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What I learned after signing up for 180 nonprofit email lists

Published by Allan Torres

My name is Allan Torres and I recently became the Optimization and Marketing Intern at NextAfter. My time so far has been a crazy whirlwind of learning, adapting, and having my world opened to new experiences. Recently, one of these experiences was a research study everyone here at NextAfter embarked on.

The Mission

The task was to visit over 180 non-profit organizations’ home pages and sign-up for their email subscription. We kept track of the entire process while looking at things like:

  • Different types of friction
  • What was in it for the email subscriber
  • Did the organization have a value proposition? This would be some sort of an offer such as an eBook, newsletter, online course or something else.

We’re still analyzing all the data, but I wanted to share 3 key lessons learned by signing up for 180 nonprofit email lists.

“Sign Up for Email” is not a proper incentive

Most people don’t hand out their personal information just because you ask for it. And most people aren’t motivated to give you their email address just because you have a newsletter. An incentive can give someone a tangible reason to give you their contact information.

A whopping 83% of the organizations that we looked only offered some sort of a newsletter. We have seen that offers that go above and beyond a newsletter are generally more effective over time. Some of these offers include:

  • Petitions
  • eBooks
  • Online Courses

You may think that these “offers” could add friction because they require time to go through or “cost” the prospective donor time. However, sometimes there needs to be a small amount of cost. We have found that the increasing amount of investment that someone spends on your offer has a significant impact on their likelihood to eventually become a donor.

I would love to know the difference in these organizations’ email acquisition rates if the 83% who only had a newsletter, began to offer something else like an eBook, online course, or even a petition.

It’s super hard to find where to sign up”

We also looked at the friction that was present when signing up for emails. When we talk about friction, we mean anything that is either a distraction or a roadblock, in this case, a roadblock stopping one from providing their email. Something I personally noticed was that many of the websites did not have a clear location of where to provide your email address. Some did not even have an opportunity to acquire your email address because there wasn’t a spot for it (see image below.) If I cannot find where to sign up for an email subscription in under 10 seconds, chances are others are having a hard time as well.

What did I just sign up for?

Another question we asked while combing through these websites was “Is it clearly communicated what you will be receiving by signing up?” We answered the question on a scale of

  • Strongly Disagree
  • Disagree
  • Undecided
  • or Agree

The results were surprising. Only 34% of organizations received a score of Agree. Which means 66% of the organizations did not communicate clearly or effectively. Lack of clarity can also be another form of friction. How can someone make a decision to give you an email address if they do not understand what is being offered to them in exchange?

Below are three examples from three different organizations. By reading the sign up prompt, can you tell what is being offered or what the person signing up can expect to arrive in their inbox?

Some questions that your organization may want to think about when writing copy for your offer are:

  • What the donor will get?
  • How often?
  • When they’ll receive the first one?
  • What benefit it has for the person signing up?

Here is a fantastic example of how just a small amount of copy significantly improves the communication of what this particular newsletter offers.

There’s so much opportunity for growth

This blog post is not meant to be negative; it is worth noting what changes an organization can make to improve their email acquisition. If you need or would like a refresher this Complete Guide to Email Acquisition is a great place to start.

When it comes down to it, I’m not the expert on what works to grow your email file. No one here at NextAfter is the expert. And as much as this might sting…you’re not either.

The only people who are experts at what works to get someone to say “yes” and sign up are your donors and potential donors.

In order to learn what works, we’ve tested and tested different offers, value propositions, designs, and more to measure what actually increases the likelihood of someone signing up for your email list.

You can dig deeper into what we’ve seen works to increase conversion and grow the size of your email file in this Complete Guide to Email Acquisition.

Truth be told, no guide is ever really “complete.” We always need to be testing and learning what really works.

About the author:

Allan Torres

Allan Torres

Allan is the Associate Marketing Specialist for NextAfter. He assists with marketing content creation and distribution. He is also a passionate Madridista (Real Madrid fan.) #HALAMADRID

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10 Online Fundraising Ideas That Are Proven to Grow Your Revenue

Published by Brady Josephson

10 Online Fundraising Ideas Proven to Grow Revenue - Blog Image

After spending a year observing every online fundraising idea, test, and experiment being run by all the optimizers here at NextAfter, I found 10 online fundraising ideas that you need to be testing and implementing this year.

Let’s get right to it!

1. Focus on the 3 online fundraising metrics that really matter.

There are a ton of shiny objects in digital fundraising and marketing to get you distracted from real goal: increasing revenue.

3 Online Fundraising Metrics

To optimize your online fundraising, you’ve got to get laser-focused on the 3 metrics that we call The Flux Capacitor of Online Revenue Maximization.

The three online fundraising metrics that really matter are:

  1. Website Traffic
  2. Donation Conversion Rate
  3. Average Gift Size

Increasing any single one of these metrics is going to lead to more revenue. But increasing 2 or all 3 of these metrics is going to lead to exponentially more revenue.

To learn more about the FCORM metrics and how they relate to online fundraising revenue, read this blog post by Nathan Hill. Here, he breaks down what it is and how nonprofits can leverage it for higher online revenue.

But here’s the basics of what you need to know…

Key Online Fundraising Idea

Use these 3 metrics as your strategic framework. Anytime you and your team make a decision about a new online fundraising idea, activity, or strategy, ask yourself these questions:

  • Will it produce more traffic to my website?
  • Will it drive more of my traffic to donate?
  • Will it encourage donors to make bigger donations?

2. Think of your donor funnel as a donor mountain.

The Donor MountainReally this is more of a way of thinking than a strategy. But changing your perspective on the how your donors interact with you is critical.

We can’t pretend that donors are organically falling into a typical “sales funnel.” They’re not falling in at all. In fact, making a donation can be a lot of hard work.

A donor rarely wakes up thinking, “I’m going to donate to ORGANIZATION today.” Something has to prompt them to consider giving. And it’s your job to help them make the journey from being prompted, to actually completing a donation.

Your message is your main tool to help your donor up the mountain.

From the moment a donor is prompted to consider giving, there are distractions and micr-decisions all along the way.

You have to use the copy in your emails, on your landing pages, and on your donation page to explain why someone should keep moving forward to the ultimate goal of donating.

Key Online Fundraising Idea

A donation doesn’t happen in one step. You have to help your donor take a lot of little steps towards the ultimate goal of donating.

3. Your emails and donation pages need to be longer than you might think.

It’s often considered “best practice” to keep your copy (or your message) really short. But over and over again, testing and research shows that almost every organization needs to write longer copy.

Here’s why…

How more copy on an email signup form increased conversions

In this experiment, we wanted to increase email sign ups. The version on the left is what the vast majority of nonprofit email signup forms look like.

Online fundraising idea - Email newsletter signup form test image

The treatment on the right really has one substantial change…there is more copy explaining why you should sign up!

The new version says this: “Get exclusive access to breaking campus reform stories as they happen. Sign up below and we’ll keep you in the loop too.”

Adding two sentences and tweaking a headline increase email signups by 28%.

Key Online Fundraising Idea

Use more copy to communicate why someone should sign up, click through, or donate.

Keep in mind, it’s not the length of copy that improves conversion. It’s how well your copy communicates why someone should give, or click, or sign up.

If you want to dig deeper into how you write better copy to increase conversion, you can check out this post on improving your value proposition.

4. Send your fundraising emails from real people to real people.

Almost every single email best practice out there recommends using some form of a designed email template. But here’s something most experts will never tell you (because they don’t dare test it)…

All the hours you spend designing emails are costing you donors and revenue.

“Well, how else are you supposed to do it, Brady?”

Just write an email like an average, everyday human being who doesn’t know how to create a flashy HTML email.

This is how real people write emails to their friends and family — and that there is a multitude of experiments and data to show that sending plain-text style emails is far more effective for raising money.

Here’s just one of numerous experiments that strongly suggest that a personal approach performs better than a heavily designed email.

How a more humanized email increase donations…by a lot!

Online fundraising idea - write a more personal email - imageIn the control on the left, you can see some graphic elements like the corporate logo and the big blue button below. The recipient’s name is personalized with their first name.

In the treatment on the right, we’ve removed these graphical elements and saw 145.5% increase in donations.

With these results in mind, try experimenting with your own email fundraising by:

  • Removing design elements so it looks more like a personal email.
  • Using copy/text that’s more personal and about your donor (like the second-person pronoun “you”).
  • Using a real person’s name and email as your email sender
  • Personalizing the email with the recipient’s name.

Key Online Fundraising Idea

People give to people, not email marketing machines. The more human and believable your email is, the more successful your online fundraising will be.

For more on making your emails more human, you can dive into a free online course on Email Fundraising Optimization here.

5. Send emails when others aren’t.

When I check my email in the morning, I often have 10, 20, 30 or more emails to sift through – depending on the day. But when I check email throughout the day, there’s not nearly as much to sift through all once.

You can stand out in the inbox by sending emails when others aren’t!

So what days are organization sending emails? Well, I’ve got some data for you on that.

In the month of December, we looked at all the emails we received in our aggregate donor inbox from hundreds of organizations and charted them.

Online fundraising idea - send email on the weekend chartWe found that weekends present an opportunity for nonprofits to stand out because they have lower send volumes from “competitor” organizations.

In fact, not only were email open rates optimized, the data shows an increase in average gift size from emails sent on the weekend too.

