New Course: A/B Testing & Optimization for Nonprofits. Learn how to set up and conduct A/B tests »Learn 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


New Course: A/B Testing & Optimization for Nonprofits. Learn how to set up and conduct A/B tests »Learn More »

10 Online Fundraising Ideas That Are Proven to Grow Your Revenue

Published by Brady Josephson

10 Online Fundraising Ideas Proven to Grow Revenue - Blog Image

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

Let’s get right to it!

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

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

3 Online Fundraising Metrics

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

The three online fundraising metrics that really matter are:

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

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

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

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

Key Online Fundraising Idea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key Online Fundraising Idea

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

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

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

Here’s why…

How more copy on an email signup form increased conversions

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

Online fundraising idea - Email newsletter signup form test image

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

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

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

Key Online Fundraising Idea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key Online Fundraising Idea

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

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

5. Send emails when others aren’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key Online Fundraising Idea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key Online Fundraising Idea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key Online Fundraising Idea

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

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

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

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

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

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

We need to design with our donors in mind.

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

How design impacts conversion on a donation page

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

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

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

This new layout saw a 340% increase in revenue.

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

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

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

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

Key Online Fundraising Idea

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other examples of distracting links include:

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

The list goes on and on.

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

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

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

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

Key Online Fundraising Idea

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

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

10. Focus on recurring giving.

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

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

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

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

How a recurring donation prompt increase recurring donor conversions

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

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

Online fundraising idea - recurring donor popup

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

Key Online Fundraising Idea

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

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

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

You can get the recurring donor report at recurringgiving.com

Need more ideas to grow your online fundraising?

Email Fundraising Optimization Course imageWe’ve developed (are continuing to develop) a series of online fundraising courses that will show you everything we’ve learned from 1,473 online fundraising experiments. These courses cover proven strategies to help you:

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

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

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


New Course: A/B Testing & Optimization for Nonprofits. Learn how to set up and conduct A/B tests »Learn More »

Conversing with Donors and Listening to the Data

Published by Allan Torres

Gina Gallutia is the Manager of Direct Response at Hillsdale College and decided to flip the script on Tim Kachuriak Chief Innovation and Optimization officer at NextAfter in this episode of Optimization Insider, filmed at the 2018 NIO Summit.

Tim and Gina discuss listening to the donors, engaging them in conversations, and asking the right questions while listening to the data. They also take a look at alternatives to a basic marketing piece and where the value of that comes into play.

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


New Course: A/B Testing & Optimization for Nonprofits. Learn how to set up and conduct A/B tests »Learn More »

Search Trends, Key Words, and more with Google’s Jamie Blomquist

Published by Allan Torres

Jamie Blomquist is an Agency Lead at Google Marketing Solutions who joined us the 2018 Nonprofit Innovation & Optimization Summit to discuss how you can get more people visiting your site and engaging with the content you are creating as well as navigating the plethora of nonprofits and organizations out there for people to decide who to support.

Jamie also talks about how at Google they dissected search trends comparing branded and nonbranded key terms and explains why that is important for nonprofit fundraisers to know and understand.

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


New Course: A/B Testing & Optimization for Nonprofits. Learn how to set up and conduct A/B tests »Learn More »

Data Science and Technology for Nonprofits with Steve MacLaughlin

Published by Nathan Hill

Not all of your data is important. So how do you determine what’s helpful, what’s not, and make decisions with the right data?

Steve MacLaughlin has been analyzing data and helping nonprofits make data-driven decisions for many years, and shares some of his insights in an interview on the Nonprofit Innovation & Optimization Summit live stream. He also discusses how we should view new and emerging technology in relation to fundraising and nonprofit marketing.

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


New Course: A/B Testing & Optimization for Nonprofits. Learn how to set up and conduct A/B tests »Learn More »

5 Online Fundraising Habits to Stop in 2019

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

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

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

The Top 5 Online Fundraising Habits You Need to Stop 

1. Stop Using Heavily Designed Email Templates

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

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

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

Control

Treatment #1

19.69% Increase to Clicks

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

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

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

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

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

Control

Treatment #1

28.16% Decrease to Conversions

3. Stop Calling Your Donors “Friend”

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

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

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

Control

Treatment #1

270.07% Increase to Clicks

4. Stop Using Words That Every Other Organization Uses

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

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

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

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

Control

Treatment #1

134.19% Increase to Conversions

5. Stop Using Donation Confirmation Pages

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

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

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

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

Control

Treatment #1

175.62% Increase to Donations

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

1. Start Personalizing Your Emails

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

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

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

Control

Treatment #1

137.19% Increase to Opens

2. Start Writing Emails Like a Human Being

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

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

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

Control

Treatment #1

145.5% Increase to Conversions

3. Start Writing More Copy for Your Donation Pages

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

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

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

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

Control

Treatment #1

150.15% Increase to Conversions

4. Start Tracking Your Campaigns Properly

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

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

5. Start Optimizing

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

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

About the author:

Nathan Hill

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


New Course: A/B Testing & Optimization for Nonprofits. Learn how to set up and conduct A/B tests »Learn More »

Is your online fundraising turning away donors?

Published by Mike Tobias

Mystery Donor Study blog image

If you want to find out what really works in online fundraising, there’s only one expert whose opinion really matters: your donor.

Experts suffer from something called the curse of knowledge. They literally know too much to be able to see the issues facing a novice. And when it comes to online fundraising, this curse is costing you donors and dollars.

The problem we face as marketers and business leaders is the more we work on the business side of things, the further we get from our donor’s perspective. As we add employees and expertise inside the organization, our level of sophistication increases. Greater sophistication is good, but sophistication can cause our empathy to decrease, which can be counterproductive.

