Register now for The State of Nonprofit Donation Pages Webinar sponsored by Raise DonorsLearn More »

At the Nonprofit Innovation & Optimization (NIO) Summit, we have the pleasure of hosting a variety of speakers from across the board of expertise. One of those speakers is Amy Harrison. Amy is a copywriter, content trainer and owner of Write With Influence: an online resource that helps business owners write better marketing content faster and easier. She is also the host (and many of the characters) of AmyTV: an online comedy sketch shows all about writing compelling business copy.

Amy is always a smash hit with our audiences and us, so it’s no secret we love having her at NIO. In this short clip from last year, she talks about how “people aren’t good at listening to good reason.” View the sneak peek below or you can view all last year’s sessions here.

About the author:

Allan Torres

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

Register now for The State of Nonprofit Donation Pages Webinar sponsored by Raise DonorsLearn More »

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

Register now for The State of Nonprofit Donation Pages Webinar sponsored by Raise DonorsLearn More »

Establishing an Award-Winning Campaign

Published by Allan Torres

Soncee Partida is the Director of Development at Maranatha Christian Schools and in this episode of Optimization Insider, she sits down with Nathan Hill (NextAfter) and speaks about her award-winning campaign: “Finish-the-Fields.”

Join them as they take a look at what the campaign consisted of, how it performed, and how “teamwork makes the dream work.”

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

About the author:

Allan Torres

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

Register now for The State of Nonprofit Donation Pages Webinar sponsored by Raise DonorsLearn More »

4 Lean Startup Principles To Transform Your Nonprofit

Published by Gabe Cooper

Seven years ago, Eric Ries wrote his seminal book, The Lean Startup, to help entrepreneurs accelerate innovation. His book remains one of the most helpful guides for driving innovation at startups, large enterprises and even nonprofits.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen tremendous success in applying Lean Startup principles in fundraising. Ries’ basic ideas, along with some broader concepts included in Agile software development, have proven to be powerful tools for quickly accelerating fundraising and knocking down barriers to innovation. To help kickstart your thinking about lean-centered fundraising, I’ve outlined 4 core lean/agile principles that can have an immediate impact on your fundraising success.

Before we jump in, I’d like to acknowledge a common roadblock that we see in adopting lean principles in fundraising. The idea of rapid innovation and change can feel intimidating – and most nonprofits find it difficult to shift their entire culture to implement lean practices across the organization. To lessen this stress, we recommend starting small. Try limiting the scope of these recommendations by only implementing lean within your email and online giving optimization programs. By starting small, you’ll be able to prove out these concepts and demonstrate a few key wins in online fundraising. Once your organization sees the success that these principles can deliver, you’ll likely begin to see a much broader organizational shift toward innovation using Lean Startup practices.

Let’s jump into the core principles to see how lean principles can drive fundraising success.



One of the basic tenets of the Lean Startup methodology is risk mitigation. Too many nonprofits spend thousands of dollars (and many years) on fundraising programs that face a huge risk of failing. These “speculative” fundraising campaigns tend to create an organizational excitement that often causes leadership to invest thousands of dollars into a program before they know if the idea has any chance of working. As a fundraiser, you have a responsibility to yourself (and to your donors) to focus on mitigating as much fundraising risk as possible, as quickly as possible, for as little money as possible. When you implement a new marketing initiative or program, your primary goal as a fundraiser should be to identify the biggest risk of failure before any real budget is allocated.

Once you identify the risk, you’ll want to figure out the smallest amount of time and money possible to test, validate and eliminate the risk and uncertainty. For example, if you are thinking about using music concerts to raise money, try launching one small, local concert first to validate your cost structure, response rate, and attendance. If you are thinking about launching a peer-to-peer program, try one simple, self-contained peer-to-peer campaign first to see if you can motivate your constituents to engage. Your goal in any new tactic is to fail fast and learn fast in order to eliminate uncertainty. A quick failure that allows you to eliminate risk, learn and pivot direction is far better than a prolonged, expensive and ineffective strategy.