Key Online Fundraising Idea

Try publishing your emails on weekends and during afternoons and evenings, when fewer organizations are sending emails. By sending during relatively quiet times, you’re more likely to be noticed.

6. You don’t always have to send more email to bring in more donations.

You can always send more emails to try and bring in more donations. But you don’t always have to do this to increase donations.

You can increase donations without adding more email sends to your calendar by using content marketing.

This is one of the coolest experiments in our research library. And it’s a perfect mashup of how direct mail and online fundraising come together to make even stronger donors.

Online fundraising idea - uses brand ads with direct mail imageIn this experiment, one half of the donors were sent a direct mail letter with a donation ask.

The other half were sent the same direct mail letter, but they were also targeted with brand ads on Facebook.

The goal wasn’t necessarily to get people to click on the ads. It was to make sure they were continually reminded of the organization.

The group that was targeted with brand ads saw a 25% increase in donations.

Key Online Fundraising Idea

Create content (both organic and paid advertising) that reinforces the impact of donating. Use this to cultivate and prime your donors in order to make your direct donation asks even more effective.

Here’s another super cool experiment that shows how a personal post-card (without a donation ask) can lead to greater year-end giving.

7. Throw away your boring confirmation pages, and start using instant donation pages instead.

Last year, I went around and signed to receive emails from 152 organizations. And I made this startling find…

Only 48% of organizations used a confirmation page after an email signup.

You might be saying, “Why does that matter? My form shows a thank you message without using a new page.

Online fundraising idea - use an instant donation pageBut here’s the deal… A real confirmation page will let you:

  • Improve the user experience by letting users be 100% they’re done.
  • Continue the engagement by providing more interesting and useful content.
  • Track completions and conversions easier

Now, for those that are using confirmation pages, only 8% actually asked for a donation right away.

“But Brady…that’s so rude to ask someone who just signed up for an email to donate.”

I prefer to let the donor be the judge of that. And time and time again, we see new contacts becoming new donor instantly when using an instant donation page.

Key Online Fundraising Idea

Instead of just showing a thank you message or standard confirmation page after someone signs up for an email, use an instant donation page to start acquiring new donors right away.

You can dig into the ins and outs of instant donation pages here.

8. Stop designing to make things look pretty. Start designing to make things more effective.

Don’t get me wrong…I’m not anti-design.

I’m very pro-design. But that design has to be communicating the right message in a way that is empathetic to our donors.

Designing for the sake of being modern or pretty often leads to some pretty negative results. And just because Charity Water has a really cool looking page doesn’t mean that it’s the most effective thing for you.

We need to design with our donors in mind.

Take a look at how redesigning a donation page to make it more personal affected the actual revenue coming in from the page below…

How design impacts conversion on a donation page

Online fundraising idea - design your donation pages for effectiveness imageYou can see the original page here. It’s just one giant form. No value proposition copy. Hardly any personal copy at all. There’s also a load of distracting button links across the page.

Now, here’s the treatment version of that donation page.

You can see quickly how the design changed drastically on this page to be much simpler and have more value proposition copy.

This new layout saw a 340% increase in revenue.

In this experiment, we see how a “pretty” page became a lot less pretty – but it drastically improve donations.

Online fundraising idea - pretty design isn't always effective image

You don’t have to read the copy to see what changed in the design. The treatment opted to use less imagery and more copy to help donors understand why they should give.

The “less pretty” page saw a 134% increase in donations.

Key Online Fundraising Idea

The goal of design isn’t to be the prettiest, or the most modern. The goal is to get more donations.

Here are some of the essential elements we’ve found are proven to increase donations on your page.

9. Get rid of all other links on your landing pages and donation pages.

One of the easiest ways to improve and optimize your donation page performance is to remove all the unnecessary distractions from your donation page.

Every other link on your donation page is an opportunity for a donor to get distracted from the primary goal, and head off down a rabbit trail to something else.

Even something like a link to “login” can actually hurt your donations – primarily because remembering a username and password can be so incredibly frustrating.

Other examples of distracting links include:

  • Share this on social media
  • Follow us on Facebook
  • Look at Planned Giving options
  • Subscribe to our newsletter

The list goes on and on.

All of these options create friction in the process of giving and reduce the likelihood that your page visitor is going to donate.

Online fundraising idea - remove extra links imageRemoving the navigation from the donation page saw a 195% increase in donations!

In this experiment, we went a step further. It’s not just navigation links that can hurt donations. Even the most well intended links can be holding your donations back.

Online fundraising idea - remove other ways to give imageRemoving the “Other Ways to Give” link saw a 5.5% increase in donations.

Key Online Fundraising Idea

Reduce friction anywhere you can. In your email marketing, donation pages, and website.

Wondering how much friction is actually on your donation page? Take the Friction Self Assessment and find out how you can optimize your donation pages!

10. Focus on recurring giving.

Recurring donors are worth a lot more in a year — and over their lifetime – than your other donors.

The State of Modern Philanthropy report shows that recurring donors are worth 5.4 times more than one-time donors over their lifetime.

Yet when we looked at 150 nonprofits in the U.S., we found that only one out of 11 organizations had a value proposition that explained why a donor should become a recurring giver.  

To increase the number of recurring donors, you need to answer the question: “Why should I give a recurring gift to you rather than a one-time gift… or to another organization… or not at all?”

How a recurring donation prompt increase recurring donor conversions

In this experiment, this organization showed a pop-up right when you clicked the “Donate” button. Before the gift was processed, they asked if you wanted to upgrade to a recurring donation.

It gave some strong reasons why a recurring donation (even with a smaller initial donation) was more effective.

Online fundraising idea - recurring donor popup

Using this recurring donor prompt led to a 64% increase in recurring donations.

Key Online Fundraising Idea

Increasing recurring donations can be transformational for your fundraising, and there are tons of ideas to test to try and grow this essential donor segment. Here are two ideas:

  • Give a reason as to why someone should make a recurring gift on your one-time donation page.
  • Place a recurring donation ask right before someone completes a one-time donation.

And if you want to go really deep on recurring giving, you can check out the free Nonprofit Recurring Donation Benchmark Study and get 30+ new strategies and online fundraising ideas to test based on data and research.

You can get the recurring donor report at

Need more ideas to grow your online fundraising?

Email Fundraising Optimization Course imageWe’ve developed (are continuing to develop) a series of online fundraising courses that will show you everything we’ve learned from 1,583 online fundraising experiments. These courses cover proven strategies to help you:

  • Grow your email fundraising
  • Improve conversion and revenue on your donation pages
  • Acquire more emails from your email acquisition landing pages
  • Use Facebook to acquire new donors
  • Set up and run a/b tests to learn what really works to grow
  • Create an effective online year-end fundraising campaign

Every single course is available for free. So if you want to dive deeper and learn proven ways to keep growing, you can activate your free courses at

About the author:


Brady Josephson

Brady Josephson is a charity nerd, entrepreneur, digital marketer, professor, and writer. At NextAfter, he focuses on business development and partnerships, content creation, and marketing. He's also a huge Liverpool FC fan. #YNWA

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5 Online Fundraising Habits to Stop in 2019

At the start of a new year, there’s a universal sense of resolve to look at our lives and consider what we’d like to do differently in the year to come. While it’s healthy to do this in our personal lives, it’s also essential to a healthy online fundraising program.

To help you hit the ground running with your online fundraising in 2019, I’ve outlined 5  online fundraising habits that you need to stop doing right now.

But a new year is also a time for new beginnings. So I’ve also included 5 online fundraising habits and strategies that you need start using this year if you haven’t already.

The Top 5 Online Fundraising Habits You Need to Stop 

1. Stop Using Heavily Designed Email Templates

Time and time again, our ongoing testing and research has shown that personal, humanized emails greatly outperform heavily designed email templates. People give to people, not email machines. So when an email looks like marketing that was sent to thousands of people, donors tend to ignore or delete it.

In experiment 7466, we saw a 19.7% increase in clicks by dropping the heavily designed email template:

How stripping out branding in an offer email affects clickthrough rate (Experiment #7466)


Treatment #1

19.69% Increase to Clicks

2. Stop Using “Donate” Short-cut Buttons on Your Donation Pages

Not every donor visiting your donation page has actually decided to give. This seems like a generally understood idea, but most fundraisers create opportunities to short-cut donors right to the donation form.

The most common example of this is a page with a “Donate Now” button in the navigation that jumps the visitor right to the form. The problem here is that it lets the visitor bypass the reason why they should give, and decrease the likelihood of them actually donating.

In experiment 2107, we saw a 52.6% decrease in revenue when we used the short-cut button:

How creating a "shortcut" to the donation form affects conversion (Experiment #2107)


Treatment #1

28.16% Decrease to Conversions

3. Stop Calling Your Donors “Friend”

The quickest way to let your donor know that you don’t actually know them is by starting your email with “Dear friend.” Nearly every email tool on the market today allows you to insert the recipients first name. And as it turns out, when we call our donors by name, our email performance improves.

In experiment 5707, we tested inserting the recipient’s first name and saw a 270% increase in clicks.

How first-name personalization affects email engagement (Experiment #5707)


Treatment #1

270.07% Increase to Clicks

4. Stop Using Words That Every Other Organization Uses

If you were to go look at the donation pages of 10 different organizations, chances are that you would see several common phrases across all of them. Give hope. Stand with us. Join the fight.

