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The Pique Technique: How It Can Enhance Your Fundraising Ask Strings

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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 Ask Strings.

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; its 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 Appeal 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, but 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 the impact before even making the gift.

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

Ask Strings

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

Ask Strings

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!

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  • Susan

    The passion you have for making the world a better place is contagious. Keep inspiring us with your blog!
  • Dhaval Udani

    This is an interesting study and I am wondering if there could be a country context or more specifically a value of currency concept. I come from India where its even difficult to get change in odd ball amounts for regular purchases at stores (unlike US where a dollar and cents do get given back).So I don't think people value that. At an earlier non-profit that I worked with we had oddball amounts and regular amounts (multiples of 50s/100s). Looking at years of data and thousands of transactions we found more people giving to rounded numbers than odd ball amounts and we decided to change our amounts to rounded numbers (to the nearest 50/100). I think donors have a budget and they are looking at something within the budget to donate for. Budgets will always be rounded numbers so one can hope to maximise the return with a rounded number. Even if its an impulsive donor, there is always a budget and the budget is a round number so I think round numbers work better. Good to see from Nick that there is research saying the same thing. Am speaking more through experience.
  • Nick Ellinger

    Have you found the pique technique to have applicability outside of face-to-face interactions? When I was looking at this for ask string research, the studies indicated that the increase was from people who came over to ask follow-up questions (which doesn't happen online). In fact, when it was tested online, it didn't work ( There's additional literature that round numbers in an ask string have greater pull to that gift (,
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