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Utilizing Your Donors to Tell Your Story with Lee MJ Elias

Published by Nathan Hill

Lee MJ Elias is a hockey coach, an entrepreneur, an author, and was the closing key note speaker at the 2018 Nonprofit Innovation & Optimization Summit. And in this special Optimization Insider episode, Lee shares some insights on how we should be utilizing our donors to tell your story.

He also spends some time talking about what he has learned about how to build a culture of trust on any kind of team, whether that’s a hockey team or a nonprofit fundraising team.

Watch the full episode below. Or, you can check out his entire NIO Summit session for free.

About the author:

Nathan Hill

Nathan is the Optimization Evangelist 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.

Set yourself up for online fundraising success this year-end with a free year-end fundraising course.LEARN MORE »

A Thanksgiving Lesson on Donation Page Optimization

Published by Nathan Hill

Thanksgiving Optimization Blog image

The centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal is the turkey. And if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably Googled “how to cook a turkey” in hopes of finding a step-by-step guide on how to cook the best turkey you’ve ever eaten in your life.

With searches like this, you find all sorts of ideas and opinions that often give you conflicting information. And how are you supposed to know which “best practice” is right for you?

  • Ways to Cook a TurkeyShould I bake the turkey?
  • Should I brine the turkey?
  • Should I smoke the turkey?
  • Should I deep fry the whole thing?

After 10 minutes of being overwhelmed with articles like “25 Ways to Cook a Turkey” (yes, there are apparently 25 different ways), we’re left planning to cook the turkey the same way as always – like mom used to make it.

But what if there is truly a best way to cook your Thanksgiving turkey? How could we go about proving that one way is better than another?

The answer is optimization. Not only can it help you cook a better turkey, but it can also prove what works to convert more donors and raise more money on your donation page.

My Thanksgiving Hypothesis

To get started, I need a hypothesis. A hypothesis should be an idea you have about your donation page, email, advertisement, or turkey that could help improve performance. My hypothesis is this:

Hypothesis: A deep-fried turkey will be more enjoyable than an oven-baked turkey.

After defining my hypothesis, I need to convert it into a research question – something we can actually measure and answer with data. If you’re optimizing your donation page, you might look at total conversions. With a turkey, you might measure how many people say “Mmmm…”

But an “Mmmm…” could mean a lot of different things. So let’s go with something more concrete: the number of post-turkey-dinner-naps.

Research Question: Which turkey will cause more people to take a post-turkey-dinner nap? 

Next, I need to define my treatments. Which turkey cooking methods (or designs, copy, form fields, etc.) am I actually testing? In this case, I have my control and one treatment:

Control: Oven-Baked Turkey

Oven Baked Turkey

Treatment: Deep Fried Turkey

Deep Fried Turkey

Running A Valid Thanksgiving Test

Before I get ready to run my test, I need to make sure that I’ve considered any environmental factors that could skew my results.

If you’re trying to test too many variables at once (design changes, form fields, copy changes, etc), you’re going to have a hard time knowing what variable affected your results.

In this case, my results could be skewed by someone eating more mashed potatoes than anyone else. Or maybe having one too many glasses of wine. In the same way, if I change both the headline and the design of my donation form, how will I know which change caused more conversions?

To ensure I get a valid learning, I need to make sure that all turkey-eaters have the same Thanksgiving spread. My personal go-to dishes include:

  • Thanksgiving MealMashed potatoes (with brown gravy)
  • Real cranberry sauce (not the gelatin kind…)
  • Stuffing (more savory than sweet)
  • Green bean casserole (not because I like it, but because it’s tradition)
  • And pumpkin pie (made with Libby’s pumpkin)

You’ll also want to make sure you’re collecting your data properly. Be sure to define what constitutes a nap before hand. Is it 10 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour?

On a donation page test, you’ll want to make sure your analytics tools are properly tracking donations for your various treatments, and that nothing is skewing your data.

Once you’ve considered and eliminated all validity threats, you’re ready to run your test.

Cook the turkeys. Set the table. Feast.

Determining the Champion Turkey

As the results come in, you’ll want to make sure they’re valid. You’ll need to have a large enough sample size (people eating your turkey, or visiting your donation page) and a statistical level of confidence of 95% or greater. If this is too much for you to calculate on a holiday, we have a free experiment validator tool you can use.

After plugging in your results, you may realize that your sample size is too low. In that case, you’ll want to grow your email file for next year so you can invite more people to your Thanksgiving meal. We have a resource for that as well called 6 Ways to Grow Your Email File.

Campaign Donation Page TemplateAnd if you wake up from your Thanksgiving coma realizing that you could use these same optimization principles on your donation page to grow your fundraising exponentially…we have just the tool to help you get started.

Inspire more generosity this year-end season by crafting a high-converting year-end campaign donation page. Download your free copy of the Campaign Donation Page guide with 21 ideas that you can test.

About the author:

Nathan Hill

Nathan is the Optimization Evangelist 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.

Set yourself up for online fundraising success this year-end with a free year-end fundraising course.LEARN MORE »

How Does Nonprofit Culture Effect Online Fundraising Success?

Published by Justin Beasley

How does nonprofit culture effect online fundraising?

A few months ago, a nonprofit reached out to us to start what we like to call the “roadmap.” It’s basically a massive data and analytics review to figure out where to start testing.