Phrases like these are generic, and can apply to almost any cause. To improve donations, we need to communicate our message and the reason to donate in a way that is unique. The way that your organization solves a particular problem or fills a specific need is exclusive to you, and your copy should communicate this.

In experiment 5729, we saw a 134% increase in donations by using more exclusive value proposition copy:

How a radical redesign that reduces friction and increases the force of the value proposition affects donor conversion (Experiment #5729)


Treatment #1

134.19% Increase to Conversions

5. Stop Using Donation Confirmation Pages

Once someone fills out your donation form and clicks the “Make my donation” button, that natural assumption is that they’ve completed their donation. Yet, many donation pages include a confirmation or verification page for a donor to review their gift before making it is final.

This extra step creates unnecessary confusion because most donors will click the “X” and assume their donation is complete – causing you to lose a donation without your donor ever knowing it.

In experiment 3712, we removed the verification page and saw a 175% increase in revenue:

How additional friction from a verification screen affects revenue (Experiment #3712)


Treatment #1

175.62% Increase to Donations

The Top 5 Online Fundraising Habits and Strategies You Need to Start

1. Start Personalizing Your Emails

Personalization is more than just inserting a first name here and there. It’s about making the entire email feel personal to the recipient – as if you sat down and wrote an email specifically to them. This includes personal sender names, subject lines, and copy.

In experiment 4307, we saw a 137% increase in clicks by creating a more personal email:

How subject line personalization affects open rate (Experiment #4307)


Treatment #1

137.19% Increase to Opens

2. Start Writing Emails Like a Human Being

It’s not always just the details of your email appeal that make a difference in donations. The tone of your email has a huge impact on the likelihood that someone will open, clicks, and respond. Use a tone that sounds like a human wrote it, rather than a brand or marketing machine.

In experiment 4171, we used a more personal tone and saw a 145% increase in donations:

How a personal tone affects donations in an email fundraising appeal (Experiment #4171)


Treatment #1

145.5% Increase to Conversions

3. Start Writing More Copy for Your Donation Pages

Most fundraisers want to keep their donation pages short and sweet. Maybe this is because of the common notion that “people don’t read online.” Or maybe this is because some fundraisers just simply don’t know what to write.

Regardless of the reason why, testing says that using copy to thoroughly explain why someone should give to you will increase conversions and revenue.

In experiment 6623, we saw a perfect example of how more copy on a donation page increased donations by 150%:

How the addition of value proposition impacts donor conversion (Experiment #6623)


Treatment #1

150.15% Increase to Conversions

4. Start Tracking Your Campaigns Properly

UTM MakerEvery time we start working with a new nonprofit partner, the first thing we do is look at all of the analytics and donor data to find where the greatest opportunities are. Yet, most organizations aren’t properly tracking their campaigns with consistency or accuracy.

Kevin Peters created this fancy little tool called UTM Maker that will make it super easy to track all of your campaigns back in to Google Analytics. Just enter your URL and a few pieces of info about your campaign, and it will generate a perfectly tracked link to make sure your analytics are clean.

5. Start Optimizing

Every learning in this entire blog post is a result of ongoing optimization. Every day, we’re testing new ideas and hypotheses across donation pages, email, advertising, articles, and more. And every new experiment leads to greater learnings and understandings of what works to raise more money online.

Make a commitment this year to start testing and optimizing your own online fundraising. And if you need help getting started, we’ve got a blog post that will walk through the steps of setting up your first experiment.

About the author:


Nathan Hill

Nathan is the Marketing Director for NextAfter. He spends every day working to help nonprofit organizations discover how testing and optimization can transform their marketing and fundraising, leading to greater impact and organizational growth. He is also a giant Star Wars nerd.

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What I Learned About Email Fundraising in Canada from 1,234 Emails from 152 Charities

Published by Brady Josephson

Have you ever wondered how many emails your donors get from nonprofits? Or what types of emails those other organizations are sending? One of the neatest things about signing up to get emails from 152 Canadian charities — which I did and you can read about my signup experiences here — is that you actually get emails from 152 Canadian charities! Obvious I know but by monitoring the inbox you can see what it would be like to be a donor or follower of multiple charities (side note: I also get all their direct mail, sent to my house, which is not as nearly as neat…) or as a researcher look for patterns, insights, and ideas to test.

Which is what we did for The Canadian Online Fundraising Scorecard, and why I signed up for all those emails in the first place. In the study, we were only analyzing fundraising focused emails where we looked at if the main focus of the email was to get donations or, as a donor, it would feel that way. For example, if an organization sent out a newsletter but there was a big DONATE NOW button as the first thing or one of the first things you see when you open it, you would, fairly, feel like you were being asked to give. So that counted as an appeal… just not a good one.

So that’s a bit of context about why I got all these emails and here are…

4 Things I Learned About Email Fundraising in Canada

1. A lot of organizations didn’t ask me for a donation.

Actually, 58% of the organizations in the study didn’t ask me for a donation in the first 90 days. This is partly because 15% of organizations in the study sent me nothing, no emails of any kind, in the first 90 days which is, hopefully, a broken form or, potentially, a broken strategy, but that still means that less than half of the organizations that sent me an email didn’t ask me to make a donation in the first 3 months that I was an email subscriber.

Now, when it comes to email appeals, frequency, how many you should send, how soon, etc. there are a lot of factors to consider (quality of the email and appeal being a big one) but when someone first signs up to get your emails they are engaged — enough to find and fill out your form — so there is an opportunity to use those first emails to further engage, build a relationship, and, possibly, move to a donation. Something many organizations aren’t doing at all or not very quickly as 52% of organizations that did ask did so after 30 days:

Should you be asking for a donation in the first 30 days? 90 days? Probably. But you should absolutely be sending good content that can further engage these new subscribers.

Key Questions & Insights:

  • Is your email signup form working?
  • Try signing up for your own emails and make sure (once a quarter).
  • Are you engaging with your followers when they are engaged with you?
  • Do you have a ‘welcome series’ (something you can easily automate) set up?
  • Try making a (good) ask for a donation within the first 30 or 90 days.

2. Fundraising emails weren’t very personal.

There are a number of ways to have your email fundraising appeals sound more human — like sending from a person instead of an organization, cutting down on the design, and having a more personal tone in your copy — but here are three reasons why it’s important:

  1. You can get more opens
  2. You can get more donations
  3. You can stand out from other organizations

You can get more opens because, according to Litmus, who an email is from is the most important thing for when we ‘triage’ our inboxes. And when your donors see an organization name, they most likely think ‘this is a marketing email’ whereas an email from a person doesn’t stand out, in a bad way, quite the same way. Here’s one of many experiments proving this idea:

How an individual sender impacts the open rate of an organizational email (Experiment #8010)


Treatment #1

27.46% Increase to Opens

You can get more donations as fundraising, and giving, is very personal and relational — something we know in the major gifts world but often forget when it comes to online fundraising — so when we have overly designed templates, buttons, and images it can distract the reader and take away from the personal nature of giving.

Take this experiment for example, where we just changed the design elements so it felt a bit more personal:

How the design of a fundraising email affects clickthrough rate (Experiment #4174)


Treatment #1

80.29% Increase to Clicks

That experiment had a 112.5% increase in donations so it wasn’t just about clicks. Or take this experiment, where we reduced the design even further but also tried to make the copy sound and feel a bit more human:

How a personal tone affects donations in an email fundraising appeal (Experiment #4171)


Treatment #1

145.5% Increase to Conversions

You can stand out from other organizations because 77% of the fundraising emails we received were sent from an organization. Here’s a quick screenshot from the aggregate inbox with the four from people highlighted and the two from just people (as opposed to people and organization) circled:

So if all you were wanting to do was standout from other organizations, sending from a person would help. And when we opened and analyzed the emails we found that only 3% of the email fundraising appeals we received looked and felt like a personal email. The majority of fundraising emails looked a bit more like this:

Big logos. Hero images. And copy about the organization (as well as a bunch of links that don’t take you to the donation page…) comes across as marketing so more personal, human looking and feeling emails can help you stand out from other appeals from other organizations.

Key Question & Insights

  • Are you sending emails from and as an organization or a person?
  • Try testing a person as the sender and even different people.
  • Try sending emails that sound and look as if they’re from a person, not a brand or an organization
  • Write an email, read it out loud to a colleague and ask yourselves if it sounds like how a person would talk if not, rip it up and write it again

3. It wasn’t very clear what I was asked to do

When it came time to actually make the ask in the email appeal, we first saw that 42% of organizations had multiple calls to action in their emails. Look at all the other links and things they’re asking me to do:

Now that’s not a pure appeal but as a donor you are clearly asked to donate and see a big donate button so you would feel like this is an appeal (just a poor one). And when it came time to actually ask, we saw that 39% of organizations didn’t make it clear how my donation would be used. Look at the above example again for their ask:

Do you know why you should give or what your donation will do? Not really. And it’s also pretty passive: “If you would like…” and “… we invite you to make…”. I know Canadians are nice and all (and we are) but when asking you need to be more direct and clear. You may get fewer clicks but those who do know why they are clicking and what to expect and are more likely to give. That’s what happened in this experiment where we changed a few things to make it sound more emotional and personal but look at the call to action sections:

The second option — the one that was more clear and direct — got a 67% decrease in clicks but a 246% increase in conversion rate and 209% increase in total revenue which are the goals for fundraising appeals.

