WidgetMakr allows users to create a customized table of suggested contribution levels in their widgets. Suggested contributions can serve as a useful tool for fundraisers!

Why suggest contribution levels?

Donors contribute to a campaign because they care about the race and believe that their candidate is the most qualified for the job. However, for various reasons, a ready donor might not initially contribute the maximum amount that he or she is willing to give.

Donors might not be familiar with the logistics of a political campaign. They may not know how much a yard sign, much less a 30 second TV ad, costs. Donors may not be aware of the expenses that the campaign faces and the amount of funding it needs. By suggesting contribution levels, campaigns can give donors a sense of the scale of donations they are seeking. With this information in mind, donors can make more informed decisions about how much they are willing to give.

Additionally, when campaigns seek donations, they face challenges similar to the problems that economists associate with “public goods.” Everyone benefits from the existence of a public good, such as a park or national defense, regardless of how much they have contributed towards paying for it. Similarly, if a candidate is elected, his or her supporters benefit, whether they donated $100 or $25 during the campaign. Suggested contribution levels encourage donors to make larger contributions in order to provide resources that can increase the candidate’s chance of victory.

Do suggested contribution levels work?

According to a number of recent studies, the answer is “yes!”  Studies have shown that social information plays a role when individuals make voluntary contributions.  Donors are likely to give larger contributions if fundraisers suggest an “appropriate” amount. A study published in the 2003 Journal of Economic Psychology found that suggested donation scales can have a large, positive effect on giving. However, a 2010 study also showed that high dollar suggested contributions can decrease the amount that donors choose to contribute. While fundraisers can use suggested contributions as a dynamic tool to increase donation sizes, they must be careful not to ask for unreasonable contributions.

How much should a campaign suggest? 

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question. Campaigns face a trade-off analogous to that faced by a company selling a product. Companies try to strike a balance between the price they charge and the number of items they are able to sell. Economists call this practice “profit maximization.” Fundraisers face a similar situation. If they suggest a low dollar contribution, donors might not give their maximum contributions. If they ask for a very high dollar donation, fundraisers may end up receiving fewer or smaller contributions. Instead, fundraisers should seek “donation maximization.”

However, while this guiding concept is useful, the reality that fundraisers face is even more complicated. Every donor is unique. Fundraisers want to encourage each donor to give as much as he or she is willing and able to contribute. WidgetMakr’s Giving Matrix helps users achieve this goal. The Giving Matrix takes into consideration the giving history of donors with Spark accounts. It automatically customizes the suggested contribution level for each donor based on donations that he or she has made in the past. However, fundraisers still maintain control over the tool and can configure it for their fundraising efforts. Users can choose to base the matrix on a donor’s most recent gift, largest gift or median gift. They can also adjust the range of suggested contributions by changing the maximum suggested contribution, the aggressiveness of the scale and the number of suggestions in the matrix.  For more information, see the WidgetMakr user guide on Setting Up the Giving Matrix.

Can suggested contribution levels be made even more effective?

Fundraisers should consider implementing other strategies to enhance the effectiveness of their suggested contribution levels.

Fundraisers can establish donation tiers – such as silver, gold and platinum – that encourage donors to meet certain contribution thresholds. Even better, include special benefits to thank donors for their support. These benefits could include an invitation to a dinner, front row seats at a rally or free campaign merchandise.

Alternatively, fundraisers can show donors how their contributions will benefit the campaign. For example, inform donors that a $25 contribution will purchase 25 bumper stickers or that a $200 donation will provide 50 yard signs. Many donors are unfamiliar with the costs of running a campaign. When they understand how their contribution translates into tangible campaign activity, donors may become more informed and effective contributors.