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Michelle Hurtado leads the Ad Grants program at Google, which offers $10,000 per month in free advertising to nonprofits around the world. From starting her career supporting nonprofit communication strategies to diving into digital marketing for over twelve years, she’s grateful to bring interests together and serve nonprofits through Ad Grants.  She resides in California with her husband and three children and holds degrees from Duke University and Wharton.

At the 2018 NIO Summit, Michelle Hurtado joined us all the way from Google where she leads the Ad Grants program. Michelle introduced the Ad Grant program and gave 8 key tips to understanding and getting the most out of the program. Below is a preview of her session but you can view the entire session along with all of the 2018 speaker sessions here.

About the author:

Allan Torres

Allan Torres

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

See how 152+ nonprofits are responding to the COVID-19 crisis Explore the Data & See Examples »

Josh McQueen is the founder of McQueen, Mackin & Associates and the author of “Building Brand Trust: Discovering the Insights Behind Great Brands.” He served as the Executive Vice President and Director of Research and Planning Worldwide for the world’s 3rd largest agency Leo Burnett, and later started his own market research and consulting firm to apply his knowledge in the nonprofit world.

At the 2018 NIO Summit, Josh discussed generational giving patterns and chasing the ever-elusive millennial donor. Below is a snippet from his presentation but you can view all of last year’s sessions in their entirety here.

About the author:

Allan Torres

Allan Torres

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

See how 152+ nonprofits are responding to the COVID-19 crisis Explore the Data & See Examples »

At the Nonprofit Innovation & Optimization (NIO) Summit, we have the pleasure of hosting a variety of speakers from across the board of experts. One of those speakers is Gabe Cooper. Gabe is the Founder and CEO of Virtuous Software, a SaaS CRM and Marketing platform helping charities increase their impact. He is also the founder of Brushfire Interactive and co-founder of Shotzoom Software. Gabe has a true passion for creating market-defining software and helping charities re-imagine generosity.

At last year’s NIO Summit, Gabe spoke about how the for-profit sector has changed the game. They have created a personalized and tailored experience for the consumer and because of that donors expect a personal connection. This is why he says “unless nonprofits begin to create personalized experiences and authentic relationships with their donors at scale, they’re bound to fail.” You can view an excerpt from his session below or you can watch all of the 2018 NIO session videos here.

About the author:

Allan Torres

Allan Torres

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

See how 152+ nonprofits are responding to the COVID-19 crisis Explore the Data & See Examples »

Director of Digital Fundraising and Engagement at World Food Program USA, Dan Reed joined us at last year’s 2018 NIO summit for a special edition of Optimization Insider.

On this episode, he talked about his award-winning campaign. Listen to Dan Reed as he discusses the importance of attacking donor retention and the strategy they used to be successful.

Watch the full episode below. Or, you can check out all of the NIO Summit sessions for free.

About the author:

Allan Torres

Allan Torres

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

See how 152+ nonprofits are responding to the COVID-19 crisis Explore the Data & See Examples »

Does Gamification Improve Peer-to-Peer Fundraising? (Hint: Yes!)

Published by Abby Jarvis

People in tech circles love throwing around the word “Gamification.” Gamification is the practice of turning something in real life into a game, and it’s everywhere. If you’ve ever added additional information to your LinkedIn account to fill up the progress meter or checked into a location to get a badge, you’ve experienced gamification.

Gamification is popular for a reason – it works! Software engineers and app developers have learned that adding game pieces to a program will increase peoples’ engagement in their product.

But can nonprofits use gamification to boost engagement in fundraising programs?

The answer is yes – and people are already doing it.

Gamification, especially in peer-to-peer fundraising, is an effective way to boost revenue. At Qgiv, we’ve found a few methods that are especially effective. Here’s what gamification pieces are working for our clients and how you can use them, too.

Create a “Welcome Quest” to Teach and Engage Participants

The Concept

To make a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign work, nonprofits must ensure that their participants are well-equipped to raise money. Remember, your participants aren’t professional fundraisers, and they don’t know fundraising best practices (which might actually be a good thing).

That’s where a “welcome quest” comes in.

A welcome quest guides a participant through the basics of online fundraising. Whether your quest is a .PDF, an email with written instructions, or a tool built into your fundraising platform, it’s an important way to help participants start fundraising. The goal of your quest should be to give participants the tools and knowledge they need to confidently raise money for your nonprofit.