Key Question & Insights

  • Do you have multiple calls to action in your email appeals? Remove them!
  • When you ask, is it clear what a donation will do?
  • Are you being direct in your ask so the reader knows what to do next?
  • Try being very clear, simple, and direct in your call to action.

4. Reading emails on mobile was a pretty good experience.

There is a lot of room to improve when it comes to email fundraising in Canada — remember, good is the enemy of great so everyone can always improve — but one of the positives in the study was that 91% of organizations sent emails that were readable on mobile. 

When we did this study in the US 4 years ago (you can check it out here) only 46% of emails were optimized for mobile so it appears the tools we use and our knowledge of mobile has come a pretty long way which is great. Now, 26% of the donation pages we looked at were still not optimized for mobile so going from mobile optimized email to non-mobile optimized donation page is pretty much useless but hey, that’s another section of the study and another blog post.

Key Question & Insights

  • Are your emails readable on mobile? And all types of mobile phones including older, smaller smartphones?
  • Are you pointing people to a page that is also mobile optimized?
  • Make sure the full flow — email, donation page, confirmation page, confirmation email — is optimized for mobile

Summary & Infographic

Those were just some of the findings and stats about email fundraising in Canada but here are more:

Get the Canadian Online Scorecard and Start Optimizing Your Online Fundraising Today

Learn from 152 Canadian Charities and 1,200 experiments to improve your email signup process as well as email fundraising strategy, donation pages, and overall online giving experience.

About the author:


Brady Josephson

Brady Josephson is a charity nerd, entrepreneur, digital marketer, professor, and writer. At NextAfter, he focuses on business development and partnerships, content creation, and marketing. He's also a huge Liverpool FC fan. #YNWA

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6 Nonprofit Email Marketing Hacks to Help You Do More With Less

Published by Nathan Hill

6 Nonprofit Email Marketing Hacks to Make Your Emails More Effective

Nonprofit email marketing is ripe for optimization. And I don’t just mean testing new copy and calls-to-action. But the actual way in which we create emails has a lot of room for improvement.

I know this first hand. My first full-time job was working for a major nonprofit in Chicago, IL. I had worked in their web department part-time during my last 2 years of school, and when I graduated, they hired me as their first full-time email marketing manager.

When I took the job, we had at least 6 different email platforms across the organization. And it seemed like I learned about new ‘secret’ accounts almost every day.

On top of this, there were 30+ different people that could decide we needed to send an email. 5 completely separate people had to be involved in the creation process. At least 3 people had to give full approval of the final email – and they often had very different priorities.

And before me, there was only one person responsible for actually setting up and sending the email – and they had a full-time job that had almost nothing to do with email.

I share all this so that you believe me when I say, “I know how hard it is for a nonprofit organization to send good emails.” 

Your Organization Isn’t the Only One That Has Problems With Email

Litmus recently released a report on 6 Ways Nonprofits Can Improve Their Email Creation Process. And it verified many of my hypotheses about nonprofit email. For instance (and this is an easy one), nonprofit email teams are under-resourced:

Nonprofit Email Marketing Resources - Litmus Benchmark

On top of that, there are far less people and hours devoted to email marketing at nonprofits. On average, there are 2.3 full-time employees devoted to email at nonprofits, compared to 5.6 full-time employees across industries.

Nonprofit Email Marketing Employees - Litmus Benchmark

This leads to depressing stats like this one…

Nonprofit Email Marketing Success - Litmus Benchmark

While the Litmus report has some really interesting nonprofit email marketing benchmarks and some great ideas to consider, I wanted to go one step further and share specific tools and tactics you can use to cut through red-tape, overcome under-resourcing, and create capacity to make your email program successful.

Ready? Let’s do this.

1. Send emails with minimal design (especially fundraising emails).

Spending less time on design has huge perks. There’s less setup work, less room for error or issues, and they actually have been proven to be much more effective when it comes to getting donations.

I didn’t learn this lesson until coming to NextAfter. Emails that look, sound, or smell like marketing get far fewer engagements. But emails that look and sound like they’re from a real human being tend to crush it.

This one experiment does a great job illustrating just how effective a simplified and personal email can be. Removing the big image, the logo header, the CTA button, and the designed footer – plus making the copy sound more personal – led to a 32.5% increase in clicks.


Simplified Email Marketing Example


There’s been a ton written about this, so I won’t rehash it all here. If you want to dig deeper, you can read this blog on 5 Ways to Make Your Email Appeals Sound More Human or even take the free Email Fundraising Optimization course.

Here’s why this can help speed up and improve your production process:

  • You don’t need a designer.
  • You don’t need a developer.
  • It’s super easy to make a plain-text email responsive.
  • You’re less likely to trip any spam-filters.

Full transparency – I write, set-up, and send every single NextAfter marketing email. And sending emails is maybe 10% of what I do. Yet, we can manage to get an email to our house file and several emails to smaller segments sent out every week.

If I can do it, you can do it.

2. Test to make sure your emails look good across email providers. Especially if you’re using designed emails.

Testing your emails across providers becomes less essential if you’re using the stripped-down template idea above. But even then, you need to make sure your email template displays correctly in the browsers and providers that your email file is using.

One tool that I’ve used a ton for this is called Email On Acid. They’ll tell you what platforms are being used to open your emails, and they’ll let you preview your emails on those platforms to make sure everything looks good before you send.

There’s nothing worse than sinking hours and hours into a marketing or fundraising email, only to learn that the 30% of your subscribers opening in Outlook delete it immediately because it looks like this:


Outlook Email with Disabled Images


Other tools you can use to make sure your emails show up how you intended include:

3. Run a spam filter test every now and again. You might be surprised what you find.

Deliverability is one of the trickiest and murkiest parts of nonprofit email marketing. In the latest episode of The Generosity Freakshow podcast, Chad White of Litmus talked about how much spam filtering has changed over the years. (Listen to the episode below)

It used to be fairly simple. There was a series of criteria that a spam filter looked for. And if your email tripped the right flags, you went straight to the spam folder or got blocked entirely. Nowadays, most email providers cater spam filtering to the specific preferences of the recipient. That is to say, you might be hitting one Gmail user’s spam folder, but making into another’s primary inbox.

This makes deliverability trickier to manage, and makes it all the more important that you send emails that people click and engage with – rather than just avoiding the main spam filter.

That being said, step one is to make sure you’re not getting blocked outright. And your deliverability to specific platforms could change depending on the day. So be sure and run a spam test – if not on every email, then at least every so often.

Here are some great tools to help:

4. Automate everything you can – welcome series, follow-up emails, data imports, and more.

Zapier DashboardAutomation is not magic. But it can save you countless hours of time. And I’m not just talking about automating an email welcome series. Here’s a list of some of the things I’ve automated that save me an unbelievable amount of time:

  • Getting event registrations from Mailchimp into our Hubspot account
  • Sending notifications to Tim when certain people visit our website (creepy, I know)
  • Sending a weekly email update on subscriber numbers from an actual Gmail account
  • Updating a suppression list in Hubspot based on what’s in a Google Spreadsheet
  • Pulling contest entries out of Hubspot, into a spreadsheet, and then into a slack channel for the team to see.

All of this – plus probably 20 other tasks – happen automatically, saving me hours upon hours of time so that I can do things like write this super long blog post.

The best part? I don’t know the first thing about how to create make any of these tools talk to each other. But there are several services that automate all of this stuff for you like it’s magic.

So if you find yourself swimming in a sea of mundane imports, exports, and data reporting just to keep the email marketing ship afloat – check out these tools (we use Zapier and it’s a life saver):

5. Don’t do everything in house. Use freelancers.

One of the hardest things for me to do is give something over to a freelancer that I know I can do myself. But there are only so many hours in the day, and sometimes tasks that seem so simple can send you down a rabbit hole – eating away precious time that you could have spent on something far more meaningful.

While the final setup and launch of an email campaign is something you probably want to do in house, there are tons of steps along the way that you can farm out for incredibly cheap. Here’s just a few:

  1. Use free basic email template(s) (like these from Litmus).
  2. If you need a cool graphic or image for an email, use Fiverr.
  3. Need something proofread in a hurry, try Wordy.
  4. Not sure how your wording, graphic, or ad will come across? Get user feedback with UsabilityHub.

Here’s one of my favorite hacks…

If you have a compelling story either stuck in a voicemail, a radio broadcast, a podcast, or a promotional videojust transcribe it using and use it in your next email appeal. We create entire books through by transcribing presentations and doing a little editing.

Don’t Let the Benchmarks Define Your Nonprofit Email Marketing

Litmus InfographicIt’s easy to look at benchmarks like this one that Litmus has put out and say “We’re doing as well as any other nonprofit is. We must be ok.” But living in the status quo isn’t going to serve your cause well – it’s just going to keep you from having a greater impact.

So I’d encourage you to download this Litmus infographic, print it out, and make a commitment to live above the benchmark. You don’t necessarily need me more people, or more time, more budget – you just need the right hacks.

You can see the full infographic from Litmus here. Special thanks to Chad White for putting this benchmark together and inspiring nonprofit email marketing nerds to keep improving!