During these roadmaps, we often get some tough questions. These questions aren’t just around donor data and optimization. One question we received recently sound like this (I’m paraphrasing):

Is there an ideal organizational structure that would help improve the effectiveness of our fundraising?

I wrote this partner of ours a long answer about what factors we’ve seen can set up a nonprofit for success that’s trying to grow their online fundraising. And I wanted to share those factors here because the more fundraisers we talk to, the more we hear the same types of organizational issues crop up that are holding nonprofits back from being as successful as they could be.

Here are the 4 key factors that I’ve seen help lead to online fundraising success – regardless of staff size, resourcing, and team structure, or hierarchy at a nonprofit.

1. You have to build a culture of optimization

I’ll admit it: I’m biased. Our entire company and business model is based on testing and optimization. So in a sense, it’s in our best interest that nonprofits start optimizing. But there’s a reason we think it’s so important. Time after time I’ve seen the transformative power of testing and optimization disproportionately impact an organization.

Here are some ways I’ve seen optimization affect nonprofit culture: 

If you embrace optimization, it makes failing ok (it’s just a test). Being able to accept and learn from failure instead of rationalizing or blame-shifting has in immediate positive effect on team dynamics and effectiveness.

Let’s face it—we often learn more from our failures than our successes, because we don’t want to believe it when we’re wrong. . . so we dig deeper looking for answers below the surface.

A culture of optimization protects organizations from being set in their ways or overly risk avoidant. It also keeps them from jumping headlong into every new tactic, technology, or fad. Testing limits risk while also demanding a proof of value.

Many organizations struggle most with resources and capacity, and they have difficulty prioritizing organizational objectives that are often contradictory. Testing lets you fail early and move on to a better option before betting the farm on any one path.

Optimization keeps us humble. The reality is that none of us has all the answers, and the world that we’re serving is constantly changing. We’ve all been certain beyond doubt that a certain strategy or tactic would make a big improvement . . . just to have it go the opposite way when tested. This reminds us that we’re students of our donors, not the other way around.

It redistributes the weight of opinions. Testing presents an opportunity to actually draw out new perspectives and ideas from any and every level of the organization. And it often uncovers solutions (and results) that you wouldn’t have otherwise. The goal isn’t to democratize the process, but rather to inform stakeholders so that they can discern the wisest path.

It helps people ask the right questions. By its nature, testing and optimization is a feedback loop—both with the user and within the organization. It teaches stakeholders to ask not about what you’re doing, but about what you’re learning.

2. You have to be able to execute on strategies and decisions

This is a key differentiator of successful teams. Often despite having good data and a solid action plan, organizations get caught up in the busyness of serving their cause. That often leads them to become unable to seize opportunities in a timely manner.

There needs to be a reasonable balance between effectiveness and efficiency in order to run a successful online fundraising program. Being able to get things done quickly sets you apart and allows you to capitalize on things that others miss out on.

Often times, the key element in the ability to execute is having the right systems in place. When set up in a correct way, the right system can allow individuals to best accomplish their job. With current technologies, there is no reason that a marketer should have to rely on IT to create a landing page. The same could be said for a fundraiser wanting to send a segmented email. If the right systems are in place, it makes everyone’s jobs easier.

If you’re having trouble getting things done, it could also come down to hiring. We conducted a research study on what makes effectives nonprofit fundraising teams this past year that has some good insights on how to build an effective team using human data. This finding was pretty staggering:

Practitioners Aren't Task Oriented

There’s also a lot of other insights into how nonprofit executives tend to have a hard time driving new ideas forward, as well 4 concrete ideas to help you create a more effective team. You can check out the full study here.

3. You must have clearly defined goals (and the ability to measure them)

The most effective teams I’ve worked with didn’t just have goals, but they had specific, realistic, and actionable goals. But a good goal means nothing if you can’t measure your success. The most effective teams make sure to create goals that are able to be tracked regularly and accurately.

Maybe most importantly, your goals and your progress towards your goals need to be visible to everyone on the teams that have ownership or responsibility to hit the goals. As the old adage goes, “If you aim at nothing, you’re bound to hit it every time.”

4. Each team member needs to understand their contribution to the mission and vision

Whatever your mission or vision is (ending world hunger, curing a disease, supporting impoverished communities, etc.), every single team and person needs to understand how their day to day work is contributing.

When a person (regardless of responsibilities or level at your organization) knows how their role is tied back to the mission, it will help to avoid contention and mission creep.

For example, you might have a goal of increasing your web traffic by 5%. But the people responsible for creating the content, setting up advertising, and building landing pages need to know how a 5% increase in traffic relates to the cause.

It could be that the increase in traffic leads to greater awareness of the problem you’re trying to solve, or more students enrolled, or more donations to help provide a meal for someone in need. Without this understanding, these goals just turn into vanity metrics.

One way to help this is to be able to clearly articulate your value proposition – “Why should your ideal donor give to you, rather than to some other organization, or not at all?” If your team members are all equipped to answer this question for your donors, it can be much easier to understand how their day to day work leads to real impact. If you need some ideas on how to answer that question, you can dive deep into the Why Should I Give to You? study.