Welcome quests are most successful when they’re associated with an award, like a digital badge or progress meter (think about the LinkedIn graphic that shows your profile’s progress). They’re a great way to teach participants the skills they need.

The Stats

When we dug through our data, we discovered some interesting trends:

  • The average peer-to-peer participant waits nearly 5 days between finishing their registration and setting up their personal fundraising pages.
  • 20%-40% of people who start one of Qgiv’s welcome quests stop working on their quests within 24 hours. After the 24 hour mark, they won’t complete any more steps.
  • The people who spend the most time working on their personal fundraising pages and learning about their tools are the ones who raise more money.

The Fundraising Takeaways

The key to a successful peer-to-peer fundraiser is participant engagement, and these statistics emphasize that engagement is most important in the first 5-7 days.

After a participant registers, involve them in setting up their fundraising page and starting to raise money. Try building an automated email campaign that will send them tips or ideas, especially during the 5 days immediately after they register. You can also send emails to participants based on their fundraising activities. If you have a group of participants who haven’t collected their first donation, for example, try emailing them some quick strategies or best practices for making appeals through social posts or emails.

You can also associate an incentive with completing the setup of a personal fundraising page. Remember, incentives don’t have to be tangible. Digital incentives like badges or full progress meters are effective for companies like LinkedIn, and they can be effective for you, too.

Keep Participants Inspired Using Badges

The Concept

Humans are hard-wired to set and meet goals, and we love being rewarded for meeting those goals. Earning a reward causes our brains to release dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter that “rewards” us for doing something enjoyable.

This is a simplification, of course, but it explains why gamification is so effective for fundraisers. Imagine your brain rewarding you every time you get a donation or hit a fundraising milestone. Imagine that fundraising for your peer-to-peer event is as mentally stimulating as leveling up in a video game or earning a reward on social media. You’d be unstoppable!

Digital badges are a way to reward your fundraising participants for hitting goals and milestones. Participants who are rewarded for their actions – even if the reward is something intangible – raise more money than those who don’t.

The Stats

We looked at participant behavior in peer-to-peer events that use digital badges as positive reinforcement for engagement, and we found some fascinating patterns:

  • Participants who earned 5-7 badges raised about twice as much as their counterparts who raised fewer badges.
  • 68% of fundraising participants earned at least one badge. Those participants raised an average of $306.51.
  • 32% of users earned 0 badges. Those participants raised an average of $89.54.

The Fundraising Takeaways

There are two major trends here that are useful even if you’re using a system that doesn’t include digital badges. 1) Peer-to-peer fundraisers enjoy reaching goals that are set for them, and 2) reinforcing participant achievements with incentives – digital or tangible – can increase fundraising.

When you’re planning your peer-to-peer fundraising event, set milestones and goals around fundraising activities. Communicate these milestones and goals throughout the event.

If you can, associate different incentives with reaching important milestones. Incentives don’t have to be tangible, though they certainly can be. Experiment with different rewards and recognition for participants who get (and stay!) engaged in the fundraising process. Poll your most dedicated fundraisers for ideas about which rewards will be most effective!

Use Friendly Competition to Spur Fundraisers to New Heights

The Concept

People go wild for sports. We (many of us, anyway) enjoy playing sports, watching sports, or talking about sports. And there’s a reason for that – we enjoy competition, and we like to win.

Friendly competition encourages fundraising. But using the very human desire to win in a peer-to-peer event can be tricky. Friendly competition is constructive and helpful. Hostile competition is toxic and discourages people from staying involved.

The Stats

Does competition in a peer-to-peer fundraiser really result in more money raised? Here’s what we found:

  • Events that included more teams raised more money. The higher the number of teams, the higher the mean donation count.
  • Regardless of the number of teams, each team in any event raised about the same amount of money. Whether there were 4 or 400 teams, all teams were about equal – the teams in larger events just raised more.
  • Events that include individual registrants also see an increase in the mean donation count… to a point. Fundraising decreases after an event reaches 400-500 registrants.
  • Individuals who are not on a team generally raise more money than individual team members.

The Fundraising Takeaways

Competition does seem to inspire fundraisers to get and stay involved. Teams raise more money if there are more teams – the old idiom “a rising tide raises all boats” comes to mind. Individual fundraisers compete with each other and raise more alone than they do even as part of a team. Friendly competition encourages engagement, and that’s wonderful for everyone involved.

