Paradox of Choice

July 31, 2015 - by Lesley Hostetter

I recently received an appeal in the mail from an organization I support. The letter and case for support were strong, but when I got to the reply form, my head started to hurt. There were so many choices!

To begin with, I had to choose one of three different ways to give.

I could make:

  1. a one-time gift to the C4

  2. a one-time gift to the C3, or

  3. a monthly gift to (circle one) the C3 or C4 – another choice!

Each option had different suggested gift amounts, forcing me to think even harder about my choice. Should I really give a larger amount to the C3, as the ask string suggested, since my gift would be tax deductible? Wait a minute – what have I donated to in the past – the C3 or C4?

Hmm, I should probably figure that out before giving again.

At this point, I was starting to lose any motivation I had for donating. But, I continued to review the reply. And what did I find? More options!

I could:

  1. give by check to the C3,

  2. give by check to the C4, or

  3. give by credit card (circle one!) to C3 or C4.

Then, to make my choice even more difficult, on the bottom portion of the reply, I learned of four more ways to enhance my giving!

I could:

  1. give monthly

  2. get my employer to match my gift

  3. make a gift of stock, or

  4. make a legacy gift.

So, what choice did I make?

I chose to do nothing. I didn’t give because the choices overwhelmed me, and I got the sense that the organization didn’t know how they wanted me to give either.

While Americans love to have plenty of choices in virtually every aspect of their lives, in the world of direct response fundraising, we need to be careful about how many choices we offer donors. When presented with choices – especially too many choices – most people will act like I did, and simply do nothing.

Does this mean that we should only ever offer one way to donate? Not necessarily.

Several non-profits we work with have found great success with appeals that ask donors to give in one of two ways: with a one-time gift or by giving monthly. This choice is explained in the letter and then reiterated on the reply form (using the back of the form for payment information, keeping the front “clean” and simple).

Not only do these organizations have success converting donors to sustainers, they also see an uptick in one-time response rate. Why?

We can never know for sure, but my hypothesis is that donors see the monthly giving option and, while they may recognize that this is helpful to the organization, they don’t want to commit to it. So they end up feeling guilty, and choose to make a one-time gift instead. In this situation, having two choices actually improves fundraising!

It reminds me of a story I recently read about Williams-Sonoma. They used to only sell one breadmaker for $279, but no one ever bought it. What did they do to increase sales? They introduced a second breadmaker for $429. When shoppers saw the more expensive model, it moved them to buy the less expensive one. All of a sudden, sales for the original breadmaker surged.

Having too many choices can paralyze us, but so can having too few choices.

So, what’s a direct response fundraiser to do? It’s critical that we test. Test the offer, test the number of giving options, test the placement of these options on the reply form, test the ask amounts. The testing options are virtually limitless.

Alongside testing, use your intuition. Look over your reply forms and ask strategies before you mail. Are they straightforward? Is it clear what the “best” option is? Make sure that your offer is clearly phrased and compelling, aligned with the letter copy, prominent on the reply form, and easy to say “Yes!” to.

Put yourself in the donor’s shoes and look at everything from his or her perspective. Above all, don’t make them think too hard!

 

eNews Signup

If you enjoyed this article and would like to be alerted when the next one is published, please enter your email address

Enews Articles

August 2017

Case Study: Using SMS to Get Donations at Year-End

May 2017

#17NTC 17 Tips for YOU!

February 2017

What (and Who) We Should Be Asking About State Laws

January 2017

2016 Digital Year-End: An Inbox Audit

September 2016

Production Blog

December 2015

An Ode to Sharing

October 2015

The Great Pumpkin and the Myth of the Unsolicited Donation

July 2015

#Bridge15 Take-aways

June 2015

Lady Gaga and the Importance of Relationships

May 2015

Back to the (Digital) Drawing Board

February 2015

Understanding Donors — The Old Fashioned Way

January 2015

My Four Fundraising Resolutions for 2015

November 2014

The Importance of Being Earnest

October 2014

AMMC Conference Teaches This Old Dog New Tricks

October 2014

Too Hot to Handle … How to Turn Warm Prospects into Donors

September 2014

Keeping Cross-channel Communications Consistent

August 2014

5 Tips for Better Fundraising Copy

June 2014

Keep Boredom out of the Boardroom

May 2014

Functional Creativity

April 2014

How to Raise Money from Baby Boomers

February 2014

Five Take Aways from the February DMA-NF Conference

January 2014

What Kind of Friend are You? Building Relationships That Last

December 2013

#GivingTuesday – Worth the Fuss?

November 2013

Donor Cultivation on a Budget

October 2013

1,500,050 Charities Making a Difference — A Statistic Donors Need To See

October 2013

The USPS Proposed Rate Hike — What Does It All Mean?

June 2013

Investing in Acquisition: How to Get Your Board on Board

May 2013

Redefining Charity Efficiency

May 2013

How Do You Measure Success in Acquisition?