Each factor works together

When these 4 factors are working together, you’ll be very well equipped to start seeing some major results. A team that is connected to the mission and vision and can help work around or break down organizational silos. Even if you have directives flowing from the top down, data and insights can flow back up the chain of command in a highly effective feedback loop leading to more data driven decision making.

The best part is that this effect is contagious. Often times, when one team sees another’s success, they want to figure out how to do that themselves. And ultimately, if your leadership catches the “optimization fever,” that can lead to full organizational buy-in. And when everyone is testing and optimizing, that means more proven learnings about what works to increase effectiveness, raise more money, and multiply your impact.

Nonprofit Optimization GuideIf you want to take some concrete steps towards optimizing and testing, you should check out the Nonprofit Optimization Guide. It will give you a quick synopsis of what testing and optimization is. It will also show you some of the most important factors to test right away to start seeing growth.

You can get a free copy of the Nonprofit Optimization Guide here.

About the author:

Justin Beasley

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5 Year-End Fundraising Ideas to Actually Grow Your Revenue

Published by Nathan Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Year-End Fundraising Ideas - Write a longer email

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what I’d recommend…

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

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

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

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

Year-End Fundraising Ideas - Use an instant donation page

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Need more year-end fundraising ideas?

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

Get your free copy of Cut Through the Clutter here.

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

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

About the author:

Nathan Hill

Nathan is the Optimization Evangelist 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.

Set yourself up for online fundraising success this year-end with a free year-end fundraising course.LEARN 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.

Set yourself up for online fundraising success this year-end with a free year-end fundraising course.LEARN MORE »

Even tests can become fundraising lore — so always go back to the data

Published by Nathaniel Ward

Like all marketers, fundraisers often work on pure instinct. How we solicit gifts and cultivate donors is often guided by assumptions, organization-specific mythology, and industry “best practices” rather than an evidence-based approach.

It’s easy to get trapped by our own assumptions. We humans aren’t very good at discerning what’s true from what’s not, and we often cling to assumptions even in the face of contrary evidence.

But there is a solution. We can use data and testing to constantly check our assumptions about what works with donors and make sure that what we think we know is actually true. That’s one of my chief roles at The Heritage Foundation’s Fundraising Innovation Lab.

When tests become lore

Even marketing tests can themselves become the stuff of myth. A decade ago, Heritage ran a two-year test to a portion of our donors who self-identified as social conservatives. We had an assumption about donor behavior and checked it in the marketplace—great!

The firm conclusion repeated around the office was that our existing practices are most effective. Unfortunately, the results of the test were never properly documented, which led to questions about whether this conclusion was real or simply reflected confirmation bias.

I dove into the data to find out what really happened.

Confirming fundraising lore

After the 2004 election, pundits argued that social conservatives had delivered the election to President Bush. Heritage hypothesized that we could drive more giving from this group by tailoring the message and tone of the fundraising messages we sent them.

Our traditional fundraising message emphasized fiscal issues and the role of government. Could fundraising language focused on questions of morality, family, and the like appeal more to social conservatives?

To test this hypothesis, we identified 70,000 self-described social conservatives among our existing donors. Over the next two years, half this group of social conservatives (the control group) received traditional Heritage messaging in the mail and online, and the other half (the treatment group) a more social-conservative message. The social-conservative messages were crafted by an agency that had successfully raised funds from this audience before.

Donors in the treatment group, receiving social conservative messaging, gave 22% fewer gifts and 26% less revenue compared to those in the control. While a handful of appeals during the two-year test weren’t adjusted in tone, a potential validity threat, it’s reasonable to conclude that adjusting our message and tone caused our donors to give less money less often.

Lesson: brand matters

In simple terms, the conventional wisdom about the test was confirmed: our traditional language worked best. But what could explain this? Why wouldn’t talking to donors based on their interests boost fundraising?

One possibility is that our social conservative appeals simply weren’t very compelling. On the other hand, these messages were crafted by an agency who had done considerable work with similar audiences in the past.

Another compelling possibility: by adjusting our message and tone, we effectively went “off brand” with our social-conservative appeals. We had set an expectation among our members about the message and tone we would use, and the new approach violated that expectation. Our brand, in other words, exists in the mind of the donor.

Testing trumps guessing, and data trumps intuition

At the end of the day, what works in fundraising isn’t a matter of opinion or conventional wisdom. It’s a matter of fact. And testing in the marketplace is the best way to confirm whether our assumptions about what works are true.

Equally important, however, is recording your experiments to make sure the results are properly understood in the future. Given our predilection for confirmation bias, it’s easy for a test result to reinforce the conventional wisdom even if it doesn’t!

About the author:

Nathaniel Ward

Nathaniel Ward

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

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Google Search Donations: What Every Nonprofit Needs to Know Before They Sign Up for the Google Donate Button

Published by Tim Kachuriak

Google has recently introduced a new, easy way to donate to nonprofits called Google Search Donations, but before you run to go and sign up, you should read this post.

Introduced leading up to Giving Tuesday, Google has added a new ‘Donate Now’ button that shows up in the right information panel when you search for some nonprofit organizations.

Google Search Donations

The good news is that unlike Facebook that charges a 5% transaction fee, Google claims that 100% of the donation goes directly to the organization. Great Right?

