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Nonprofit Email Fundraising: 9 Questions to Ask Before Sending

Published by Nathan Hill

Nonprofit email fundraising is complicated.

Especially when there are so many different voices and opinions all trying to tell you what the “best practices” are.

Traditional fundraisers want you to write your email fundraising appeals like you’d write a direct mail appeal.

Email platforms want you to use lots of design elements and features because, well, that’s part of how they sell their tool.

And standard “best practice” blogs just recycle old ideas, hoping they work, – rarely having any real evidence of what leads to results.

The only way to really know what works to increase nonprofit email fundraising revenue is to test.

Luckily for you, we’ve done the leg work.

Looking deep into our library of over 2,500 online experiments, I’ve pulled out 9 questions that you can ask when creating your nonprofit email fundraising appeals to ensure they are optimized with tested and proven tactics that can lead to more revenue.

9 Questions to Ask When You Create Your Nonprofit Email Fundraising Appeals

Is your email sender a real person?

Send from a person, not an organization or brand name.
Read more about the email sender name »

Does your email subject line use these 5 elements?

Mystery • Utility • Personalization • Relevance • Authenticity
Read more about nonprofit email subject lines »

Do you say “Hello” and call your donor by name?

Conversations start with a greeting, and friends call each other by name.
Read more about the email salutation »

Does your email copy explain the problem you’re trying to solve?

There’s no reason to donate if there’s not a problem to solve.
Read more about the writing your email fundraising copy »

Does your copy articulate the impact your donor can have?

Donors need to know what their gift is actually going to do
Read more about the writing your email fundraising copy »

Do you demonstrate your organization’s unique approach?

Why is my donation better invested with you than another similar organization?
Read more about the writing your email fundraising copy »

Is there an extra reason or incentive to give now?

Matching Challenges • Goals • Deadlines • Premiums
Read more about email fundraising incentives »

Does your email clearly ask them to donate?

Ask them to donate, not to “give hope” or “stand with you.”
Read more about email fundraising calls-to-action »

Does your email appeal look like a friend wrote it?

Heavy design makes your email look like marketing, not a conversation.
Read more about nonprofit email design »

The Email Sender Name

Email was designed for humans to communicate with humans. Yet when most marketers write a nonprofit email fundraising appeal, it sounds and looks nothing like what you and I would send to our friends, family, or coworkers.

If we want to communicate with the real human beings on the other end of our emails, we need to first make sure we’re sending from a real human being – not an organization or brand name.

Sending from a Person Can Increase Email Opens

When this strategy is A/B tested, it often leads to more email opens – and sometimes even more clicks and donations.

In one experiment, the original email was sent from the organization name: “Competitive Enterprise Institute.”

The treatment email was sent from a real person: “Kent Lassman.”

By sending the email from a person, they saw a 28% increase in email opens.

Email Sender Line Experiment image

You can find a few more examples on how to optimize your email sender name here.

The Subject Line

There are 5 proven “mental levers” that you can use to write better subject lines for your nonprofit email fundraising – even if you don’t consider yourself to be a great copywriter.

Mystery – Don’t completely give away the topic of the email.

Utility – Focus your subject line on the value it is going to bring to the reader.

Recency – Use time indicator words to let people know why they should open now.

“You” / Personalization – Use the word “you” or other personalization to let readers know the email was made for them.

Subject Line Worksheet image

Authenticity – Make sure your email doesn’t come across as self-centered or opportunistic.

Need a guide to help you write an effective subject line? You can get the free subject line worksheet tool here: https:/

The Salutation

Real people start conversations by saying some form of “Hello.” And friends call each other by name.

So why wouldn’t you start your fundraising email appeal the same way?

Calling someone by name can increase clicks

In this experiment, the original email jumped straight into the copy.

The treatment, however, added two impactful words: “Hi Jeff.”

Saying “Hi” and calling the donor by their name led to a 270% increase in clicks.

A few different ways to start your email like a human being

Writing like a real person is surprisingly hard. So here are a few ideas to start your fundraising email appeal without sounding like a marketer.

  • Hi [First Name]! I hope you’re having a great day.
  • [First Name], I was thinking about something this morning.
  • Good morning, [First Name]. I came across something today that I thought you’d be interested in.
Email Salutation Experiment

You can find 5 other ways to make your email sound more human here.

The Copy

It’s impossible to tell you exactly how to write your email, but there are a few common threads that we’ve observed from high-performing email appeals.

#1 – Explain the problem you’re trying to solve.

If you’re asking for a donation, you need first show why a donation is even needed.

If there’s not a clear problem that needs to be solved or a cause that needs to be impacted, then there’s no reason to give.