About the author:


Nathan Hill

Nathan is the Marketing Director for NextAfter. He spends every day working to help nonprofit organizations discover how testing and optimization can transform their marketing and fundraising, leading to greater impact and organizational growth. He is also a giant Star Wars nerd.

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Five Email Fundraising Hacks to Boost Your Email Campaign Results

Published by Tim Kachuriak

5 Email Fundraising Hacks to Boost Your Email Campaign Results

Let me start by apologizing. One of the reasons that email fundraising sucks is because of people like me. When I was new to fundraising consulting over a decade ago, I was quick to prescribe to my nonprofit clients the latest and greatest online fundraising “best practices.” I did this for the same reason that most people do: I had no clue what really worked and what didn’t. So, I played it safe and just told my clients to do what everyone else was doing. But I was wrong. 

Something happened to me about nine years ago that has completely changed my perspective on online fundraising—and even my role as a fundraising consultant. I started testing stuff. I began with the long-held best practices and started testing them against unconventional ideas. And more often than not, the crazy ideas worked and the best practices failed.

Now, after 1,000 published online experiments, I’m just starting to fully come to grips with how wrong I was. And for that I am sorry. 

But there is good news for you!

I’m going to share with you five of the most important things that I’ve discovered about what really does work in email fundraising from the last nine years of testing and experimentation. And they all come back to one core principle:

People don’t give to email machines, they give to people. 

Every other hack that I share in this post can be summed up in this one central principle. People give to people. They don’t give to emails, or to donation systems. They give to people. People don’t want to be marketed to, they want to be communicated with.   

When we grasp this one simple idea, then it is entirely possible to completely transform our fundraising. The rest of this post will walk you through five different experiments that illustrate simple things you can do to apply this principle to your email fundraising campaigns (and across your entire online fundraising program). 

Hack #1 – Design your emails to look like something you would personally send to a friend. 

Today’s fundraising emails are over-designed. They have too much HTML, too many graphics, and overall look like advertisements, not emails. As the titan of advertising, Howard Luck Gossage once said, “The real fact of the matter is that nobody reads ads. People read what interests them, and sometimes it’s an ad.”

One simple way that you can humanize your email fundraising campaigns is to get rid of the templates and create an email that looks like the emails you send every day to your friends, or colleagues. For example, let’s look at experiment #4647 from our online research library:

Version A:

Email Fundraising Hacks - #1 Control

Version B:

Email Fundraising Hacks - #1 Treatment

Email Fundraising Hacks - #1 Results

Version A is the control version of the email, meaning it used the standard HTML and image-based design template. Version B sought to apply the principle of “People Give to People” by presenting a design that looks less like a marketing email and much more like a personal email from a friend. The result was a transformational 116% increase in donations.   

From this experiment (and others like it) we have extracted a theory that you can test when designing your next fundraising email: people give to people, because people send text-based emails, not HTML emails. 

Hack #2  Make your email fundraising more relevant by adding a personalized salutation. 

This one may seem like common sense, but if you are going to send an email that looks more like a letter from a friend instead of an ad for new tires, you should start by addressing your recipient by name. 

Let’s look at experiment #5707 that illustrates how powerful this one simple tactic can be:

Version A:

Email Fundraising Hacks - #2 Control

Version B:

Email Fundraising Hacks - #2 Treatment

Email Fundraising Hacks - #2 Results

In this case, the only difference between Version A and Version B is that Version B includes a personal salutation (“Hi Jeff”). And just by making that one change, it produced a 270% increase in click-through rates.   

This experiment points to another theory that you can test in your future fundraising emails: people give to people, because people address each other by name. 

Hack#3  Before you present your ask in your email, make sure that you have adequately explained the most compelling reasons why someone should give. 

The most important question that any fundraiser needs to answer is this, “If I am your ideal donor, why should I give to your organization rather than some other organization, or not at all?

This question (whether verbalized or not) is what every donor is considering when they are contemplating giving a gift to you. How you answer this question will determine the strength and force of your value proposition, and ultimately your success as a fundraiser. Yet, many nonprofits fail to adequately address this fundamental question. I can say that with certainty because we did a formal study of 127 of the largest nonprofit organizations and asked them that simple question. The responses were pretty crumby.   

As this hack applies tactically to email, on simple thing you can do is use more copy to explain the reasons why your potential donor should give. Let’s look at experiment #1029 in our fundraising research library: 

Version A:

Email Fundraising Hacks - #3 Control

Version B:

Email Fundraising Hacks - #3 Treatment

Email Fundraising Hacks - #3 Results

As you can see from this experiment, by using more copy to communicate the “why” behind the “what” this organization was able to drive significantly more donations. This experiment highlights another theory that you can test in your own emails to help drive more motivated traffic to your campaigns: people give to people, because people provide adequate rationale for their requests.

Hack #4 – Don’t use “clickbait” with your email subscribers—let them know EXACTLY what you would like them to do in your call-to-action. 

This one may run against the grain of something that I have been taught by many other for-profit conversion rate optimization gurus. Their argument is that you can experience compounding gains by improving the micro-metrics of one step that proceeds a following step.

For example, the idea that “the goal of an email is to sell a click, not a product,” makes sense in theory. And it does help you avoid the mistake of asking for too much commitment too soon. But based on our testing, it may not be a good practice for your email fundraising efforts. The reason for this is because of something called dissonance. In this context, dissonance is a fancy word to describe the feeling you have when you think you have been tricked.   

So, for example, if the call-to-action of an email says “click here to learn the secret of life” and then it takes you to a page that says, “Donate Now” you will most likely experience frustration. What was promised for your click was not delivered on the subsequent landing page. For this reason, we have run multiple experiments suggest that a direct call-to-action that is descriptive of the ultimate conversion objective you want your donor to take works best. 

Consider the following experiment, experiment #583 in our research library. In this experiment, the call-to-action of the email is the only variable that changed: 

Version A (Control): 

Email Fundraising Hacks - #4 Control

Version B: 

Email Fundraising Hacks - #4 Treatment

Version C: 

Email Fundraising Hacks - #4 Treatment 2


Treatment Name  Relative Difference (Donations) 
A:  Direct Ask   
B:  Stand with Heritage  50.4% decrease in donations
C:  Stand up for your principles       -51.5% decrease in donations


Versions B and C actually sent significantly more traffic to the web site by generating a click-through rate 91% higher than the control (Version A).  However, when we looked at donation responses, both versions B and C produced a 50.4% and 51.5% decrease (respectively). Not only is this experiment illustrative of the importance of being direct in your call-to-action, but it also provides an important caveat when it comes to email testing. Make sure that you are validating your tests based on ultimate conversions—not just opens and clicks.

Hack #5  When you add links to your email, make sure they are stripped down and buck naked. 

Oh good—I still have your attention!  Haha…I know this is a long post, but hopefully a useful one! What I mean by naked links is that you should insert text links as a URL instead of hyper-linked text or buttons.   

Check out one final experiment that does a great job of isolating this variable, experiment #4980: 

Version A:

Email Fundraising Hacks - #5 Control

Version B:

Email Fundraising Hacks - #5 Treatment

Email Fundraising Hacks - #5 Click ResultsEmail Fundraising Hacks - #5 Donation Results

Note that the only difference between version A and version B is that the hyper-texted link in version A was replaced with a naked URL. I believe the reason this hack works is because real people send emails with raw links, not hyperlinked phrases or buttons. This is another variable you may consider testing in your next email campaign. 

A Final Word of Caution 

Let me leave you with one final piece of advice. Take everything I’ve shared in this post with a grain of salt. As I’ve confessed earlier, I don’t have all the answers to what works (and what doesn’t) in fundraising. Nobody does. But I’ve figured out how to listen to the true experts—the donors—and learn from what they teach us by the way they respond.

The web is not just a channel of communication. It’s the greatest behavioral laboratory that has ever existed. And we can do well to learn through constant experimentation. I implore you to assume nothing, question everything, and use testing to help generate real hard data that can help you to decide. 

If you like to learn more about what we at NextAfter have learned about what works in email fundraising from over 1,000 online experiments, please check out our free 6-part online course in Email Fundraising Optimization.

This was originally posted on npENGAGE and can be found here.

About the author:


Tim Kachuriak

Tim won "Best Stage Presence" for the 1991 Pittsburgh Boys Choir.

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5 Year-End Fundraising Ideas to Actually Grow Your Revenue

Published by Nathan Hill

5 Year-End Fundraising Ideas
Almost every fundraiser or marketer I’ve talked to has a similar story about year-end fundraising: they spend hours and hours coming up with new ideas and new strategies, only to end up doing the same thing they did the year before.

Doing the same thing over and over again will never help you grow your year-end fundraising revenue. You have to try something new.

Here are 5 simple year-end fundraising ideas that you can easily apply to your campaign this year to help grow results – all based on data and results from over 1000 online fundraising experiments.

Idea #1 – Don’t be afraid to write a long email (or a really, really long email).

One of the most common questions about email fundraising is, “How long should my emails be?” Here’s the short answer:

“Your emails should be as long as it takes to thoroughly explain why someone should give to your organization.”

The hard part is understanding exactly how much information is needed for your donor to trust that investing their money with your organization is the right decision.

For example, in this experiment, we started with a really, really long email appeal. We thought that we could condense the same information down into an email appeal that was half the size (maybe even shorter).