How Google Search Donations Works

The functionality is pretty slick. One click of the Google Donate button and you can quickly complete your transaction in just two easy steps:

  1. First, you select your donation amount (if you don’t want to choose one of the gift array options, you can also add your own custom amount):Google Search Donations Array
  2. Second, you enter (or confirm) your payment information. If you have ever used Google Payments and asked Google to remember your payment information, all of those payment options will be displayed by default.Google Search Donations Payment

But here is where it gets a little interesting. If you read the fine print, you will see that the donation actually doesn’t go directly to the organization. It goes to Network for Good, a Donor Advised Fund. And they also get “exclusive legal control” of your contribution:

Google Search Donations Fine Print

If you are used to working with Donor Advised Funds (DAF), then you know that this is pretty standard procedure. DAFs act as a clearing house for individual donor contributions and make lump-sum distributions to donor-selected nonprofits based on funds collected on behalf of those nonprofits. The advantage of DAFs for smaller nonprofits is that they don’t have to invest in significant infrastructure to collect donations. In the example of Google Donate, smaller nonprofits can instantly have a ‘Donate Now’ button that shows up whenever anyone searches for their organization (by name) in Google.

What are the positives?

So, let’s list the positives about Google Search Donations:

  1. Google Search Donations is free. You’ll need to first set up a Google for Nonprofits account, but once you do that, enabling Google Search Donations is as simple as a few clicks to get set up.
  2. Google Search Donations is fast. Once you have the Google Search Donations Button activated, anytime someone searches for your organization in Google, a simple, two-step donation opportunity will show up in the right info panel on the search results page.
  3. Google Search Donations doesn’t require you to do anything except cash checks. All processing of the gift, receipting, and tax forms for the donor is completely handled by Google and Network for Good.
  4. There are no transaction fees for Google Search Donations. That means that your organization gets 100% of the donation made through the Google Donate Button.

Pretty sweet, right?

Well, let’s take a closer look.

Are there any downsides? Oh yes.

If you dig around a little bit, you will eventually stumble on to the FAQs. The first one is a killer:

Google does NOT provide the nonprofit with the contact information for donors that make a gift using Google Search Donations.

Everyone knows that the key to building a lifelong relationship with your donors is regular, consistent, and relevant communication. In fact, even Google knows this and acknowledges it in the FAQ! But, they still aren’t giving you the names and contact information for your donors. OUCH!

To me, this is a killer. It’s why I originally hated text-to-give in its early configuration—because no matter how many $10 gifts I get from phone companies, I have no way of even thanking my donors for their gift. And Google Search Donations seems to be making the same mistake with their Google Donate Button.

Fundraising is not just a transaction. It is a relationship. And even though big tech companies like Google acknowledge that, they still don’t understand the profundity of that simple idea and how essential it is for us when it comes to retaining and growing our relationship with our donors.

And not receiving the donor contact information also creates more complexity and confusion in the mind of your donor.

It’s not just tough for fundraisers; it’s confusing for donors.

For example, gifts made through the Google donations system can’t be receipted by your organization:

So, follow me on this little mental journey a donor goes on when they give a donation using Google Search Donations:

  1. A prospective donor that has never given a gift to you before receives an acquisition direct mail piece at their home.
  2. They open the letter; read it, become completely inspired by your cause, and are compelled by your appeal. They decide to donate!
  3. But they don’t like messing around with a checkbook so they go to Google and search for your organization by name.
  4. The search results come up and in the right hand info panel of the page, they see your organization name and logo—the same logo that’s on the mail piece you mailed to them. And that’s when they spot the “Donate Now” button.
  5. Now, they use Amazon all the time and instinctively see this as a “one-click” donation option that will save them some time. Boom—two clicks and they are done! Wow, wasn’t that so easy!

Here’s where it gets rough…

Then, your brand-spanking new donor receives an email from Google and a receipt from Network for Good. They don’t even think anything of the receipt since they have never heard of Network for Good and their “receipt” just meshes together with the rest of the junk mail they typically receive.

But guess what never happens next—your donor never gets to hear from you. That donor that you most likely spent between $10 and $100 to acquire, is never going to give to you again.


Unless, of course they decide they actually want a refund. And they Google you again and this time go to your web site because they need to actually talk to someone to get a refund on their donation.

So they call and explain they made a donation to you, but because they never heard from you, they want their money back.

You go into your fancy CRM system, look them up, and try to explain to this obviously irritated donor that you show no record of their transaction.

Still, they persist. And so you give in out of the interest of trying to win over the upset donor and avoid some sort of negative social media tirade later that causes you to lose a Charity Navigator star.

You refund the amount of the gift.

Then you realize that this may have been a donation given through Google Search Donations via Network for Good. Maybe you can reach out to them and at least recoup the amount of the donation that you had to refund.

And then you find out that Google Search Donations does not give refunds:

I know, you probably feel like this right about now: 

Now, let me tell you what’s really jacked about Google Search Donations.

When donors give to your nonprofit using the Google Donate Button, they bypass your website, which means they are never exposed to the #1 factor that we have discovered most greatly influences: a) their probability of giving a gift, and b) the amount of their gift.

Do you know what that factor is?