I’m a huge fan of the television show Undercover Boss. If you haven’t seen it or heard of it before, it’s a reality television show that deals with this very topic. High-level corporate execs leave the comfort of their offices and secretly take low-level jobs within their companies to find out how things really work and what their employees truly think of them.

This Emmy-winning reality series utilizes hidden cameras to provide an authentic view of executives’ journeys as they are immersed in the day-to-day operations of their organizations. In the process of this undercover mission, they learn of the perceptions about their companies, the spirit of their work forces and — maybe — something about themselves as well.

The Undercover Donor

What would happen if you created an Undercover Donor scenario so you could experience what your donor experiences when they give to you?

The Online Fundraising ScorecardWe asked ourselves this for the first time about 5 years ago. And this question was the catalyst for our very first Mystery Donor Study called The Online Fundraising Scorecard.

In this mystery donor study, we signed up for email lists of top nonprofits, tracking every step along the way. Then, watching our inbox closely, we gave a donation at the first moment we were prompted. Again, we tracked every click, every form field, and every line of copy.

This first study helped uncover the basis for much of our original online fundraising testing and experimentation, now numbering 1,473 experiments – all openly published in our online fundraising research library.

But all this research is worthless if it’s done in isolation or kept in a box. It’s only effective if you can apply it to your own fundraising program.

So, how do you turn on the hidden cameras, put on the disguise, and run your own Undercover Donor study?

8 Steps to Running Your Own Mystery Donor Study

There are 8 things that need to happen in order for you to become a mystery donor and get the real, undercover look at what your donor experiences.

  1. Make up a name, and create a new email address. Take on your role as a mystery donor – unknown to the organization. A cold prospect that has an affinity for your cause.
  2. Ask questions. Why should you donate to this organization rather than another organization doing similar work?
  3. Engage on all communications channels – website, contact forms, phone numbers, social media and find out how your organization responds.
  4. Make a donation online – click the buttons, fill out the forms, feel the friction, the confusion, the number of steps, the micro decisions and document every step along the way.
  5. Discover the gaps between what you think you’re telling donors and what they are really
  6. Measure your findings against the benchmark reports we’ve created.
  7. Determine which gaps are creating the biggest area of improvement.
  8. Put together an action plan to work on the easiest things that will make the biggest impact first so your most effectively using the resources you do have.

Step 1 – Create a new online persona

Create an online persona – name, address, phone number, and email that nobody has ever heard of before.

Step 2 – Search for relevant keywords

Google search the keywords that represent what your organization does, not your name but your end result. Examples could be something like “water wells”, “international disaster relief”, “child literacy”, “forest protection”, etc. Does your organization show up in relevant search results?

Step 3 – Visit your website

Visit your organization’s website using an Incognito Window. What’s the first thing you see? Remember you’re a donor. Fill out the contact form. Give your new name and email address, asking “I’m thinking of donating, but why should I give to [Organization] rather than some other organization, or not at all?

What responses do you receive?

Call the organization, and ask the same question. Then go to their Facebook page and ask the same question through Messenger. Record all the responses so that your team can hear the actual words used.

Step 4 – Donate

Decide to donate. Was it an email that lead you to this decision? Where do you go to donate? What questions do you still have? What specific information are you having to give?

Is the information asked for really needed (remember to think like a donor, not a fundraiser)? Screen capture and record every step of the donation process.

Step 5 – Review your donation process

Review everything with respect to what you believe should be happening. Discover the gaps between what you thought you were saying and what people are really saying. Listen for the critical elements – is it clear? Is it credible? Is it compelling? Is it unique to you?

Step 6 – Measure and benchmark

Measure and rate your organizations communications against the Value Proposition Index report. Which areas need the most work? Which channels are communicating well, and which channels are falling short?

Step 7 – Review your key fundraising metrics

There are 3 key metrics that influence your online revenue and indicate the overall health of your online fundraising: web traffic, donation conversion rate, and average gift.

Take these 3 metrics, and plug them into this free online fundraising benchmark tool to see what areas are strong, and what areas have opportunity for growth.

Are you lacking traffic to your pages? Do you need to work on conversion? Do you need to work more on increasing your average gift?

Step 8 – Make a Plan

What’s going to make the biggest difference in the next 3 months that you can tackle first? Of all the things you should be working on where do you start? The best place to start are the areas that are easy to fix and are high-impact.

Create an action plan for your team to execute so they can stop guessing and start fixing those things that will have the greatest impact on gaining donors and dollars.

Great. What’s the easiest way to get started?

Mystery Donor Study Checklist

The first thing I would do is download the mystery donor study checklist. This checklist will be a guide, outlining each step you need to take to get a full understanding of how your donor sees your online fundraising.

From there, you can start conducting your own study, developing your own action plan, and optimizing your program.

You can download the free mystery donor checklist using the form below.


About the author:

Mike Tobias

Mike Tobias

As Director of Strategic Partnerships, Mike looks for ways to serve our community of non-profit organizations in an effort to help them raise more money and acquire more donors. Mike works with clients and strategic partners to develop and implement programs that maximize donor giving.


New Course: A/B Testing & Optimization for Nonprofits. Learn how to set up and conduct A/B tests »Learn More »

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


New Course: A/B Testing & Optimization for Nonprofits. Learn how to set up and conduct A/B tests »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 Marketing Director for NextAfter. He spends every day working to help nonprofit organizations discover how testing and optimization can transform their marketing and fundraising, leading to greater impact and organizational growth. He is also a giant Star Wars nerd.


New Course: A/B Testing & Optimization for Nonprofits. Learn how to set up and conduct A/B tests »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