Year-End Fundraising Ideas - Write a longer email

The results? The shortened email got more clicks, but it saw a 57% decrease in donations. This contradicts every best practice out there.

Here’s the main takeaway: It often takes much more copy than you think to thoroughly explain why someone should give to your organization. Don’t be afraid to write long emails for your year-end fundraising appeals.

Idea #2 – Ask donors for a phone number, and send a thank-you voicemail afterwards.

Generally speaking, adding more fields to your donation form is a bad idea – especially if you’re asking for excessive or too personal of information.

But if you don’t ask for a phone number, you can make phone calls or send voicemails to cultivate your donors. And according to a study from GuideStar, donors may give up to 42% more after 14 months if they receive a thank you call from a board member (more on how to make this super easy and scalable in a second).

How do you ask for phone number without asking for too much information? Make your phone number field optional.

According to our testing, using an optional phone number field doesn’t affect donations. But requiring a phone number can decrease donations by 42.6%.

Year-End Fundraising Ideas - Ask for an optional phone number

Once you have the phone number, you need to be able to make some thank you calls. But depending on the size of your organization, that may seem impossible.

The good news – there are services popping up left and right that will let you send voicemails in bulk to your donors without having to even ring their phone. Obviously it’s better if you can make a personal phone call, but here are some tools to make it easier:

Idea #3 – Use content as a bridge to ask for a donation; especially for new donors.

It’s tempting to flip all of your communication channels to ask directly for donations during year-end fundraising. But not everyone is going to be ready to give, especially those that have never donated before.

Here’s what I’d recommend…

If you have any acquisition campaigns (free downloads, online courses, email sign-ups, quizzes, petitions, etc), keep them running. But try using what we call an instant donation page as your confirmation page.

In short, the instant donation page becomes your confirmation page after someone submits a form. This page briefly thanks them for downloading your ebook, opting in to your email series, or whatever the offer was. But it then pivots into a donation ask, making an appeal related to the original acquisition offer.

The key here is to make sure your donation form is on this page – don’t make people have click again to get there.

Here’s an experiment that illustrates the model, and shows its effectiveness:

Year-End Fundraising Ideas - Use an instant donation page

The direct donation ask resulted in zero donations. The content offer to instant donation page resulted in a 209% increase in clicks, and a 1.18% donation conversion rate.

Want to learn more about how to use the instant donation page? You can read a quick blog post about it here. You can download a free template here. Or you can take the free online course (it’s covered in session 7).

Idea #4 – Don’t use videos to make your donation appeal; use them to prime donors for your appeal.

People get angry when they hear this, but videos are not the most effective way to ask for a donation. At least not directly. Here’s an example:

Year-End Fundraising Ideas - Don't use a video on your donation page

In this case, replacing the video with text that explained the same message led to a 560% increase in donations.

Let me say that again…Removing the video led to a 560% increase in donations!

If you think this is just a one-off example, check out these other experiments showing the same type of result:

If you want to (or have to) use a video in your year-end fundraising, use it as a primer to show your potential donors the value of your organization before you make your appeal like this:

  1. Send it in an email towards the start of your campaign without any sort of donation ask.
  2. Then send a direct ask donation appeal without a video within 2 weeks. 

Idea #5 – Ask donors to upgrade to a recurring donation when they click to submit their gift.

Recurring donors can be up to 4x more valuable than a one-time donor. And with year-end fundraising being the biggest giving season of the year, increasing the rate that donors become recurring donors could make an enormous impact on revenue.

One way we’ve found to help boost recurring giving numbers is to use a pop-up prompt on your one-time donation form. It works like this:

  1. Donors come to your donation page.
  2. They put in all their info for a one-time gift.
  3. They click the button to submit the donation form.
  4. A pop-up appears that asks the donor to upgrade their gift to recurring.

We tested this model and saw a 64% increase in recurring donations – all without affecting the overall donation conversion rate. In other words, we had the same total number of donors, but a larger percentage were recurring donors.

Year-End Fundraising Ideas - Use a recurring gift pop-up prompt

Need more year-end fundraising ideas?

Year End Fundraisng - Cut Through the ClutterWe have a whole eBook called Cut Through the Clutter that is devoted to year-end fundraising. You’ll find 10 unique ideas to help your fundraising stand amount to your ideal donors, all based on real-world research and field-tested experiments.

Get your free copy of Cut Through the Clutter here.

Have other ideas you’d like to share? Just drop them in the comments below.

Planning a year-end fundraising campaign can be a huge stressor – in particularly if you’re caught in a rut of running the same campaigns over and over again, hoping it brings in as many donations as last year (or more). This free online course on year-end fundraising will give you a fresh look at your year-end fundraising, and help you craft a plan based on data, testing, and research that will bring in more money this year-end than you thought possible.

About the author:


Nathan Hill

Nathan is the Marketing Director for NextAfter. He spends every day working to help nonprofit organizations discover how testing and optimization can transform their marketing and fundraising, leading to greater impact and organizational growth. He is also a giant Star Wars nerd.

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Increase Your Matching Gift Revenue: 5 Email Examples

Published by Adam Weinger

Increase Matching Gift Revenue

How well your nonprofit communicates with supporters online sets the tone for the rest of your relationship. After all, since the majority of your interactions with future givers will likely be online, it only makes sense to want to strengthen your email marketing efforts.

Yet, many nonprofits are unaware of the massive fundraising potential email marketing has for your cause, especially when it comes to promoting matching gifts to your supporters.

If you’re unfamiliar with matching gifts, the fundraising strategy works like this: every year, thousands of companies offer corporate matching gifts programs to their employees in which they commit to matching certain donations at a 1:1 (or even 1:2 and sometimes 1:3) ratio.

Your team can leverage smart email marketing strategies to get the word out and promote matching gifts to your donors. Each year, only 7% of donors who work at companies that offer matching gifts successfully submit their match simply because individuals aren’t aware of how gift matching works.

In this article, we’ll go over some examples of how to promote and educate your community about matching gifts through your email communications pipeline. We’ve provided templates for a:

  1. Matching Gifts Explainer Email
  2. Company-Specific Matching Gifts Email
  3. Segment-Specific Matching Gifts Email
  4. Campaign-Specific Matching Gifts Email
  5. Year-End Fundraising Matching Gifts Email

When your supporters are educated and aware of the matching gifts potential their donations have, they’ll be inspired to follow through on completing their match. Let’s dive into these effective examples so your team can start boosting your matching gifts fundraising revenue!

Example #1: Matching Gifts Explainer Email

One of the best ways to increase matching gift revenue is to simply connect supporters with the resources they need to find out how to get their gifts matched.

This is why one of your first matching gifts emails should be a concise explainer of what matching gifts programs are, how they work, and the impact they can have on your cause.

Before you craft this email, you should create a matching gifts page on your website like this one from Mercy Corps. Include a matching gift database search tool on this page so donors can check if their employers offer these programs without leaving your website.

Here’s an example from a hypothetical women’s advocacy group:

SUBJECT: Get your donations doubled for free

BODY: Did you know your employer may match your gifts to Lakeside Women’s Group at no cost?

Every year, thousands of companies commit to match employee donations through their corporate giving programs.

Yet, 78% of matching gifts-eligible employees aren’t sure if they qualify for these matches.

Ready to find out if you can make double (or even triple) your impact as a Lakeside Women’s Group supporter? Discover whether or not your company matches gifts by searching our [hyperlink: matching gift program database].

Want to make your gift today? Click the donate button below to make a difference for women across Lakeside County.

[Button: Show Your Support!]

Bonus tip! The best way to make sure supporters open your emails? Optimize your subject lines! Learn more about subject line optimization strategies.

Example #2: Company-Specific Matching Gifts Email

Another great way to convert email list members into matching gifts donors is to leverage matching gifts automation technology to preemptively identify matching gifts leads in your community. If you can identify donors who work for companies with robust matching gift programs, why not reach out to those donors specifically?

Implement a solution like 360MatchPro to segment email lists by matching gifts eligibilityThen, you can create company-specific matching gifts marketing emails to directly address constituents who work for matching gifts companies.

Take a look at how this animal shelter reaches out to employees who work for The Home Depot:

SUBJECT: See your contributions doubled by The Home Depot

BODY: Did you know The Home Depot has a matching gifts program for its employees?

This means that for every donation you make to Averyville Animal Shelter, your company will match that gift up to $1,000 each year!

The average donation we receive from supporters is about $250. That means the average donor could get their gifts doubled 4 times each year.

Whether you’re a full-time or part-time employee, you’re still eligible for this impactful giving program.

Even better, the minimum gift they’ll match is just $25, so you can still benefit from this program if making a larger gift isn’t possible right now.

Ready to learn more about The Home Depot’s matching gifts program? Head over to our [hyperlink: matching gifts database] for more details.

Example #3: Segment-Specific Matching Gifts Email

On a similar note, your matching gifts marketing emails will be strengthened when they feel more personal to the readers who receive them. In other words, the more you tailor your email templates to different constituent segments, the more likely it is they’ll encourage supporters to make a donation and submit a matching gift request.

The best way to ensure your email lists are effectively segmented is to keep clean, accurate data in your donor database. Consider creating email lists segmented by different donor types: the first-time giver, the occasional contributor, the recurring donor, etc.