Use the first couple paragraphs to explain the problem.

#2 – Articulate the impact of a donation.

If you’ve explained a problem that needs to be solved, you have to also explain how a donation can make a difference.

Spend the next couple paragraphs clearly and concisely outlining exactly what a donation is going to do.

#3 – Demonstrate your organization’s unique approach to solving the problem.

Why should someone give to you, rather than another organization that’s doing similar work?

Use this next section of your email copy to demonstrate how your organization is uniquely equipped to solve the problem.

Consider using a testimonial to build trust or using data to validate your claims and your impact.

If you’re struggling with any of these 3 areas, you might need to spend some time thinking about your value proposition.

The Incentive

It’s possible for someone to understand the problem you’re trying to solve, know how a gift can make an impact, trust you to make the best use of their donation – but still not donate.

Sometimes you need a little extra incentive to help inspire someone to give now rather than give later.

Here are a few types of incentives you can use to help someone give now:

  • A matching challenge
  • A clear fundraising goal
  • A campaign deadline
  • A premium offer (like a book or swag)

Keep in mind, these are not reasons to give or support your organization. These are extra little motivators to donate now instead of later.

How an incentive increases donations

In this experiment, the control email had no additional incentive to give now.

In the treatment, CaringBridge added a countdown clock to increase urgency.

Adding the countdown clock as an incentive to give now led to a 65% increase in donations.

Email Fundraising Incentive Experiment

The Call-to-Action

One of the most common email fundraising mistakes is being wishy-washy with your call-to-action.

If you haven’t said something to the effect of “Will you donate?”, then you haven’t actually communicated what you want your reader to do next.

Here are a few common calls-to-action that are actually very unclear:

  • Will you stand with us?
  • Will you show your support?
  • Will you help bring hope/joy/love/support/care?

While all of those sound nice, none of them explicitly ask for a donation.

Explicitly asking for a donation increases conversions

In one experiment, an organization tested two different email calls-to-action.

One call-to-action said “Please, make your year-end gift to [us] today.”

The other call-to-action said “Please, stand with [us] today.”

Saying “stand with us” led to a 50% decrease in donations. You may find that a vague call-to-action increases clicks, but without a clear expectation of what’s next, those clicks don’t lead to donations.

Email Call to Action Experiment

The Design

People don’t give to cool looking emails. Or to “great” email marketing. Or to emails at all.

People give to people.

And if your fundraising email appeal doesn’t look like it came from a real human being, your chances of actually getting a donation are lower. You need to humanize your design.

What does it mean to humanize your design?

In short, your email should look like you created the whole thing in Gmail. Here are a few quick ways to humanize your email design:

  • Replace HTML buttons with text links (or raw URLs)
  • Get rid of images and graphics
  • Use a normal email signature, not an image of your handwritten signature
  • Don’t use colored backgrounds

Sending plain-text style emails can increase donations

In this experiment, the NPR station KUOW tested this “humanized email design” strategy.

Their original email included logos, buttons, graphics, hero images, and a photo of the sender.

The treatment email removed all of those design elements in favor of a more plain-text style design.

Removing the design elements and sending a more personal looking email led to a 28.8% increase in donations.

Nonprofit Email Fundraising Design Experiment

There’s a Whole Lot More to Learn About Email Fundraising

Everything in this quick reference guide is based on data, testing, and research. But I’ve only actually shown you 5 examples from our library of over 2,500 online fundraising experiments.

There’s a whole lot more to learn about what truly works to improve your nonprofit email fundraising.

That’s why we’ve created a 7-session email fundraising certification course for you.

During the course, you’ll see what works to improve results in every part of your email fundraising campaigns including:

Email Fundraising Course Image
  • Email acquisition pages
  • Subject lines
  • Email copy and design
  • Donation pages for your campaign

Learn more about how you can get certified in email fundraising and start radically improving your results.

About the author:

Nathan Hill

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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COVID-19 Fundraising Update: A Deeper Look at Email Fundraising

Published by Brady Josephson

The WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic on March 12, 2020, but the impact of the disease was already being felt around the world. The impact on nonprofits — and not only those on the frontlines — was, and is, still unknown but in an attempt to shed more light on the unknowns we developed the Coronavirus Nonprofit Fundraising Resource Center which features a series of data visualizations to track in real-time how nonprofits are communicating with their donors.

This data will hopefully help answer two crucial questions:

  1. How are nonprofits responding to the outbreak of coronavirus and COVID-19 in their communication with their donors?
  2. How are donors responding to nonprofits during this global pandemic and subsequent economic downturn?

