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How to Set Suggested Donation Amounts That Drive Conversions



When a potential donor reaches a donation page on your site, after “Should I give?” the big question they’ll have to answer is “How much should I give?”

While most people’s donations are limited by their budget and their support of the cause, there’s usually a little bit of room for you to convince them to contribute more.

You see, humans are social creatures. We tend to make decisions based on the behavior of the people around us. We feel comfortable when we think we’re conforming to the group.

This psychological phenomenon occurs in social situations, when we purchase products and services, and when we donate to causes. It’s closely related to social proof and the reciprocity model.

Your charity, cause, or fund can capitalize on this need to conform by offering several suggested donation amounts on your donation landing page. You can’t force them to give a certain amount, but you’d be amazed how responsive people are to predetermined values.

With WP Simple Pay, you can set up a payment form that allows donors to choose from a pre-defined list.

suggested donation list

For instance, when Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach, FL (a nonprofit turtle hospital) began suggesting donation amounts as admission fees, they increased their average donation from $1 to $4 in just 30 days.

Suggested donation amounts serve two purposes:

First, they improve the donation experience by reducing the number of choices your donors have to make. Instead of coming up with their own reasonable donation amount, they can simply select one from the small group you provide. This makes them more likely to donate because the whole experience is easier.

Second, suggested donations are opportunities for you to nudge their donations higher. Donors are often willing to donate a few extra dollars because they feel better about using the button. They feel like the button is what they’re supposed to do.

It’s a Balancing Act

Do suggested donation amounts convince people to donate more?

Yes, but you have to be careful. A study from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business found that suggested amounts also affect the number of donations.

Essentially, low suggested amounts increase the number of donations, but the value of those donations falls. Higher donation amounts reduce the number of donations, but increase the value of those donations.

Dr. Oleg Urminsky, one of the authors of that study, explains why:

“There are two different psychological effects happening simultaneously. For instance, if a larger amount is suggested, people tend to donate more, even if they don’t donate the suggested amount. The default actually changes their frame of reference. So, if I am not donating the suggested amount of $200, then a $100 donation may seem like a better option than a $50 donation, because it is closer to the default.”

This means that it’s important to test different suggested donation amounts to find the combination that maximizes contributions. You also want to compare the donation from one campaign against a previous campaign to ensure that you’re actually optimizing.

How to Set Suggested Donation Amounts

Choosing the right donation amounts is an iterative process. You won’t get it right the first time. Here are five tips to send you in the right direction.

1. Suggest Amounts That Are Relevant to Your Audience

Even though you can use suggested donation amounts to influence your donors decisions, you can only nudge them so far. People won’t donate substantially more money than they intended just because they see some numbers on a page

If you review your data and learn that last year’s average donation amount was $20, it wouldn’t make sense to request a $500 donation this year. Unrealistic requests like this would actually lower your participation rate rather than drive higher donations.

A great way to set suggested donations is to recommend amounts that are slightly higher than your previous average donation. For example, if last year’s average donation was $20, it would be smart to suggest donations of $5, $25, and $50. People who want to donate $20 would be more likely to increase their donation to $25 rather than reduce their donation all the way down to $5.

2. Segment Your Donors by Their Donation Preferences

You probably have donors who are willing and able to donate substantially more than the rest of the group. Similarly, you probably have donors that can’t donate much, but would still like to give what they can. In order to maximize donations, you want to ask donors to give as much as they can without asking for too much.

For instance, let’s say a donor is willing to give $500. If the highest suggested donation amount on your page is only $200, that’s probably what the generous donor will give. But if you directed that donor to a unique page with higher donation amounts, they’ll happily contribute more money. You aren’t tricking them into donating more because they always wanted to.

This doesn’t mean that you have to create a unique donation page for every donor. But you’ll want to segment your donors into groups based on their previous donations (and whatever demographic information you have) and direct them to pages that match their expectations.

3. Highlight a Default Donation Amount

You’ve probably seen this technique on a lot of donation pages. The charity or cause will highlight one of the suggested donation amounts so that it stands apart from the others.

Suggested donation amounts

(Please note: The image above is a custom design. At the moment, WP Simple Pay only offers radio buttons and/or a drop down menu for suggested donation amounts. In the future we intend to add features to let you create a bank of buttons like you see above.)

This is a marketing technique called anchoring. Our brains have the tendency to rely on the first piece of information we consume. In our head, we give this piece of information more weight in our decision-making process. By highlighting a piece of information on a page, you force the page visitor to consume it first and use it as a reference to make their decision.

In the case of suggested donation amounts, donors tend to make donations closer to the anchored value. In many cases they default to the anchored value.

A word of warning: Anchoring does not discriminate. It’s possible to pull larger donations down toward your anchored value if the difference between the anchored value and the larger value is too small. Make sure the jump up after your anchored value is significant.

For example, look at the New York Public Library image above. There’s a $60 difference between the $55 and $115 donation amounts, but a $135 difference between the $115 and $250 values. Someone who wants to donate $55 may be willing to increase their donation to $115, but someone who wants to donate $250 probably won’t come all the way down to $115.

4. Put Your Preferred Donation Amount in the Second Position

On most donation pages, the preferred donation amount (the one the charity or cause really wants you to press) is usually the second option on the list. Why? Because people are naturally averse to spending, but they also don’t want to feel cheap or ungenerous.

This phenomenon happens at restaurants, bars, and stores every day. Businesses will position the products they want to sell the most as the second cheapest option. Buyers naturally want to pay as little as possible, but they believe they’ll have a better experience by moving up a tier. This works the same in regard to donations. Donors don’t want to feel like they’re only giving the minimum.

5. Give Them the Option of Inputting a Custom Amount

Offering suggested amounts is a key way to collect donations and raise the value of those donations, but we shouldn’t forget about the people who want to donate something different. If there’s no option for them to enter a custom amount, they’ll probably just leave your donation page.

Accept Donations on Your Website

Ready to accept donations on your website? With WP Simple Pay and Stripe, you can easily set up a clean donation form and embed it on any page, sidebar, or widget area of your site. Give your donors plenty of suggestion donation amounts and the option to subscribe to a monthly donation plan.

Read more about accepting donation payments and get WP Simple Pay today.

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