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%)
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.
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
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
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?