Use tools like badges to encourage friendly competition – try rewarding badges to the top fundraiser and top teams. You can also use elements like leaderboards for teams and individuals. Leaderboards are especially effective because donors can find and support their favorite participants who are battling for higher levels on the boards.

But remember – friendly competition is key! Build a sense of camaraderie among all your participants with things like event-wide emails, celebratory social posts, or in-person events to keep it friendly.

This Article is Too Long. Give Me a Summary!

Does gamification work if you add it to peer-to-peer fundraising?

Yes, it does!

Making it fun to learn your fundraising tools makes participants more likely to get and stay involved. Participants who are engaged in a “welcome quest” raise more money than those who don’t.

Letting participants earn badges or other rewards keeps them involved in fundraising and results in more funds.

Encouraging friendly competition between teams or individuals will spur participants to new fundraising heights.

Get creative with how you include these elements in your event! They’ll have a big impact on your fundraisers, your event’s success, and your bottom line.

About the author:

Abby Jarvis

Abby Jarvis

Abby Jarvis is part of the team over at Qgiv, an online fundraising platform that supports year-round fundraising, peer-to-peer fundraising, and more. When she’s not writing about fundraising, you can usually find Abby binge-watching sci-fi shows on Netflix or reading in her yard.

See how 152+ nonprofits are responding to the COVID-19 crisis Explore the Data & See Examples »

Is Your Email Fundraising Cannibalizing Your Direct Mail Fundraising? Probably Not.

Published by Nathaniel Ward

Several years back, The Heritage Foundation conducted a substantial test to determine the effect of a multi-channel approach to fundraising overall with a focus on direct mail fundraising.

We sought to definitively answer the question: are we better off sending just a direct mail letter, sending only emails, or sending both?

The real worry — one I’ve heard from other nonprofit fundraisers — was that sending emails alongside a letter would cannibalize the letter and reduce mail response. In other words, people would simply give online instead of through the mail.

So we took one of our best mailings and split it three ways: one segment got just a letter; one got a letter with no ask and an email; and one got both a letter and an email. The emails, which made an ask mirroring the mail piece, were timed to arrive shortly after the letters hit mailboxes.

Unfortunately, this test was never properly documented, and the results became the stuff of Heritage lore.

Until now.

I dug up the data, and the results are astounding:

How follow-up email appeals to direct mail appeals affect donor conversion (Experiment #8386)


Treatment #1

90.62% Decrease to Conversions

Treatment #2

60.5% Increase to Conversions

  1. Donors who got both direct mail and email saw a 60.5% lift in response rate in the mail compared to the mail-only group. The multichannel audience had a 23.9% response rate, compared to 14.9% for mail only.
  2. Donors who got just emails had a 90.6% lower response rate in the mail than the mail-only group. This audience had just a 1.4% response rate.

Not only that, people who got the multichannel treatment were also more likely to give online too. That means the worst option is to send people only email! More on that in another article.

This boost from multi-channel fundraising can be seen across the entire direct mail program. According to another study we ran, donors who receive emails give roughly 25 percent more annually than those who get only direct mail.

While we don’t necessarily expect these exact results in every campaign or for every organization, we can conclude that sending followup emails strengthens rather than cannibalizes direct mail.

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

About the author:

Nathaniel Ward

Nathaniel Ward

Nathaniel is the Counselor for Fundraising Strategy and Innovation at The Heritage Foundation.

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2 Keys for Nonprofit Innovation

Published by Brady Josephson

As a Canadian, I’m required to love hockey, maple syrup, and Ryan Gosling so when he was cast in Blade Runner 2049, I thought I’d go back and watch the original with Harrison Ford to ‘complete the canon’. So I did. And it sucked.

It may have been transformative and cutting edge at the time but I found it slow, overly simplistic, and just plain weird. One thing that stood out was that it was set in 2019. As in next year. And it was full on into sentient robots, alien worlds, and flying cars. And this got me thinking: why do we not have flying cars by now? Why do we want to predict the future (and keep guessing when flying cars will exist)? And, perhaps most importantly, why are we so bad at predicting the future?

I think there’s an innate curiosity in all of us where we want to know the unknown so the future fascinates us but more practically if we can ‘know’ the future, then we can make better decisions today. And when it comes to fundraising and philanthropy, it sure would be useful to able to predict the future right now.