Tim recently wrote a post with some high-level answers to those questions so today I want to dive a bit deeper into email fundraising and try to answer those two questions a bit more like this:

  1. How are nonprofits responding to the outbreak of coronavirus and COVID-19 in their EMAIL communication with their donors?
  2. How are donors responding to nonprofits’ EMAILS during this global pandemic and subsequent economic downturn?

What are nonprofits responding to COVID-19 in their emails?

We are currently tracking donor email communication from 157 different organizations across 12 different verticals. Here are a few observations:

Nonprofits have increased the volume of emails they are sending and April saw a 56% increase compared to March. 

More email volume but are all different types of nonprofits sending more email?

Every vertical has increased their email volume since February and 10 of the 12 have in April compared to March

Okay, email volume has gone up, across almost every vertical, but how has the type of email changed?

The mix of solicitations (emails that ask for a donation some way) has remained pretty consistent at ~47%.

So even with more emails going out, there isn’t a higher proportion of asks. But what about the messaging within the emails?

More nonprofits are mentioning COVID-19 and/or coronavirus in their emails as April saw a 67% increase in the ratio of emails that mentioned it compared to March and 120% in total emails mentioning it.

More nonprofits are tying their message into COVID-19 and/or coronavirus as time goes on.


So how are nonprofits responding to the outbreak of coronavirus and COVID-19 in their EMAIL communication with their donors?

Nonprofits, across almost all verticals, are sending more emails that are more likely to contain a mention to COVID-19 but the likelihood that they ask for a donation remains the same.

How are donors responding to nonprofits’ emails?

So we know what nonprofits are doing at a high level, but how are donors responding? 

April was the highest email revenue month (up 27% from March) and email revenue is up 123% Year to Date (YTD) overall.

It seems pretty clear that email is doing a good job at generating revenue for nonprofits not just in April but in all of 2020.

But why? What’s driving it?

Let’s look a little deeper to see what’s driving the increase in revenue by looking at some key fundraising metrics:

  • Traffic
  • Gifts
  • Conversion Rate (Gifts/Traffic)
  • Average Gift

Is more traffic being generated from emails?

Email traffic is up slightly compared to last year mostly due to a spike in the middle/end of March where visits from email went up 61% and then 46% in back to back weeks.

With more emails being sent it makes sense that traffic from emails would also go up but people actually giving?

Gifts from email have gone up 56% since February and April was up 18% compared to March.

Again, this makes sense, more emails with the same ask rate (as we saw above) should lead to more giving. But how does this impact engagement? Are people less likely to respond with more volume?

April saw a 54% increase in conversion rate from email traffic (people who visited a website from an email that made a donation).

So even with more volume, there seems to be more engagement leading to more gifts. That all seems great. But what about how generous people are? With financial strains maybe people are giving less on average.

The average gift from email was down 3% in April but year to date compared to 2019, it’s up 20%.

We saw a 44% decrease in email average gift in March from February which was also 33% lower than March 2019 and was a concern. But the slight drop in April is very minor and is actually 45% higher than April 2019. So, for now and from email at least, it sure seems that people are actually more generous than they were last year.


Even with more emails being sent, the conversion rate from email is actually going up leading to more donations. These donations have a higher average gift (compared to 2019) so more gifts from email and more on average plus more volume are what is leading to a significant increase in revenue from email for the year (123% YTD) and especially in April (27% increase from March).

What else can we learn?

One of the things I’ve come to believe when looking at our data, clients, and what others are experiencing and sharing is that good fundraising is good fundraising is good fundraising. Or in the case of email, good email fundraising is good email fundraising is good email fundraising.

Whether you’re in a global pandemic or not, sending clear, quality, relevant, and personal emails will win out.

So are nonprofits doing that?

One thing that you may have seen in the data above is that more organizations are mentioning COVID-19 and/or coronavirus in their messages as time goes on and we also saw an increase in gifts, average gift, and conversion rate in that same time frame.

Now, correlation does not equal causation and the email volume data set and the website activity/giving data set are not from the same organizations (so two big caveats there) but, the more relevant messaging could be helping drive the dramatic increases in email revenue.

There’s a 97% correlation between COVID-19 mentions and email revenue growth between the two different data sets which is interesting but we’ve also seen it play out in experiments like this where the organization saw a 36.7% increase in giving with a COVID-19 message.

But just mentioning the pandemic isn’t a panacea, especially if it’s a real stretch or reach to make the connection. We saw this in an experiment here where the organization saw an 81% decrease in their COVID-19 related message.

So that’s a bit on what we’ve seen in the research library but one of the cool things (biased I know) with the Coronavirus Nonprofit Fundraising Resource Center is that you can actually see the emails we are receiving from 157 organizations to see what they are, or aren’t, doing. 

