Within social science there exists a theory on user and consumer behavior called the pique technique.

Put simply, the pique technique refers to making an unusual request in a solicitation. The technique is said to be effective because the unusual request gets the prospect’s attention (piques their interest) making it more likely that they consider and fulfill the request (a purchase, donation, invitation, etc.)

A 2017 meta study published in the Journal of Social Influence reviewed six studies and confirmed that seeking donations while utilizing the pique technique earned more. One of those six was a 1994 study by Santos, Leve and Pratkanis, which found that a panhandler asking pedestrians for money had the most success when utilizing the pique technique. In the control conditions, when they asked “Can you spare any change?” 44% donated. When they asked “Can you spare a quarter?” the donation rate increased to 64%. When they asked “Can you spare 17 cents?” or “Can you spare 37 cents?” about 75% donated.

There are obviously many implications for nonprofit fundraisers making solicitations, either in-person, electronically or by mail. One of the best opportunities to test the effectiveness of the technique is instances when you’re using an Ask String.

An Ask String, sometimes called a Gift String, Gift Array, Giving Ladder, Ask Array or Ask Ladder, is simply a group of suggested gift amounts that appear on a solicitation.

There are numerous studies and opinions that dive into what your ask string should look like; it’s highest and lowest amount, and everything in between (the excellent “Science of Ask Strings” by Nick Ellinger of DonorVoice and “Gift String Logic for Year-End Appeals” by Joslyn Creative are the most comprehensive on the subject).

The good news is you can apply the pique technique to your ask string regardless of the range of suggested options.

Instead of ending in 0s and 5s, suggested gift amounts end in odd numbers.

Take, for example, the average online donation form, a majority of which suggest something like $25, $50, $100, $250, $500 and a write-in field.

Not only do suggested gift amounts that end in 0s and 5s fail to grab attention, they also seem arbitrary and not at all thought out.

When combined with a usage statement justifying that suggested amount, the donor’s attention will be grabbed and they can begin to think about impact before even making the gift.

Compare that to a form from Sightsavers International which has a unique ask string with impact statements:

A peer-to-peer donation form from The American Diabetes Association utilizes the same technique:

ada-gift-array

Online donation forms are an ideal place to test the pique technique, since they can be modified quickly and easily. They’re also the likely method through which first-time donors will interact with you, making it a great place to begin to communicate impact or communicate other missional information.

Monthly giving ask strings also lend themselves to the pique technique, since monthly consumer subscription expenses rarely end in a round number (Netflix, for example).

A case study published by SOFII shows that one odd, aggressive ask amount in a string of “normal” amounts is occasionally fulfilled.

A prospect letter from Make-a-Wish Canada has an ask string of $25, $50, $100, $250, $1000, $6,518 (the average cost of one wish), and a write-in amount.

“There is, however, one twist: there is an option to donate a sum of $6,518. We put that figure in because it is the actual average cost of granting a wish. Every now and then, when I’ve done that before, you find a donor who is willing to donate at that level. We did this once for a hospital when the price point for a piece of equipment was $6,942.73. Thirteen people “bought” this device. These donors upgraded from an average of $65 to nearly $7,000. It never hurts to ask.”

There are three ways to craft ask strings using the pique technique:

1. Impact: “$17 will provide clean water for one child for a week”, “$119 will provide a clean water well for one village”

2. Cultural/Historical: “$29 representing the 29 million people suffering from diabetes”

3. Data-Driven: you have derived these suggested amounts from a statistical analysis of your donor’s behavior

Once you’ve tested the waters, consider expanding the technique to print solicitations like a live event pledge card or a direct mail solicitation reply device (multiple variations of which can be crafted for individual segments).

Have you utilized the pique technique in any solicitations? Let me know in the comments below!

The Art & Science of Digital Donor Retention

Steven Shattuck

Steven Shattuck

Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang
Steven Shattuck is Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang. A prolific writer and speaker, Steven is a contributor to "Fundraising Principles and Practice: Second Edition" and volunteers his time on the Project Work Group of the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, is an AFP Center for Fundraising Innovation (CFI) committee member, and sits on the faculty of the Institute for Charitable Giving. He is the author of Robots Make Bad Fundraisers - How Nonprofits Can Maintain the Heart in the Digital Age, published by Bold and Bright Media.