The number one factor influencing online fundraising

This month we will publish our 1,000th online fundraising experiment. And based on all our experiments, spanning a combined sample of more than 123,424,714 donor interactions, we have found that the number one factor that influences giving behavior (that’s within your control) is the force of your organization’s value proposition. That’s it. It’s not ease of giving (although that is certainly a factor). It’s not the technology that you use (although that helps facilitate online gifts). And it’s not even how ‘pretty’ your web site is (in many cases pretty = poor performance—sorry to all my designer friends!).

What is the value proposition, you say? It’s the answer to a simple (yet extremely profound) question:

If I am your ideal donor, why should I give a gift to you, rather than some other organization (or not at all)?

Now, there is an incredible amount packed into this one simple question, so let’s take a moment to unpack it:

If I…

This is a first-person question, so it requires a first-person answer. And do you know who the first person is? Here’s a hint—it’s not you! It’s your donor. This question needs to be answered from the perspective of your donor. But you have a significant problem here right from the start—you are not your donor. If you try to answer this question from your point of view, you will completely miss the mark. So, what are you to do? How can you answer this question from your donor’s point of view? The answer is Research. You need to start by researching your donor and beginning to piece together:

  • Who they are (demographics)
  • Where they come from (analytics)
  • What interests them (psychographics)

Until you form a basic understanding of your donors, you will be shooting completely in the dark.

…ideal donor….

But hold on—it’s not just any donor’s perspective, it’s your ideal donor’s perspective that you are after. That means you need to get really clear on who your best donors are and be willing to focus all of your attention on them. That also means that you must be willing to accept tradeoffs. In other words, you have to be willing to accept that you can’t expect to reach everyone with your message—only those who are the best fit for you and your organization (i.e. that may mean that you need to stop trying to reach Millennials!!).

…why should I…

A value proposition is not your mission statement. It’s not what you do. And it’s not your three-point plan. Ultimately, a value proposition is a reason. It is a reason why someone should move from their status quo and take a new action. For you, that means donate. And so, a value proposition is essentially an argument. You need to ‘make your case’ before the jury of potential donors. You need to appeal to both their emotions and their intellect. You must inspire them.

Here’s a hint: if your value proposition statements don’t begin with the word because it’s probably not a value proposition.

…rather than some other organization….

In order for it to be strong, your value proposition must be unique; it must be exclusive. It must be something that you do that no one else can do—or something you do better than anyone else. If your value proposition has an -est modifier (biggest, fastest, strongest), or a most differentiator (most efficient, most trusted, most effective), then that’s a good start.

Now, I know, we don’t like to ever talk about competition in the not-for-profit space. After all, we are all making the world a better place, right? We are all inspiring people to be generous. One of my mentors once put it so eloquently, “there is not competition among lighthouses.”

But the reality is that we compete every day for donor dollars. Data suggests that although the amount of money that is donated to charity continues to grow, the number of individuals that are giving continues to shrink. That means the total universe of ‘probable’ donors is shrinking. So not only do we need to acknowledge that competition in the nonprofit space exists, but we need to prepare for even more fierce competition for donor dollars in the future.

…(or not at all).

And to further exacerbate the issue of competition, we need to acknowledge the null hypothesis. That is, the donor has a third option. They can decide to give to you. They can decide to give to some other organization. Or, they can decide to not give at all!

What this means is that we are not just competing against other nonprofits, but against every organization on planet earth (both nonprofit and for-profit) that is trying to generate revenue. This means that your value proposition either needs to be so compelling that it moves your donor to give to you rather than buy something for themselves.

I know that is a lot to digest, so let me give you a little bit of a break to process that by showing you a few experiments that illustrate the power of the value proposition in action.

Experiment #111 – How Copy on a Donation Page Affects the Force of a Value Proposition

I love this experiment because it is so clean and so perfectly illustrates the power of the value proposition on your donation page. The most dangerous mistake you can make is to assume that your potential donor firmly grasps your value proposition by the time they click on the ‘Donate’ button and land on your donation page.

I liken it to fishing. If you have ever been fishing then you know that once you hook a big fish, you can’t just put your pole down and expect the fish to swim into shore of its own accord. Any seasoned angler knows that the key to landing a big fish is to keep the tip up—keep the tension on the line—and keep reeling until you land the fish on dry land.

Tim Kachuriak with a fish
(yes, that’s me with a ‘bow I caught in Broken Bow, OK)

The same is true on your donation page—you need to continue to ‘sell’ the donation all the way through the transaction.

Here are a few more experiments from our research library that highlight this point:

Experiment #6623 – How Value Proposition Impacts Donation Conversion


Treatment #1

150.15% Increase to Conversions

Experiment #3793 – How a radical redesign of the value proposition affects donation conversion rate 


Treatment #1

146.54% Increase to Conversions

Experiment #1780 – How the right value proposition can impact donation conversion rate


Treatment #1

186.46% Increase to Conversions

And finally, check out this last experiment that illustrates how dangerous it is to bypass the value proposition by introducing a “quick donate” button that skips past your copy:

What I really think about Google Search Donations

So as you can see, value proposition is extremely important to your online fundraising success. And that’s why when I see new technologies like Google Search Donations, I’m always a little bit leery. I think the Google Donate Button is a step in the right direction. And I love the spirit behind this initiative—Google and Network for Good are obviously trying to make giving easier for donors so that they give more to causes that inspire them.