COVID-19 Nonprofit Fundraising Email Examples

Here’s an email from the Innocence Project where they connected their exoneration/post-jail program to COVID-19 and made an ask.

That’s not what I’d call a “COVID-19 ask” meaning it’s not directly connected to COVID-19 or the frontlines but there is a connection that makes sense tied to their mission and work.

Compare that to this ACLU ask which is much more of a “COVID-19 ask”:

You can see that it’s quite direct, straightforward, and clearly tied to COVID-19.

You can also see they used a time-sensitive matching offer to increase the urgency to act today and that message continued on the donation page when you clicked which is hugely important for email fundraising (more here).

They also had a “opt-out of this campaign” in the PS which allows people to opt-out of a campaign but not the entire email list. A great way to respect people’s inboxes but also actually decrease overall opt-outs as we saw in an experiment here that used this to reduce unsubscribes 33%.

Hard to say for sure without more experiments but it sure seems as though if you can make a clear connection of your mission/work and how COVID-19 is impacting it your work or, more importantly, the people who serve you have a better chance at securing donations from your emails.

So that’s a bit on messaging and connecting it to COVID-19, but what about some of the other things we’ve seen help email fundraising, namely sending emails that are more human?

Sending emails from a person for example.

One thing you can’t see from the examples on the resource page is who those emails are from in terms of the sender but who an email is from is the main way that you and I ‘triage’ or manage our inboxes so it’s crucial to getting someone to pause and consider opening and reading your email. We’ve seen a number of times now that emails from a person, not an organization, can often lead to more opens and engagement.

And yet, when we analyzed email senders of over 2400 emails in the State of Nonprofit Email Cultivation study with Kindful in 2019, we found that 74% of organizations were sending emails from their organization as opposed to from a person (9%) or a person, organization (17%).

And when we look at the Aggregate Donor Inbox today, here’s what we see:

I put the individual senders in yellow and individual, organization senders in orange and could show page after page or screenshot after screenshot and you’d see the same thing: very few organizations are sending emails from a person.

This may not work for you and your organization but it’s a simple test with enough evidence to suggest it could work plus it’s a way to stand out from other organizations.

Okay, that’s a bit on who an email is from and we’ve already shared a bit on messaging, but what about design?

If you’ve read any of our stuff before or taken an online fundraising course, you’ll know we teach and suggest, for fundraising emails, you try no design. Like at all. That’s what our research suggests and what we do with our clients.

Here’s an example email from The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate who serve poor and needy people in the United States and more than 60 countries around the world.

There’s a lot of good/interesting things going on with this email but here are a few:

  • It’s sent from a person only, Fr. David
  • The subject line evokes curiosity
  • The first paragraph is hyper-relevant to their audience (personal tone, mentions Holy Week, references ‘uncertain times)
  • Connects mission/work and impact of COVID-19
  • It’s a bit longer than “normal” or a lot of emails we see but uses the copy to share the problem, solution, and ask clearly
  • The ask comes at the end, only, and as a raw/hyperlink, not a button
  • It’s actually asking for a recurring gift, something we’ve seen a lot of success with our clients and have heard the same from other people

But there is no design in this email! It looks like it’s from Outlook or something like that but it’s not. This is a MailChimp email.

Now that’s pretty close to an email that we teach and suggest nonprofits try for themselves as we’ve seen it work time and time again. But even with clear results and evidence, we still see very few organizations taking that approach (less than 10%) and get a lot of pushback from organizations about how they “can’t” do or try this approach (don’t even get me started on what you “can’t” do in your fundraising…).

It’s a pretty simple test too to try for yourself which is what KUOW Public Radio — Seattle’s NPW news station — did in a recent email appeal and were gracious enough to share the experiment with us.

Here was their control or typical design for an email appeal:

And here was the no design treatment they tested against it:

The result?

You can read the full experiment write up here but the designed version was actually better at driving clicks but the plain text version was 29% better at securing donations. This means, for those who clicked, the plain treatment actually had a 79% better “click to conversion” rate (100% confidence).

The goal of a fundraising email isn’t to just get clicks. It’s to get motivated clicks that ultimately lead to donations and in this case, and others, we’ve seen that no design is often best for this.

So What…

As you consider how you can start, continue, or increase your email fundraising “in these times”, consider testing a more stripped-down, personal style email, sending your email from a person, and try to make a clear connection of your work and how its impacted by COVID-19.

Go Deeper

About the author:


Brady Josephson

Brady is a charity nerd. He's an adjunct professor, fundraising writer, speaker, and podcast host and a huge Liverpool FC fan (#YNWA). At NextAfter, he oversees training and research to help nonprofits raise more money online to fund their life-changing work.

