Gift amount is the key indicator for a donor’s long-term value. Here are three ideas for testing your gift array. They are designed to increase the average gift amount on your online donation pages.

1. Increase the amount of the lowest ask

People are surprisingly susceptible to having numbers—even random numbers—affect their rational thinking. This is called the anchoring effect, when an initial piece of information is used to make subsequent judgments.

In one study, donors who were asked if they would donate $5 went on to donate $20 on average. But donors asked if they would give $400 made an average gift of $143.

Out-of-the box donation forms usually start with some low number, $15 or $20. When the first number would-be donors see is this low, it anchors their mind to a lower gift amount, dragging down the average gift.

Test: Make the lowest ask about equal with your median online gift.

2. Reverse the order

Read through the following sentences:

“Steve is smart, diligent, critical, impulsive, and jealous.”

“Steve is jealous, impulsive, critical, diligent, and smart.”

Researchers found that people who saw the first statement had more positive feelings about Steve, compared to those who heard the second—even though they are the same set of traits.

This is a cognitive bias called primacy effect, we put extra importance on the first items we see over those that come later.

Most online donation forms start with the lowest ask in the array and build to the largest, giving the smallest amount primacy. Not surprisingly, more often than not people pick the first option.

Test: Reverse the order of your ask array, starting with the largest ask and ending with the smallest.

3. Make the biggest ask really big

Next time you’re at a nice restaurant, flip to the end of the menu and find the highest priced item. Often it will be something like seasonal fish and it will be priced twice as high as the next highest item. That item is a decoy and likely the restaurant doesn’t want you to purchase it, they just want you to think that the next most expensive item doesn’t look quite so spendy by comparison.

This works because of a cognitive bias known as contrast effect, where items are reduced or enhanced based on contrasting items recently observed.

You can take advantage of this effect on your donation form by adding an extra large option to the ask array. Most people will never give that $1,000 gift (though if you pick up one it’s worth the test), but it will make the next largest ask look doable by comparison.

Test: Add an extra large ask to your ask array.

What are you waiting for? Set up these A/B tests on your donation forms and see if they increase the average value of your online gifts.

I’d love to hear how these — or any other ideas you test — turn out. Let me know at

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Mark Neigh

Mark Neigh

Mark is a curious observer, turning misfit insights into innovative ideas. He draws from his experience as a Digital Strategist for Fortune 500 companies (LEGO, Nintendo) and forward-thinking non-profits (Feeding America, Prison Fellowship) to expertly use digital media to further our clients’ missions to change the world.

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  1. Brian Olson says:

    This is great stuff, Mark! Just one question:should these three things be combined to where you have an array that starts with the over-the-top amount, then the next highest, then ends with the low amount? (Example: $1,000 $100 $50)

    • Mark Neigh Mark Neigh says:

      I think that’d be a great test. Phoenix Rescue Mission does something like that: Though their decoy is a little lower ($200), it still does the work of making the $125 look more manageable by comparison. If you test it, let me know how it goes.

      • Brian Olson says:

        BTW, on that donation page, the Designation section says “Whenever the need is greatest.” Should that be “Wherever” instead of “Whenever”?
        Not sure if these guys are clients of yours, but that might be something to pass along to them.
        Thanks again!

  2. Brian Olson says:

    OK, great. Thanks for the tips, Mark! I’ll see if we can test it here and let you know later.

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