Right person, right time, right project – wrong amount?

publication date: Oct 25, 2012
author/source: Janet Gadeski
Could you boost the likelihood of a major donor's "yes" by deliberately asking for the wrong amount?

The notion contradicts the formula that's been drilled into major gift professionals for decades. But neuromarketing specialist Roger Dooley notes some research by Robert Cialdini suggesting that it pays to seek rejection. 

Cialdini's researchers asked college students for a modest volunteer commitment: giving two hours of their time to accompany juvenile detention centre residents on an outing. Just one-sixth of the students (16.7%) agreed. 

With a similar student group, researchers changed their process slightly. They asked the second group for a much greater gift of time: two hours weekly for a year. No takers. Then, after the complete rejection, researchers asked that second group for just one two-hour stint. Half the students signed up - three times as many as the group that had only been asked for the short-term commitment. 

Dooley points out that it's important to make the larger ask first. Researchers went on to offer a third group the choice between one two-hour volunteer trip and a one-year commitment of two hours weekly. Twenty-five percent of the students signed up for the single stint - better than the first group, but not nearly as high as the second group. 

What happened? 

Dooley suggests two factors influenced the students' choices: framing and concession reciprocity. Framing - presenting the smaller ask after a larger one - makes the second request appear even smaller by comparison. Changing the ask after it's been rejected sets up a social expectation for reciprocal behaviour. The other person then has to show some flexibility as well. 

"It's clear this technique can apply to non-profits seeking donations or commitments of time," Dooley says, although the experiment dealt with commitments of time only. And the asks were dramatically different: the one intended for rejection was 50 times greater than the second ask. Applying the same notion to a major gift solicitation - suggesting a $50 million gift, for example, when your donor research tells you that a $1 million ask would be appropriate - looks like a huge risk. 

And yet ... 

Don't negotiation coaches tell us to open with our dream request and know what we will fall back to if we must? 

Don't unions and managements start their contract discussions miles apart, then gradually work their way towards a mutually acceptable midpoint? 

Haven't we all heard at least one major gifts teacher say that if you get an immediate "yes," you've asked for too little? Does the "right person, right time, right project, right amount" formula imply that you have to ask for the right amount, or just be aware of it? 

What do you think? Would you intentionally ask for more - much more - than you thought you could get? Fifty times more? How would that change the relationship with your donor? 

Major gifts experts Guy Mallabone, Shaun Lynch and Terry Smith examine these ideas in the October issue of Gift Planning in Canada. Subscribe or download a sample copy

Send your thoughts to the Editor. We'll publish a selection of viewpoints in a future issue. Read the full post at http://www.neurosciencemarketing.com/blog/articles/rejection.htm

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