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GivingTuesday Now – What is it? And how should you fundraise?

Published by Nathan Hill

GivingTuesday Now is coming up on Tuesday, May 5th, and there have been a lot of questions about it:

  • What is it?
  • Should you participate?
  • How do you fundraise during GivingTuesday Now?
  • How can you position your messaging?

In the video below, I outline a 3 email series that you can put together (hopefully with ease) to run next week. And even if you don’t have time to create all 3 emails, hopefully it helps generate some ideas for developing your campaign.

3 Emails You Can Send for GivingTuesday Now

You’ll find more details in the video above, but in short, there are 3 emails you can put together for you GivingTuesday Now fundraising efforts.

Email #1 – The Day Before

For this email, your main goal is to educate your subscribers and donors about what GivingTuesday Now is. Make sure they know the purpose, when it’s happening, and how they can get involved.

This is the perfect opportunity to share any specific goals your organization has for GivingTuesday Now, and announce any matching challenges you have (if any).

Then finally, you want to give them the chance to participate right away. No need to wait until “GivingTuesday o’clock” if they’re ready to give now.

Email #2 – The Morning Of

This email is all about you getting in the spirit of giving first. Share a free offer or resource you have with your subscribers and donors in exchange for an email address.

Don’t ask for a donation in this email. Utilize the confirmation page for your email offer as a chance to ask for a donation. When they hit the confirmation page, say “Thanks”, confirm that the offer is on its way to their inbox, and then pivot into your donation ask.

Email #3 – The Evening Of

This final email is a direct donation ask, and a final reminder of the deadline. It can be a forward-style email that reminds the recipient of what you send them in the morning.

Remind them of your goal, the deadline, and the impact they can make when they give.

Finally, make the direct donation ask. Don’t be shy about it. Make sure it’s abundantly clear that you’re asking them to donate.

Want to dive deeper?

If you want to dig into more email examples to get messaging ideas from other organizations, just check out the email section on the COVID-19 Fundraising Dashboard.

And if you want to dive deeper into the 3-email series strategy, you can check out the deep dive webinar from last November called Boost Your Giving Tuesday Revenue Using Content Marketing.

About the author:

Nathan Hill

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 is the best time to send fundraising emails?

Published by Brady Josephson

The right message to the right person at the right time is an old marketing maxim. And while much has been done around email messaging as well as targeting and segmentation — although more can and should be done — there isn’t a lot out there about the best time to send fundraising emails.

And it’s a question we get asked all the time: what is the best time to send fundraising emails?

The answer: it depends.

I know… lame.

Most best practice guides will say that you should send email early, 6 am to 9 am, or between 10 am and 1 pm. But if everyone sends at the “best time”, doesn’t that actually make it the worst time? Or at least the “not for sure the best time”?

Instead of just trusting ‘best practice’ and what others say, let’s look at some data (Note: Unless otherwise stated, all times are Central Standard Time).

What time are year-end emails sent?

Back in 2015, we started analyzing all the emails we received during year-end fundraising and one of the data points we looked at was the time of day of the emails we received. And every year we do the study, one of the key insights is this:

Everyone sends email at the same time.

The crowded time has changed a bit over the years — it used to be a bit later in the day compared to now — but the pattern has always been a crowding effect around the same time of day.

For example, here’s what we saw in 2018:

best time to send fundraising emails year-end heatmap

50.9% of the emails we received at year-end were sent between 7 am and 1 pm — the ‘red zone’ in the chart above. This isn’t to say you should avoid those times per se but again, if everyone is sending emails at the same time maybe that’s not the best time for you and your donors.

What time are emails sent outside of year-end?

In the Spring of 2019, we partnered with Kindful to do a study on Nonprofit Email Cultivation and analyzed 2,589 emails from 199 nonprofits. For this study, we tagged each email as either a cultivation, solicitaition, or confirmation email to get even deeper insights on the email strategies of nonprofits.

When we looked at when the non-confirmation emails were sent — cultivation and solicitaition — here’s what we found:

best time to send fundraising emails cultivation study heatmap

You can see that ‘red zone’ cluster again fairly similar to the year-end one. In this case, 54.8% of the emails we received were sent between 6 am and 1 pm.

What time are Canadian charities sending emails?

In 2018 we did a study looking at the online giving experience of 152 Canadian charities and since then we’ve been getting and tracking all of their emails. For a recent presentation — and just because I love making heatmaps — I wanted to see how Canadian organizations differed, if at all.

