strings Work”

Download Primer: How to Use Ask Sentences

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