Charitable giving in the US has been flat as a percentage of GDP for the past 50 years and in Canada, we are seeing declining amounts and rates of donors. So what we — fundraisers and nonprofit marketers — have been doing isn’t working very well, if at all, so there is a need for nonprofit innovation and to do things differently in the future if we want to grow generosity and giving.

Add in the fact that a crap ton of money (official unit of measurement) will be handed down to those darn Millennials and being able to predict the future of fundraising and giving sure would be handy, wouldn’t it?

So why are we so bad at it? And can we approach the future in a better way?

Well, one of the main reasons we are bad at predicting the future is that we tend to focus on the things that will be different in the future, often what will be most radically different, instead of what will be the same. But, particularly for organizations and especially for your fundraising, the question shouldn’t be ‘what will be different in the future?’ but rather ‘what will be the same in the future?’.

Because those are the areas you can invest in, innovate on, and build a business, team, and strategies around.

This is the approach Jeff Bezos has taken to help build the ‘company-that-makes-Christmas-and-life-possible’, also known as Amazon:

“I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two — because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. … [I]n our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want vast selection. It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, ‘Jeff I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher,’ [or] ‘I love Amazon; I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.’ Impossible. And so the effort we put into those things, spinning those things up, we know the energy we put into it today will still be paying off dividends for our customers 10 years from now. When you have something that you know is true, even over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.”

Think about that quote as it relates to giving and your fundraising. 10 years from now, can you imagine donors saying things like:

  • ‘I sure wish you sent me more mail’ or
  • ‘I like your website but wish it was a bit more complicated to navigate’ or
  • ‘I’d like to have less personal and relevant communications from you’.

No way.

So when I look 10 years out I see online fundraising as one of those areas that will stay the same and grow in importance. And that’s a big reason why I’m working for NextAfter.

We’re trying to unleash the most generous generation in history and we’re banking on the fact that to accomplish that, we, and nonprofits, need to invest in digital strategies.

And that’s the first key to innovation:

Don’t worry about the things that will be different, invest in the areas that you know will be the same.

Investment in stable areas over time is what leads to greater efficiency as Yammer CTO and co-founder, Adam Pisoni points out,

Efficiency is great if you can plan for the long-term, if you know what you’re going to do for a long period of time, you can really get into the nuts and bolts of how to do it efficiently.

Now I’m confident that online fundraising and digital strategies are only going to grow in importance over the next 2, 5, and 10 years. I’m also confident that donors aren’t going to want their online giving experience to be less personal, not as trustworthy, or harder to complete.

But I’m less confident when it comes to what personalization will look like in 5 years. Or how to best build trust with younger donors. Or how online transactions can be made even easier. I have some guesses (automation, peer reviews, and mobile payments) but they are just guesses. And I wouldn’t feel great investing significant resources in any one of those areas.

So don’t invest significant resources in any of those areas. Because if you do and try to become efficient when the future is unknown and unpredictable you could essentially end up getting better at being bad (and this is one of the many issues when too much focus is on efficiency for nonprofits).

Adam Pisoni puts it this way,

The minute the future becomes unpredictable, efficiency can become your enemy.

This is also an extrapolation of the concept in the book Nail It Then Scale It: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Creating and Managing Breakthrough Innovation where you can’t scale (grow and invest in) something you haven’t nailed (figured out what works). So the skill set required here isn’t knowing the future but rather being able to figure out works.

And this is the second key to innovation:

Don’t stress about the unknowns, acknowledge what you don’t know and be responsive to figure them out.

This is where optimization comes in.

It’s a repeatable process to go about figuring out how to best use the resources at your disposal at a moment in time. And this is what allows you to then respond to those unknowns, figure them out, and then, once you have a better sense of the solution, invest in those solutions.

This is another reason why I’m at NextAfter. We often say “we’re not expert fundraisers, just expert optimizers”. We don’t have all the answers but we know how to go about getting the answers. And we’re trying to teach, train, and empower marketers and fundraisers (you!) with the tools, ideas, and resources needed become an expert optimizer and able to figure out the unknown and unpredictable.


There is a need for nonprofit innovation in the world of philanthropy and, most likely, at your organization. To do so well, and wisely, you need to ask yourself not what will be different but what will be the same and invest in those areas. And for those areas where you don’t know, acknowledge that you don’t know and take a responsive approach to optimization to get the answers that you need when you need them.

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.