So when looking at the 2,621 emails received from 152 charities in 2018, here’s what we found:

best time to send fundraising emails canadian charities heatmap

Again you can see that clustered ‘red-zone’ again and in this case, 54.6% of the emails we received from Canadian charities were sent between 6 am and 1 pm.

What time are fundraising emails sent?

Okay, so year-end, US nonprofits, and Canadian charities are all sending around the same time. But would a different type of email be sent at any different time? In short: no.

From the aforementioned State of Nonprofit Email Cultivation study with Kindful, when we just looked at solicitation emails, here’s what we found:

best time to send fundraising emails fundraising emails heatmap

In this case, 65.4% of solicitation emails were sent from 6 am to 1 pm. So that ‘red zone’ is actually even more pronounced when it came to solicitation emails.

Data Summary: When do nonprofits send emails?

The short answer: at the same time.

The slightly longer answer: mostly between 6 am and 1 pm.

But when do your donors give?

Now you know when most other organizations are sending their emails you can look at testing different send times to stand out from the crowd. But what about your crowd? Well, if you have Google Analytics and eCommerce set up — which you really should — you can easily see when your donors are giving to get more insights to build your tests around timing from.

Here’s how you can create a donations by hour report using Custom Reports in Google Analytics:

Then you’ll be able to see something like this:

I find it easier to view and analyze in Excel so after a quick export you can get a chart that looks at transactions AND revenue like this:

You can see that transactions for this organization in 2019 peak around 8 am to 10 am. So send emails then right? Well, transactions may indicate when people are most likely to give but maybe that’s just when most people hit the site or when this organization is sending their email. You can see that revenue actually spikes later on in the day around 1 pm to 3 pm.

That’s because average gift spikes during this time:

For this organization, their donors are most generous, on average, in that 1 pm to 3 pm period. So while only 33% of all transactions happen in the afternoon and early evening (1 pm to 7 pm) — compared to 41% of transactions in the morning and lunch (8 am to 1 pm)  — that afternoon and early evening period accounts for 43% of all revenue compared to 36% for that morning and lunch period.

Less volume but more revenue thanks to an average gift that is 126% higher in that afternoon and early evening period.

So maybe send fundraising emails in that afternoon and early evening period, yes? Well, hold on… transactions and average gift directly lead to revenue but another key metric for online giving is conversion rate. What can we learn from looking at it?

Here you can see that the peak transaction time of 8 am to 10 am remains high but the conversion rate stays high throughout that early afternoon and early evening period.

So then, what is the best time to send fundraising emails?

For this organization and looking at their key metrics — transactions, average gift, conversion rate, and revenue — it seems that fundraising emails would perform best if sent in that 1 pm to 2 pm window. But that’s just for that organization.

Okay, enough already. Just tell me, what is the best time to send fundraising emails?!?!

I can’t say for certain what the best time to send fundraising emails for your organization is but hopefully you can see what other organizations are doing and dig into what your donors are doing to find the best time to send fundraising emails.

What I will say is that, for fundraising emails, you should consider testing a bit later in the day — like right after lunch — as you’ll probably have a better chance of standing out from other organizations and there’s a good chance your donors are more likely to give — and give more — in that time.

But in the end it’s something you’ll have to find out for yourself. Good luck!

Go Deeper

  • Get the State of Nonprofit Email Cultivation study here
  • Get the Cut through the Clutter 2019 Edition ebook here
  • Take the Email Fundraising Optimization course here

About the author:


Brady Josephson

Brady is a charity nerd. He's an adjunct professor, fundraising writer, speaker, and podcast host and a huge Liverpool FC fan (#YNWA). At NextAfter, he oversees training and research to help nonprofits raise more money online to fund their life-changing work.

The world's most mind-bending virtual phenomenon for online fundraising & digital marketing... NIO SummitLearn More »

Donor Cultivation: 5 Data-Driven Strategies to Boost Your Retention Rate

Published by Nathan Hill

Donor Cultivation - Five Data-Driven Strategies - blog image

Donor cultivation is an area that every fundraiser wants to get better at. But the truth is, few people are actually trying to discover what works to improve cultivation efforts.

  • Should you send handwritten thank you notes?
    Sure, but you can’t scale that.
  • Should you call all your new donors?
    Maybe, but again, it’s hard to make that truly personal at scale.
  • Should you invite them to special events?
    Yes, but only a small portion of donors could actually travel to your event – let alone the difficulty of hosting an event for your whole donor file.

There are hundreds of ideas out there on how to cultivate donors. And they all sound fine. But what ideas exist that are A) feasible, and B) proven to work?

The Latest Online Donor Cultivation Research

We partnered with Kindful in 2019 to conduct a study on the current state of donor cultivation – largely focused around how organizations are cultivating donors via email.