But instead of bypassing the nonprofit’s web site, I wish that the Google Donate button actually took you directly to the organization’s donation page—or at least make that an option! That would undoubtedly send significantly more traffic to this critical conversion pathway by creating a shortcut for donors to jump right to the place where they can make their gift.

And if organizations can benefit from a boost to traffic to their donation pages, then we could validate experiments faster, which means we can learn faster what works and what doesn’t. And if we can validate experiments faster, we can accelerate our mission of decoding what makes people give so we can unleash the most generous generation in the history of the world!

About the author:

Tim Kachuriak

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

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Online fundraising is hard. If you’re selling a product for a profit, you normally have market research to tell you that people need what you’re selling. All you have to do is find the right people with that need, and communicate why your product meets their need. (I’m oversimplify, but you get the picture.)

But nonprofits have a fundamentally different challenge. No one considers their money to be some sort of burden that they need to get rid of. So as a fundraiser, you have to find people who identify with your cause, and get their attention, and explain to them in a relevant way why they should give you their money to do something that – in most cases – will not benefit the donor directly.

That being said, we can’t just pick up the latest best practices from Amazon’s checkout process, mimic the brand advertising of Coca-Cola, or send email appeals that look like a weekly ad from Target.

We have to think about online fundraising differently.

The 4 experiments below are all really simple to recreate, and showcase some of the key ways we need to think about online fundraising in order to grow our revenue.

You need more copy on your donation page

This experiment is similar to many others in our research library – we took a fairly empty donation page and added value proposition copy to it.

The control, the version without any real copy, made the assumption that everyone who visited the page was already convinced that they’re going to donate. It gave no additional reasons why someone should give. And it didn’t explain what impact a donation would have.

Many of the best check out processes (I’m thinking of Amazon) don’t continually give you reasons why you need the items in your cart up until the transaction is made. But in the donation process, our conversion rates and total donations are – in most cases – going to plummet if we don’t continually communicate value all along the way.

Here’s Tim explaining this experiment in a quick video:

When we tested the page with value proposition copy, we saw a 150% increase in donations. That’s no small change. Over time, that will multiply the online revenue for this organization significantly.

Emails appeals should be personal…and that means more than just using a first name.

Effective email fundraising is radically different than best practices you often see from many of the major email marketing platforms. Over and over, when we’ve tested a plain-text style email against a big, fancy, heavily-designed template – guess which one wins?

Let’s look at an experiment and see.

This was a three-way test with Harvest Ministries, trying to see which email version would have the biggest effect on donations. The control version was a typical designed HTML template, complete with borders, colors, images, and text links.

The first variation had the same design and layout, but we added some more urgent messaging.

The second variation is a radically different email. It has no designed elements. It looks like an email you might get from a friend or a co-worker. It uses what looks like a copied and pasted URL. And it reads like a human wrote it.

Here are the three emails…


Treatment #1

36.31% Increase to Conversions

Treatment #2

116.28% Increase to Conversions

After running the A/B/C test, we saw a 36% increase in donations from the high urgency email. That’s a pretty significant lift.

But the personal email had a 116% increase in donations. We’re not talking about opens or clicks – that’s 116% more people who donated, resulting in a 75% increase in revenue.

Although many fundraisers are taking their email queues from for-profit ecommerce templates, you need to test using a more personal and humanized approach.

Email acquisition doesn’t have to happen above the fold

“Above the fold” web design is a thing of the past. It used to be a key component of putting any page together. If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s the idea that you need to put the most important part of your page (typically your call-to-action) in a place that every visitor to the page will see the moment that your page loads.

The idea, and the phrase itself, comes from direct mail marketing and fundraising. Direct mail marketers wanted the most important content to literally be above the fold to ensure it was seen.

But you know what’s more important than an “above the fold” design? Context and motivation.

In this experiment with Focus on the Family, there was an email acquisition offer placed within an article. It broke up the reading path, with the goal of ensuring that everyone on the page would see the offer and have to decide whether or not to take it.

The logic is sound, and it’s something you see all across news sites, blogs, and other web sites with lots of articles. But we thought that by moving it to the very bottom of the page – literally as far down as you could scroll before hitting the footer – that the visitors would experience more of the content, causing them to be more motivated to take the offer.

Here’s what the two versions looked like…


Treatment #1

101.2% Increase to Clicks

Our hypothesis was correct. The offer at the bottom of the page increased the click-through rate by 101%.

Now, I know this experiment isn’t truly “Above the fold” vs “Below the fold.” But it’s the same principle. Placing something higher up on a page doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to improve your performance metrics. Context and motivation play a major role in the likelihood that someone will click-through and accept your offer.

Effective advertising doesn’t mean ‘short’ and ‘sweet’

There’s this common idea that people don’t read online. And there’s some truth there in the sense that most people reading an article tend to scan or skim unless they’re incredibly interested in the subject matter.

But, somehow, this common notion of “People don’t read online” has found its way into online advertising. Most ads you see on Facebook – or really anywhere – have short copy, are image heavy, and have a call to action that asks way too much of you compared to the amount of information that’s been given.

So as we’ve run Facebook ad campaigns to acquire new emails and donors, we’ve put this notion to the test. Let’s look at one of those experiments that we conducted with Harvest Ministries.

The Facebook ad was an email acquisition offer, trying to get people to sign up for Harvest’s daily devotional. The original ad was 3 short sentences, which is already longer than many ads I see in my own Facebook feed.