MVP stands for Minimum Viable Product. For fundraisers and marketers, the “MVP” represents the minimum viable marketing execution needed to test your fundraising assumptions. There are several areas where this concept can be applied, but one of the best uses of an MVP for nonprofits is the practice of message testing using Facebook Ads. If you are interested in how a new marketing message or program will play with your constituents, don’t start by putting it on the homepage of your website. Instead, create a landing page using a tool like Unbounce, then create a Facebook Ad that pushes visitors to that new landing page.

Test various copy and messages in each of your ads and landing pages, then track click and response rates to quickly see which messages resonate with your audience. For $200 and a week’s worth of tests, you can often identify your most effective marketing message without changing any of your existing programs. In almost any area of fundraising, you can use this MVP approach to test a new program at a small scale and validate results before launching more broadly.


The principle of Celebrating Failure also appears as part of our first principle “Eliminate Uncertainty” but, because I see this as a massive problem in the nonprofit space, I wanted to give more emphasis here. As a rule, nonprofits often have very little incentive to change or innovate. Change represents risk. It can also represent new job roles, new required learning, etc. Unfortunately, many nonprofits have (often unknowingly) created an organizational culture that is actively resistant to change. Nonprofits consistently reward employees for making the “safe” choice rather than taking risks. When an employee tries something new and fails, their failure is often written into the permanent lore of the organization and recounted at every staff meeting when a new idea is suggested. There’s an old adage in software that is particularly true for nonprofits: “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.” In other words, the easiest way to keep your job is to make the safest choice possible. The problem is that making safe choices with no innovation is the fastest path to irrelevance and a slow death.

To truly innovate, your organization must encourage and even celebrate failure. Nothing great was ever accomplished without a few failures along way. In one case study, the tech startup IMVU saw a 200% increase in revenue when they implemented lean principles of encouraging failure and learning across the entire team… then they continuously released product improvements based on learnings. Even the Wright Brothers had years of repeated, painful failures which helped them learn enough to launch the first manned flight. If you aren’t failing, you’re not growing or learning. And if you are criticizing failure, you are creating a culture where innovation will not exist. The next time someone tries a new fundraising idea and fails… buy them a cake and balloons. Cheer for them on their learning. Then get back on the horse and try again.


The final Lean Startup principle that can increase fundraising is shortening the donor feedback loop. Any good technology startup finds ways to constantly gather user feedback and make small changes to their marketing and product based on learning. If you aren’t getting constant feedback from your donors, it’s almost impossible to make quick adjustments that will increase engagement. We recommend having two distinct digital strategies for getting donor feedback: Active and Passive. Passive feedback can include tactics like A/B testing donor landing pages, email subject lines or landing page messaging. Good digital testing practices help you make implicit assumptions about what your donors really want based on their clicks – and then adjust messaging in real time to optimize results. That said, it’s important to pursue more active, engaged feedback loops as well.

I recommend surveying a portion of your donors on a continuous basis to identify their passions, interest in your programs, preferences or stage or life. A Net Promoter Score (NPS) for nonprofits can also be a helpful metric to monitor donor sentiment. An NPS is simply this question you are often asked on websites: “On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to recommend xxxx to a friend?” The aggregated result of this survey is called your Net Promoter Score. NPS scoring can help nonprofits get a better sense for donor satisfaction and even help identify your most passionate donors who might be willing to host an event, tell a friend, or help in a deeper way with your cause. Research has proven this approach to work at even the most complex companies. For example, the popular cloud software company DropBox used Lean Startup principles and user feedback loops to increase registered users from 100,000 to 4 million in just 15 months.

I believe that each of these four principles has the power to have a profound impact on your fundraising. You’ll likely find that you are innovating faster and raising more money within weeks of putting these principles in place. We’d love to hear from you on your tactics – try out the principles in one of your upcoming campaigns and let us know if you’re seeing improved results.

About the author:

Gabe Cooper

Gabe Cooper

Gabe Cooper is the Founder of Virtuous Software, a CRM and Marketing platform helping charities increase their impact. He is also the founder of Brushfire Interactive, co-founder of Shotzoom Software, and has a passion for creating market-defining software and helping charities re-imagine generosity.

Register now for The State of Nonprofit Donation Pages Webinar sponsored by Raise DonorsLearn More »

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