And in this study (The State of Nonprofit Email Cultivation), we found tons of data-driven ideas that can improve your donor cultivation efforts – and lead to more online fundraising revenue.

Below, you’ll find 5 specific donor cultivation ideas that I’ve pulled out of this study that are highly relevant and highly feasible for a nonprofit to implement. Many of them have already been field tested and proven to improve revenue.

Ready to get started? Here are 5 donor cultivation strategies you can use to boost your retention rates and revenue.

Send More Cultivation Emails

This idea is easy enough. Most organizations simply aren’t sending enough emails.

And I don’t mean that you should send more donation appeals. I mean you should send more emails that don’t have a donation ask in them at all.

A cultivation email has no donation ask. Its exclusive purpose is to give your donor something of value that will cause them to engage with your organization on a deeper level.

Here’s a quick case study where sending one cultivation email per week led to a 21% increase in revenue.

How Increasing the Number of Cultivation Emails Impacts Revenue

In this experiment, the organization realized they had been asking for donations almost twice as often as they were sending donor cultivation emails. So they thought “What would happen if we added a cultivation email each week?”

And that’s exactly what they did.

This organization split their file in half and ran an A/B test. The control group received the normal email cadence. The treatment group received an additional email per week that was purely cultivation.

Adding an additional donor cultivation email - experiment image

After running this experiment for 3 full months, the result was clear. Increasing the frequency of donor cultivation emails increased revenue among existing donors by 21%.

It even increased lapsed donor revenue by 14%.

Case and point? Send more cultivation emails.

Don’t Ask Donors to Do Too Much at Once

One fatal mistake that we as marketers and fundraisers are always tempted to make is to ask people to do too much all at once.

Speaking personally, I want our own email subscribers to watch a new video, listen to our latest podcast, read a new blog, download an eBook, and sign-up for a course. But asking people to do all those things at once is overwhelming.

Asking people to do too much can create decision friction (more on the different types of friction here).

The same concept applies in a cultivation email.

In the following case study, we see that asking our donors to just do one thing at a time can make a significant impact on donations.

Yes, I said donations – not clicks.

How the Focus of a Cultivation Email Affects Donations

In this experiment, this organization was already sending a weekly cultivation email every Saturday. Their typical donor cultivation email was written in a relatively personal nature and included links to multiple pieces of content to engage with.

Sometimes they sent articles. Sometimes they sent podcasts. But there were always multiple links.

They split their file in two and ran an A/B test. The control group received the normal donor cultivation email with multiple links. And the treatment group received emails with just one link.

Sending an email with multiple links VS sending an email with just one link - experiment image

Asking donors to engage with just one article at a time led to a 27% increase in donations over the span of three months.

Test sending just one thing at a time. It may make a significant impact on revenue.

Send Donor Cultivation Emails When Others Aren’t

Let me start this section with a confession…

Just a few years ago while working at a nonprofit, my common approach to deciding when to send an email was this:

  • Search Google for “Best time to send an email”
  • Find the latest benchmark data from a random email marketing platform
  • Scroll to the nonprofit section (if there was one)
  • Find the time that most other organizations were emailing

I was making an assumption that the “best practice” send time was in fact the “best performing” send time. But this honestly flies in the face of common logic.

If you send when the inbox is most crowded, wouldn’t you have the lowest likelihood of getting someone to open and engage with your email?

As part of The State of Nonprofit Email Cultivation study I mentioned above,we tracked the send times of cultivation emails and solicitations sent by 199 organizations.

Here is the breakdown of send times for donor cultivation emails:

Heatmap of donor cultivation email send times
  • 49% of donor cultivation emails were sent from 6am to 1pm
  • 17% of donor cultivation emails were sent between 4-6am and 1-3pm
  • 16% of donor cultivation emails were sent on the weekend

Based on the heatmap, the most open windows of time for sending emails are in the early morning or afternoon to evening – especially on a weekend.

Test sending your cultivation emails in these off-peak times. You might be able to increase your donor’s engagement with your emails by simply catching them when their inbox isn’t super crowded.

Welcome, Thank, and Confirm New Subscribers Within the First 2 Days

We all know that the first impression you make in any type of relationship can set the foundation for things going forward. If you blow it or make a fool of yourself, it can be hard to recover.

On the other hand, making a great first impression on someone can win you over to be instant friends.

I believe that the essence of email marketing is all about personal communication and building real relationships – even at scale. That’s why if I you ever reply to a “marketing” email that I send, I’m going to see it and send you a personal reply back.

So if you want to start off your relationship with a new donor or subscriber on the right foot, you need to communicate with them as soon as they come on your file. Or at least in the first couple days.