Consider the way this children’s hospital connects with first-time donors and encourages them to look into their matching gifts eligibility:

SUBJECT: Double your impact with a no-cost employer donation match

BODY: We know you love Franklin Children’s Hospital, so why not maximize your impact?

If your employer offers matching gifts as part of their corporate giving commitments, you could be making double the impact with your contribution to our essential institution.

Every year, billions of potential matched gifts go untouched because donors like you were unaware that they were on the table.

For your latest gift, why not secure a gift match from your company? To see if your employer offers a matching gifts program, [hyperlink: visit our matching gifts database].

The average minimum donation to qualify for a gift match is just $25, so it’s more than likely your gift will be eligible!

Make your latest contribution go further towards sustaining children’s health. Secure your gift match today.

Bonus tip! Want to find out more smart ideas for boosting your online fundraising revenue? Look no further! Check out this article on growing online fundraising revenue.

Example #4: Campaign-Specific Matching Gifts Email

Promoting matching gifts to your email subscribers is a truly effective way to increase the fundraising momentum for specific campaigns, too. As you promote your latest fundraising campaign, be sure to send out tailored matching gifts emails as part of your content calendar.

For example, boosting your matching gifts revenue is a great way to get you closer to your capital campaign’s fundraising goals. Since you’ll need many mid- and high-level gifts to reach your goals, each and every dollar counts.

Check out the way this homeless shelter ties matching gifts in with their ongoing capital campaign:

SUBJECT: Help us expand our shelter faster with matching gifts

BODY: In 2020, we’ll be growing our campus. Get us closer to our goal with matching gifts.

Does your employer offer a matching gifts program? In these corporate giving initiatives, companies match their employees’ gifts to causes like Hopeful Community Shelter.

Find out if you’re eligible for one of these impactful programs by [hyperlink: searching our database].

As we plan for our upcoming expansion, we need all the help we can get to reach our $5 million fundraising goal. These contributions will help build a sustainable campus to house over 500 families in need from the Jackson metro area.

So, are you eligible for an employer matching gifts program? If so, it’s time to get your gifts matched! Whether you’ve already donated this year or are ready to make a contribution, don’t let this opportunity pass you by.

Bonus tip! Planning a capital campaign? Visit Averill Fundraising Solutions to learn all you need to know about getting your next capital campaign right.

Example #5: Year-End Fundraising Matching Gifts Email

Finally, your team can incorporate matching gifts promotion into your year-end fundraising email marketing. During this bustling online fundraising season, you can encourage more supporters than ever to look into their matching gifts eligibility and secure their gift matches.

Since year-end fundraising is so dependent on tapping into the holiday spirit, you might find it useful to send these messages out right before high-impact fundraising days like Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Eve.

See how this arts organization leveraged year-end fundraising momentum to boost matching gifts:

SUBJECT: Make a bigger impact this holiday season with matching gifts

BODY: Before the year is up, be sure to find out your matching gifts eligibility!

Thousands of companies have matching gifts programs in place to double employee gifts to organizations close to their hearts, like Kelly’s Arts Center.

Your employer may be one of them. Visit [hyperlink: our matching gifts database tool] to find out whether your company has one of these meaningful programs in action.

Once you’ve confirmed your eligibility, you can submit your gift match request and double the impact of your donation by the end of the year.

We know money can be tight, and we know that the holidays are often one of the most hectic seasons in your calendar. This is why we want your family to find out if securing a gift match is possible for you.

From our family to yours,

We wish you a joyful holiday season!

With effective email marketing strategies, increasing your matching gifts revenue will be a breeze. Now that you’ve read these helpful templates, you’re sure to boost matching gifts at your organization!

About the author:

Adam Weinger

Adam Weinger

Adam Weinger is the President of Double the Donation, the leading provider of tools to nonprofits to help them raise more money from corporate matching gift and volunteer grant programs.

Be the first to learn new donor cultivation insights from this analysis of 200 nonprofits when you reserve your spot for this free webinarLearn More »

What I Learned from 152 Email Signups from 152 Organizations

Published by Brady Josephson

Before I worked for NextAfter, one of the resources I used and referenced most was the Online Fundraising Scorecard. I found it incredibly useful to see what other organizations were doing, what they weren’t doing, and what I could or should be doing. So when I joined the team and we decided to do a new version of the scorecard, and with Canadian organizations, I was pumped.

I also didn’t know what I was getting into.

Have you ever signed up for emails for 152 organizations? If your answer is yes, I want to know your story friend. But it’s not as easy or as simple as it sounds for a lot of reasons (more on that below) but it was fascinating to see so many sites, offers, and forms back to back to back to back to back to back to back… you get the point. Signing up for emails is one of four key areas that we’ll look at in the study — along with email communication, donation experience, and acknowledgment — and with the first part done, I wanted to share…

6 Things I Learned from Doing 152 Email Signups to 152 Organizations

Let’s start with the positives.

1. Organizations were “pretty good” at making the email signup quick and findable

It took me more than 10 seconds to find the email signup for only 17% of organizations compared to 24% in the original Online Fundraising Scorecard. For 75% of organizations, I could sign up for their emails in less than 2 clicks from the homepage — compared to 64% in the original Online Fundraising Scorecard. And, in total, 67% provided an email signup within 10 seconds and less than 2 clicks.

While that is “pretty good” (relative to the original Online Fundraising Scorecard) it also means that for 33% of organizations, it either takes more than 10 seconds or more than 2 clicks to signup for an email. Being able to easily find out how to signup for emails — for those rare people who are seeking that out — should common practice so I think there’s still some room to improve here.

And… that concludes the positive part of this post.

But before things get more negative — and I embed GIFs from me live tweeting this experience — let me just say that I love the charities and nonprofits working to change and impact our world for good. Truly. I wouldn’t do what I do if I didn’t believe in them and the sector overall or devote all of my professional life to work with, for, and alongside them.

On to the more negative section (but also full of GIFs).

2. Not every organization wants to get and send emails.

25 out of the original pool of 152 organizations (16%) either provided no way to sign up from the website or had a broken form and did not respond with a way that I could sign up within 5 days after I reached out to see how I could get their email updates.

I was expecting some of the later findings, but this one truthfully took me by surprise and I found this quite shocking. My thinking was that even if email wasn’t the number one source for online donations for these organizations — as it is for many nonprofits and a lot of our clients — I thought it was generally recognized that capturing and sending emails was a useful thing to do when it comes to online fundraising. Apparently not.

And many of these organizations weren’t new, hyper-local, or small either. There were some pretty major organizations (revenues over $50M) that were in this group. I suppose there may be some reasons for not allowing or wanting email signups — like being a national entity with local and provincial chapters — but even then I don’t believe they are good enough to not allow or want people to engage with you in a high-value channel like email.

3. You really can get a crappy newsletter anywhere.

Well, I guess based on #2 above not anywhere… but almost anywhere.

For this report, to assess the value proposition associated with an email sign-up offer, I tried to rank the appeal and exclusivity of that offer. For appeal, I tried to assess whether or not, as a donor, I would be highly interested in the offer, somewhat interested, or not interested at all. For exclusivity, I tried to determine if the email offer was something I could find nowhere else, somewhere else, or anywhere else. This is the same method we used in the original Online Fundraising Scorecard.

Here are the less than ideal results:

  • Only 6% of organizations offered something with ‘high interest’
  • Only 8% of organizations offered something people couldn’t get anywhere else
  • In total, only 10% of organizations had an offer that scored over 2
  • The average score was 0.48 and the median score was… 0

Instead of harping on the negative here — and there is a lot to be negative about — let’s think about the other side of the equation and all the opportunity! Just by simply starting to offering something that is appealing and something that is even somewhat exclusive means you can quickly and easily stand out from all the other newsletters out there.

4. Organizations are not using enough copy to communicate their offer

One of the biggest lessons I’ve seen from our research and experiments is that there is immense power and value in copy (your text and writing). In fact, the most important tool you have to communicate your value proposition is your copy. Yet in this study, only 32% of organizations used more than one sentence to state their case as to why someone should sign up for their emails. That’s less than a third that are even trying to use what we’ve seen as the most powerful tool when it comes to email acquisition.

I don’t know if this is because the people wrongly assume people don’t read, they are getting advice that it’s all about the design, videos, or images (it’s not), or if people just aren’t spending enough time caring and testing when it comes to trying to get emails but this was one of the most discouraging findings.

But, again, instead of looking at the negative — like where the heck is everyone getting their conversion and email signup suggestions from — the upside is that, most likely, by using more copy to explain in a way a potential donor can understand (clarity trumps persuasion!) why they would like your emails and how they are unique compared to others you should be able to get more visitors to become email subscribers.

5. Organizations are not taking advantage of the confirmation page.

The confirmation page — the page you are should be taken to after an action like an email sign up — is one of the most underutilized tools in the online fundraiser and digital marketers’ toolbox. It makes it easier to set up goals/tracking in Google Analytics so you can see where your sign-ups are coming from and even run some experiments but at the very least, confirmation pages should:

  • Confirm the action that someone took
  • Thank them for that action
  • Let them know what they should expect because of that action

If landing pages should be conversational in their tone and approach — as our research and findings suggest — then not having a confirmation page is like walking away in the middle of a conversation. Imagine if you invited a friend over for dinner, they say yes, and you say… nothing. Not thanks. No ‘see you then’. Just silence. How weird would that be?