The treatment that we developed was more than double the length, and appeared very wordy. With this extra length of copy, we were able to communicate more reasons why someone should get the daily devotional.

Here are the two ads…


Treatment #1

316.42% Increase to Emails Acquired

The longer ad saw a 316% increase in conversion rate. And when I say “conversion,” I don’t mean a click to the landing page. I mean 316% more people signed up for the daily devotional.

On top of that, we went on to test another even longer ad that got an additional 21.5% increase in emails acquired.

Going deeper into online fundraising

What’s amazing to me is that these experiments we’ve walked through are just the low-hanging fruit. These represent a starting place to see significant growth in your fundraising.

But every single experiment leads to more learnings, which lead to more experiments, and so on. These same organizations continue to apply testing and optimization every day, uncovering new learnings that help them achieve continual growth ­– not just one-off wins from applying a best practice.

If you want to dig deep into what else we’ve learned through over 1000 online fundraising experiments, you should sign up for the free online course Turning Facebook Likes Into Donors. It’s focused on using Facebook to acquire new donors, but it covers everything from creating an acquisition offer, to crafting your value proposition, to creating an instant donation page.

Have you tested anything that has made you think differently about online fundraising? Or have you seen different results from the experiments above? Drop a comment below and let me know. I always love to be challenged. And the best thing is to be proven wrong, because it means there’s that much more opportunity for growth.

About the author:

Jeff Giddens

Jeff was the 1994 Georgia State Spelling Bee champion.

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The Advanced Guide to Integrated Fundraising

Published by Brady Josephson

The oldest experiment in our library, from 2006, showed that sending emails to direct mail recipients — instead of only direct mail or only email — led to 60.5% more donations than direct mail alone (and 1607% more than email alone). Nat Ward recently wrote about this strategy, integrated fundraising, in Is Your Email Fundraising Cannibalizing Your Direct Mail Fundraising? Probably Not.

That was 12 years ago.

And while integrated fundraising — using one or more of your fundraising channels with the same focus or campaign — has become a generally held ‘best practice’, many organizations are just now starting to think about integrated fundraising. This post will give some reasons why you need to be doing integrated fundraising, what it is today, what are some new, proven, and tested ideas, and some key concepts behind them. And if you just want to get the ideas, because you’re a fundraising genius, click here.

Why Integrated Fundraising

We’re kind of obsessed with email acquisition because email is king when it comes to raising money online. Generally speaking, the more (quality) emails you have and the more (quality) emails you send the more online revenue you will generate.

Frequent, and great, communication also helps drive donor retention rates and therefore Lifetime Value, the main metric that matters when it comes to long-term fundraising.

But email fundraising isn’t just about online revenue.

Here’s a look at our benchmark clients and a full fiscal year of giving and retention (removed major donors and corporate contributions):

People who received some email communication throughout the year — but still only sent in checks when it was time to give — gave 90% more than those who didn’t get email communication.

And it’s not even just about more money today.

Offline donors who receive email were more likely to give again the following year. 29% more often in fact:

Stop reading this post and go get you some emails! Okay, don’t literally stop reading but this is key point #1:

Just having and sending emails to offline donors means more revenue in the short and the long term.

And if some of those offline donors start giving online too, well, look out:

Donors who give offline and online are over 3x more valuable to your organization than those who only give offline. 3x!

And multichannel donors are 56% more likely to stick around compared to offline only:

So just to recap:

  • More emails mean more online revenue
  • More emails mean more offline revenue
  • More emails mean greater donor retention (and therefore lifetime value)

And if those offline donors give online:

  • Multichannel donors mean more total revenue
  • Multichannel donors mean greater donor retention (and therefore lifetime value)

These crazy (good) numbers reinforce what Nat found in our oldest experiment: integrated fundraising boosts revenue.

So if you weren’t onboard with integrated fundraising and taking a multichannel approach, I hope you are now.

Multichannel Fundraising and Horizontal vs. Vertical Integration

Fundraising with different channels started out looking something like this, with resources required plotted on one axis and response rate on the other:

The more personal approaches like offline and face-to-face, the greater the response rate. But these high response channels also required a greater amount of time and resources. And as you ‘slide down’ from there, the strategies take less time but they are also less effective.

This is why younger and smaller organizations often focus on social media early because it’s free and cheap but more than likely they should, in my opinion, focus on face to face and ‘offline hustling’ because they’ll generally get a better response and more money. That’s why traditional startup business look for seed capital so they can build out their business and user base. The same is true for nonprofits and their donor base.

But as these organizations grow and fundraisers can’t meet every donor for coffee, tea, or beer (not all at once, that’s gross) they need to rely more on different strategies, and channels, that can ‘scale’ or reach more people in cost-effective ways.

That’s where the horizontal integration kicks in.

This is when we start staying the same things but across all the channels to improve overall effectiveness. This is where those crazy good online vs. offline vs. offline with email vs. multichannel charts and stats from above come in that show the immense value of integrated fundraising.

It’s 2018 and this type of approach — multichannelshould be common, much more common than it is, and is what is going on today.

But what’s next? Or what’s now?

Enter vertical integration.