These first emails that you send are going to be your most consistently high performing emails. Here’s a quick screen grab of the top metrics from our current welcome series.

Welcome series performance metrics

These 4 emails average a 49.8% open rate and an 11.3% click rate. (Don’t worry about the clicks in email 1. All we’re hoping for is a reply.)

For comparisons sake, a recent digest email of ours had a 40% open rate and a 6% click rate. I’d consider these really good rates, but they’re still not as good as the emails we send in the first few days of someone subscribing.

What does nonprofit communication look like in the first 2 days?


Not great news here overall. Out of 199 organizations, 48% of nonprofits sent nothing in the first two days after we signed up for their email list. Not even a confirmation email.

You can see the breakdown of the different types of communication we received in the first 45 days in the chart below.

Timeline of various types of email communication from 199 nonprofits during a subscriber's first 45 days

The pro-tip here is really simple. Make sure you communicate with new donors and subscribers when they first come on your file. If you don’t, you’re missing out on a huge engagement opportunity.

Use Brand Advertising to Bolster Your Other Messaging

Here’s my last donor cultivation idea for today. And it’s a bit different.

I’ve rarely been a huge fan of “brand marketing.” Mainly because most brand marketing discussions are just about logo treatments and what words you’re not supposed to say.

But this cultivation tip is all about how to use brand marketing (or advertising) to help make your emails more effective.

Here’s a quick case study that shows how brand advertising can make your emails 760% better.

In this experiment, the organization had a 5 email welcome series. When a new email came on the file, they would send a welcome email within 2 days. The rest of the 5 emails were sent over the course of about 2 and a half weeks.

The cadence looked like this:

Welcome series cadence - experiment control

For the A/B test, this organization split their file and ran paid brand advertising on Facebook to 50% of the new subscribers going through the welcome series. These brand ads reinforced key messaging about the organization, their cause, and what they stand for.

Welcome series cadence with brand advertising - experiment treatment

The result? Running brand ads at the same time as the welcome series impacted 2 important metrics:

  • Brand ads increased donations by a whopping 760%
  • They shortened the average length of time from subscription to donation by 41%

It used to take 29 days for the average donor to make their first gift. This experiment shortened that time to 17 days.

There are lots of other ways you can increase your revenue without sending more appeals, but this is one super easy way to see a boost in your donor cultivation efforts.

Looking for more insights on donor cultivation?

The State of Nonprofit Email Cultivation - book image

You can get a free copy of the full study on The State of Nonprofit Email Cultivation at You’ll find even more quick tips, insights, and case studies to help improve your donor cultivation efforts, and hopefully boost your donor retention.

Have you tested any donor cultivation strategies that have improved your revenue or retention rate? Share your ideas in the comments below.

About the author:

Nathan Hill

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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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 1,892 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 is a charity nerd. He's an adjunct professor, fundraising writer, speaker, and podcast host and a huge Liverpool FC fan (#YNWA). At NextAfter, he oversees training and research to help nonprofits raise more money online to fund their life-changing work.

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5 Online Fundraising Habits to Stop This Year - Blog image

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 2020, 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 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 is a charity nerd. He's an adjunct professor, fundraising writer, speaker, and podcast host and a huge Liverpool FC fan (#YNWA). At NextAfter, he oversees training and research to help nonprofits raise more money online to fund their life-changing work.

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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 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 #6346 in our fundraising research library: 

Version A:

Email Fundraising Hack 3 - Control Image

Version B:

Email Fundraising Hack 3 - Treatment Image

It’s a bit hard to read unless you blow it up. But the key lines in the treatment to focus in on say this:

When I first started writing in my CaringBridge journal, I didn’t know it was a nonprofit organization. But then I began to experience the benefit of CaringBridge – it helped keep my loved ones during an extremely difficult time – and I became a donor. And I loved the fact that there were no advertisements on my journal. It made it feel like an online “home” for our community of support.

One thing I know – for sure – is that EVERY Mom in a situation like mine should be able to use CaringBridge to help find support in their darkest hour. That’s why I want to make sure that CaringBridge raises the support they need to continue to provide support.”

This change to the email begins to outline ample reasons (in a story format) that illustrate the exact value of how CaringBridge is uniquely and effectively serving their cause as a result of generous donations. And it strongly makes the case for why someone should give – to the tune of a 26.7% increase in donations.

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 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 is the Chief Innovation & Optimization Officer for NextAfter. Tim has accomplished a lot over his career between driving online fundraising growth for countless nonprofits, sitting on the board of multiple nonprofits, and being a sought-after international speaker. But his biggest accomplishment may be winning "Best Stage Presence" for the 1991 Pittsburgh Boys Choir.