But that’s what many organizations are doing as 61% of organizations did not have a confirmation page of any kind.

So, just to recap, if you wanted to sign up for email, found it, and got over the fact that there was, most likely, very little value being communicated to you and you still went ahead and signed up for emails you had a 60% chance to be greeted with… nothing. No confirmation. No thank you. Nothing.

There is clearly a lot of room to grow with just having a confirmation page but beyond simply having one, they can, and should, be used more strategically to engage donors and move them toward another action — follow, share, take a survey, etc. — and even a donation with something like an instant donation page. That may sound counterintuitive — didn’t they just sign up to get email updates from you? — but they’ve already made a bunch of micro ‘yes’ decisions which builds up cognitive momentum so asking or encouraging another greater action just keeps the momentum going which is why we’ve seen conversion rates on these pages anywhere from half a percent up to 10% or even 20%.

Remember that scenario where you invited your friends to dinner, and they said yes? This is kind of like asking them — now that they’ve shown interest in your dinner — if they can bring a dessert or a salad. If you just asked if they’d bring a salad that would be weird. But once they’ve said yes to coming it’s actually pretty natural. Many people will even ask “what can I bring”. Think of your confirmation page with an instant donation page kind of like that.

Yet only 7% of organizations in the study had an ask for donations (of any kind) on their confirmation pages. And only 1 had anything like a specific ask with a form on the page.

Again, there is ample room to experiment with this low-cost approach to more quickly turn email signups into donors.

6. Many tools and templates organizations are using suck.

As I went through the process of signing up for 152 emails, I ran into some pretty poor sites, pages, and forms.

Like being asked to provide my email twice on consecutive screens (and then not having a confirmation page):

Or needing to create and register for an account to just get emails:

Or having a good offer… only show up if you’re on a desktop or laptop:

Or requiring information but not telling me about it until I submit all the information:

Those are just a few. I’d say the majority of my Tweets/GIFs/frustrations were actually about the tools, sites, and user experience as there was a lot of friction (form fields, information required, decisions to make, etc.) and anxiety (Is my information secure? Did I actually sign up?). Much of this is down to the tools being used which are either poor (overall) or need to be customized to be better and people/organizations either don’t care or don’t know how to do that.

In either case, while I have a lot of empathy (truly), it is still a choice to use a crappy tool or do nothing to improve the experience you are providing donors. One of the goals of this report is to shed light on some of these areas and findings in the hope that more people will care and do something about it.

For me, you, and all of your donor’s sakes… let’s hope so!

Summary & Infographic

Those were some of the early findings and things I’ve learned in the process and here’s a handy infographic with more of the key stats so far as it relates to email signups:

Get the Canadian Online Scorecard and Start Optimizing Your Online Fundraising Today

Learn from 152 Canadian Charities and 1,200 experiments to improve your email signup process as well as email fundraising strategy, donation pages, and overall online giving experience.

About the author:


Brady Josephson

Brady Josephson is a charity nerd, entrepreneur, digital marketer, professor, and writer. At NextAfter, he focuses on business development and partnerships, content creation, and marketing. He's also a huge Liverpool FC fan. #YNWA

Be the first to learn new donor cultivation insights from this analysis of 200 nonprofits when you reserve your spot for this free webinarLearn More »

5 Ways to Improve Your Fundraising Email Subject Lines

Published by Brady Josephson

5 Ways to Improve Your Nonprofit Fundraising Email Subject LinesWhen it comes to online fundraising, email is one of, if not the, biggest drivers of online revenue. Here’s an example of one of our clients from 2017:

The majority of fundraising revenue from digital channels comes from email marketing.

When we do data audits, we see this time and time again for organizations working in different areas and of differing sizes. So email fundraising is valuable and should be core to your online fundraising efforts.

Today, I won’t go into all the things required for great email fundraising, like email acquisition, but rather focus on one thing: writing great fundraising email subject lines. There are many reasons why people don’t read your emails and one of the biggest is that they don’t even open them. The subject line can play a crucial role in changing that.

The Subject Line

Before we dive into some subject line ideas based on our research, we first have to understand how people are using subject lines. The subject line, along with the preview text, sender line, reply email, and date, is a key element of the ‘email envelope’ — what you see before you actually open the email. It’s the email envelope that you and I use, even unknowingly, to triage our inboxes.

There are really two strategies to writing fundraising email subject lines:

  1. You appeal to the topic
  2. You appeal to the conversation

It can be tough for many nonprofits to appeal to the topic as it requires you to know a lot about the person you are sending to so you can be extra relevant. This is also why tools can be hit and miss in helping you write subject lines. Also, often, the topic you want to discuss, like clean water in Africa, may not be the most top of mind for the recipient.

So instead I’ll focus on how you can appeal to the conversation. This method gives the reader the impression that the conversation itself is worth getting into without going into the topic very much at all — which relies on using conversational cues.

5 Key Levers to Write Great Fundraising Email Subject Lines

1. Mystery

This leaves people wanting to know more and invokes their sense of curiosity. Let’s take a look at an experiment we ran using mystery where the first email is from the founder of the organization and a frequent sender of emails. In it, she’s trying to be kind of cute and establish a connection through moms.







The second is from another user on the site who hasn’t sent an email before. In it, she uses a personalized statement that doesn’t really say too much about what the email is.

An example of a subject line that appeals to the conversation.

The end result: the second email got 137% more opens.

Key Point: To activate the element of mystery, you need to leave just enough information out of your fundraising email subject line concerning the topic.

2. Utility

This gives people a sense that they will benefit from your email and what you are offering. Take this experiment for example where the first email is trying to show what you get:

This example does not illustrate a benefit very clearly.

While the second email is much more clear with what you get (and when you can get it):

This subject line clearly communicates the benefit and encourages the reader to open the email.

The second email increased opens 71.6%.

Now if you’re asking for money, it may seem like you aren’t offering anything but rather taking. If that’s your view of giving then fundraising is going to be hard as giving is a great gift that makes people feel happy and makes some kind of difference in the world. So there are two benefits you could feature in an email subject line: what they get in terms of happiness or what their gift does in terms of impact in the world.

Key point: To activate the element of utility, you need to imply that there is something useful to them or their special interest: a benefit, a gift, content that progresses them, or even a favor.

3. You

This is one of the most magical words in fundraising. Using ‘you’ has been a stable strategy for copywriting and particularly for direct mail for years. It’s a strategy that is still hugely useful for fundraising email subject lines.

Remember the example from above for mystery with the “You Amaze Me, Jeff” subject line? That experiment shows the power of ‘you’ as well as how ‘you’ can be used with mystery.

It can also be used with utility. In one experiment, we simply changed the subject line from ‘Time Is Running Out to Get Your Free CD’ (utility) to ‘Our Gift to Thank You – A Free CD’ (utility + ‘you’) and it increased opens 49%. Not sure who is using CD’s still…

Key point: To activate the element of you, you need to imply that this email was made specifically for them, either by using the word “you,” using their name, or writing it so it feels personally addressed.

4. Recency

This involves using time reliance and things like days of the week, time-based salutations, and words like ‘yesterday’, ‘today, and ‘tomorrow’. This helps increase the sense of urgency someone feels because it is time-based and when done right helps with relevance.

Many emails you send are time reliant in one way or another — when you’re sending, what the content is about, when they need to respond, etc. — so just by adding in that fact can increase your open rate.

Key Point: To activate the element of recency, you need to use a word that implies your email covers something recent and/or newsworthy.

5. Authenticity

This is a hugely important factor as one of the main goals for your fundraising is to come across like a human talking to humans – not an email marketing machine. So when you get too ‘salesy’ or aggressive it can turn people off, not because you are being sales-y necessarily, but because it seems inauthentic.

Here’s an example experiment where adding in the more urgent and sales focused copy, ‘Don’t wait another minute’, decreased opens 28%:

This example does not use urgent, sales-y messaging and stays true to the organization's voice.

This email's subject line performed worse than the other, because it features off-brand messaging.

Key point: To activate the element of authenticity, you need to avoid phrases or word pairs that come off as opportunistic.


Subject Line HeuristicIf you want to send better emails and raise more money from them, you have to first get people to open your email. The subject line plays a critical role in that. By taking a conversational approach and using those 5 key levers, you have a better chance of standing out in a crowded inbox, having your donors engage with your content, and, possibly, going on to make a donation.

You can download the free fundraising email subject line heuristic guide here that outlines these 5 levers and gives you some tips on what key words and phrases to use for each one.

Want to go deeper with fundraising email subject lines, email envelopes, and more? Check out this free course on email fundraising.

Originally published at on April 11, 2018.

Optimize Your Email Fundraising

Subject lines, although incredibly powerful and influential, are only one small piece of a successful email. To make a big impact on your email fundraising effectiveness, you need to know how to optimize every element of your email. The free Email Fundraising Optimization course will walk you through each element of an email, show you what we’ve learned works through testing and optimization, and help you craft emails that will grow your online fundraising revenue.

About the author:


Brady Josephson

Brady Josephson is a charity nerd, entrepreneur, digital marketer, professor, and writer. At NextAfter, he focuses on business development and partnerships, content creation, and marketing. He's also a huge Liverpool FC fan. #YNWA