Instead of just saying the same things across all the channels, which, again, is a very good thing and you should be doing it, we can start to leverage the benefits of each channel to provide more value to other channels and increase downstream revenue — the amount we can raise from donors later on.

So instead of copying your direct mail letter into an email that points to a similarly branded and connected donation landing page, vertically integrated fundraising looks at things like:

  • What type of blog content can you produce leading up to your campaign or appeal?
  • What ads can you show on social media to boost direct mail revenue?
  • What mail piece can you send that can help your email and online campaign?

With vertically integrated fundraising in mind, here are…

3 Proven, New, And Tested Ideas for Integrated Fundraising

1. Show Facebook ads to your direct mail recipients

In this first experiment, the organization was wondering what they could do to boost direct mail revenue without simply sending more mail or use a labor-intensive strategy like calling every potential donor. In this experiment, they created a test audience that saw Facebook ads two weeks before and two weeks after the mail piece hit mailboxes aka prime time for a donor to respond and compared to an audience that didn’t see the ads.

A key point on the ads here, they were aiming for reach as the goal was to test direct mail revenue, not online revenue, so getting impressions, in this case, they theorized, could be beneficial even without a click.

Here were the results:


Treatment #1

154.5% Increase to Donations

In addition to the 154% increase in revenue (!!!), there was a 239.4% increase in conversion rate. Pretty, pretty, pretty… good.

A Nonprofit Innovation and Optimization Summit event attendee saw that wildly successful experiment and thought, “you know what, I think we could do that”. And so they did.

They showed some video ads 1 week before the drop date and 3 weeks after but pretty much the same strategy (why reinvent the wheel) and here’s what they saw:


Treatment #1

25.35% Increase to Donations

Spending just under $700, Canadian… that’s like $20 US nowadays, they were able to increase overall revenue from the test group nearly $10,000!

2. Send donors a ‘thank you- postcard before year-end campaign

This is one of my favorite experiments and is the reverse of the previous strategy — using online to help offline — where this organization wondered if they could use offline to help boost online.

In this experiment, they sent a personalized postcard with the donor’s name on the front and a link to a custom video online, which was all trackable to the individual donor, to half of their audience. It was sent just before American Thanksgiving because, well, they are American and Canadian Thanksgiving is simply way too early in the year to send it.

Anyways, here’s our founder, Tim Kachuriak, explaining this experiment:

And here were the results:

How multichannel cultivation impacts year end giving (Experiment #6404)


Treatment #1

204.09% Increase to Conversions

The people who received the postcard increased their giving 204% compared to the folks who didn’t get it. There was also a 105% increase in their average gift (although this did not reach statistical significance).

3. Create content focused on giving and generosity leading up to your campaign

In this experiment, the organization wondered if they could influence downstream generosity by creating and showing content that focused on the impact donors have on the organization and the need for additional contributions.

The visitors were isolated into groups that saw these articles and those who did not. And it’s important to note, these pieces did not ask for donations or a link to the donation page.

The end result? Those that saw the articles were nearly 3x more likely to give at year end. 3x!

The Common Thread: Priming

Each of these tests took advantage of a technique used to train a person’s memory called priming.

A memory effect in which exposure to a stimulus influences response to a later stimulus

The main point here is to get a person to recognize something, or some aspect, and pair it with a feeling to aid them in the making of a future decision. And with that, here are…

3 Keys to Priming

1. Timing

You may have noticed that each of those experiments didn’t start priming their audience until about 2 weeks before the main campaign ask via email or direct mail. They also continued for a few weeks after that key date.

Key point: Cultivate within 2 weeks prior to the desired donation ask, and continue cultivation through to the end of the appeal.

2. Feeling

You may have also noticed that all of the ‘priming’ content wasn’t just stats, numbers, or the usual fundraising stuff. The priming content was focused on evoking an emotion (emotion, in fundraising, crazy, I know…). In particular, good priming content, as shown in these experiments:

  • Makes people feel important
  • Makes people feel appreciated
  • Makes people feel selfishly fulfilled

Who doesn’t want to feel important, appreciated, and fulfilled? And wouldn’t you be more generous if you did? And this doesn’t need to cost you an arm or a leg to do or create. It can be just good copy telling a story and expressing the need.

Key point: Use only content that creates a feeling of importance, appreciation and/or personal fulfillment.

3. Focus

The last key is perhaps the hardest for nonprofits but in each example, the priming content wasn’t trying to get a donation. The goal, or focus, was on cultivating the donor along.

This is key because people, generally, go online to get. Not give. So if you are able to give them something they are interested in — and that makes them feel important, appreciated, and fulfilled — they trust you more and, as proven here, are more likely to respond. This operates on the reciprocity effect where people are more likely to give after they have received something of value.

Key point: Do not initially try to squeeze in a donation ask. Focus your content completely on serving the donor (using above approach)


Integrated fundraising has immense benefits for you and your fundraising. Just using email can help boost offline revenue and multichannel donors are more valuable — both today and tomorrow — so integrating your fundraising, horizontally, is a must. Adding in some vertical integrating by using online ads, offline postcards, or specific content that ‘primes’ your donors can significantly boost total revenue and conversion rates without breaking the bank account, hiring more staff, or sending more mail and email.

Want More?

More on Multichannel and Integrated Fundraising

More on Email Fundraising

About the author:

Brady Josephson

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

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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.