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No More Passwords and Growing Giving with John Killoran Co-Founder of Swoop and Snowball Fundraising – The Generosity Freakshow Podcast

Published by Brady Josephson

Imagine a world without logins and passwords… now imagine what impact that could have on charitable giving if you could save your info and do quick donations to multiple causes. That’s the world John Killoran is trying to create with his companies — Swoop and Snowball Fundraising — and what is discussed in this episode.

Links & Resources

  • Swoop:
  • Snowball Fundraising:

No More Passwords and Growing Giving with John Killoran Co-Founder of Swoop and Snowball Fundraising

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About the author:


Brady Josephson

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

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

We’re celebrating a huge milestone this week…we’ve officially logged 1000 experiments in our online fundraising research library. But the number itself is not what we’re most excited about.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s incredible to be able to say to someone that we’ve documented 1000 experiments that are decoding what works to inspire more donations and increase generosity.

Ultimately though, it’s the learnings those 1000 experiments represent that get us jumping up and down.

Before I go any further, let’s just all take a moment to celebrate, because you’re an essential part of this too (more on that in a minute).

1000 Experiments Confetti

All right. Now that we’ve gotten that out of our system, let’s look at the experiment that put us over the edge.

The 1000th Experiment

The 1000th online fundraising experiment was conducted with Boys Town – an organization working to change how the world cares for children, families, and communities by helping those suffering from abuse, addiction, abandonment and violence to reach their potential.

In this experiment, Boys Town was running a Facebook advertising campaign to try and acquire new email addresses and grow their file. They were offering a free 5-week email series to help parents learn how to handle toddler tantrums.

The original ad used copy that we would consider organizational-centric. By that, I mean that the copy was focused around organizational goals, rather than the goals of the end user.

Here’s the ad:

Boys Town Control Ad

We created a new Facebook ad to test. This time, the copy was more donor-centric. Rather than say things like “We’ve pulled together…”, the copy used words like “you” and “your.” The value presented was focused on what the recipient would get out of it – not the organization.

Here’s the treatment:

Boys Town Treatment Ad

The goal of this experiment was to drive more traffic to the landing page where someone could sign up for the email series. To validate this experiment, we looked at clicks.

After running the experiment for 2 weeks, we compared the difference. The treatment ad (the one with donor-centric copy) saw a 27.7% increase in clicks to the landing page. The treatment was a clear winner, but what did we learn?

Empathy, Marketing, and Online Fundraising Go Hand-in-Hand

Whenever we run an experiment like this, we’re always looking for the larger principle. Every single experiment that we add to our library helps define and refine a bigger picture of what makes donors give.

This experiment points towards the idea of empathetic marketing. Let’s define empathy really quick:

The ability to understand and share the feelings of another. –

When we try to understand and share the feelings of our donors and potential donors, we start to see our copy, our messaging, our advertising, and every other marketing and fundraising channel differently.

In this case, by putting ourselves in the shoes of the people seeing the ad for the free email series, we realized that there wasn’t much value being communicated about why this offer was important and relevant to the end user.

By tweaking our messaging to be more empathetic, we saw a significant improvement in our results.

Empathetic Marketing - Brian Carroll

Brian Carroll of Markempa was the first person to introduce me to the term empathetic marketing, and he gave a talk on it at the 2017 Nonprofit Innovation & Optimization Summit.

If you want to dig deeper, you can watch his whole talk for free.

This idea of empathetic marketing applies well beyond advertising. Over the course of 1000 experiments, we’ve seen this concept play out on donation pages, email fundraising, and more.

Lessons We’ve Learned from 1000 Experiments

Empathy is at the heart of nearly every major learning and breakthrough that we’ve found throughout 1000 online fundraising experiments.

Everything from crafting a more effective value proposition, to designing a higher converting donation page, to lifting revenue from your email appeals all points back to this central idea of having empathy for your donors.

I think you’ll see this trend if we look at some of the most significant learnings from these 1000 experiments:

Never Assume that Someone Understands Why They Should Give to You

The most significant factor in influencing some to click, sign-up, register, or donate is always the value proposition. If your donor doesn’t know why their gift matters, they’re not going to donate.

We’ve seen this play out in countless experiments, but let’s look at one that illustrates this very clearly…

In experiment #6623 with Illinois Policy Institute, their original donation page had virtually no copy on it. There was nothing to answer the donor’s fundamental question: Why should I give to you, rather than some other organization, or maybe not at all?

When our donation pages have no copy, we’re essentially assuming that the potential donor is already fully convinced that they should donate. But if your donation page conversion rate is anything less than 100%, this assumption can’t be true.

We tested this original donation page against a new one that clearly explained why a donor should give. The new page saw a 150% increase in donations.

Here’s a quick video breaking down the experiment:

Do you see how empathy comes into play on a donation page? We have to craft our page keeping in mind how the donor is perceiving it.

People Give to People, Not Email Machines

This is the golden rule we live by when it comes to email fundraising.

Just think about your own email habits. When you wake up in the morning and check your email on your phone, which emails do you actually want to open? The vast majority of the time, you’re going to open emails from real human beings that you know and trust.

Now, you might be saying, “Nathan, I live a healthy lifestyle and don’t immediately stare at my phone when I wake up.”

For that, I applaud you.

But the same concept applies when you get to work. Are you more inclined to open the email from your colleague, or the email that looks like it’s from a salesperson wanting you to buy a new tool or service?

People Give to PeopleThere are a ton of factors that go into the psychology of deciding which emails to open and which ones to delete. While we don’t have the time or space in this post to go into detail, Jeff Giddens held a webinar on humanizing your email appeals that’s really helpful in understanding how to break-through in the inbox, get your emails opened and read by motivated donors, and grow your revenue.

You can watch the whole webinar here.

If you don’t have time to watch the webinar, here are some tips to keep in mind next time you write a fundraising email. I’ve linked a blog post about each tip if you want to read more.

  • Build trust with your donors by using a personal sender name. Read more
  • Use personalization to help build a real relationship. Read more
  • Write enough copy to thoroughly explain your value proposition. Read more
  • Only use images if they’re going to strengthen the value of your appeal. Read more
  • Delete all of your fancy email templates. You wouldn’t send it to your friend, so don’t send it to your donor. Read more
  • Talk like a real human being, not a marketing robot. Read more

Are you seeing the trend? Email fundraising is about relationships. And healthy relationships require empathy.

No One Goes Online to Give. They Go Online to Get.

Some people really don’t like hearing this claim. Here’s what a fundraiser had to say when I made this claim in a Facebook ad:

Facebook comment

Obviously, people donate online. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t have a job. So please hear me out before you rake me over the coals like this fundraiser….

The general reason people go online, particularly on Facebook, is to get something for themselves. This includes updates on family and friends, articles, blogs, news (fake and real), games, tools, resources, etc.

People don’t get on Facebook with the purpose of giving away their money.

As a result, using a channel like Facebook to try and convince someone to donate to your organization directly is most often going to be fruitless.

We have to put ourselves in the shoes of the user; we have to have empathy. Since a Facebook user is looking to get something, we can offer them something of value for free in exchange for an email address.

By doing so, we can get the user out of the Facebook timeline and create an opportunity to make a donation ask that won’t fall on deaf ears.

We’ve spent $3 million on Facebook advertising over the past 4 years, and conducted 300+ Facebook fundraising experiments to craft this donor acquisition strategy. And every single step is outlined in a free 11-session course called Turning Facebook Likes Into Donors.

This course so far has helped over 1800 fundraisers learn how to effectively acquire new revenue using Facebook and other similar channels. And none of this would be possible without the power of optimization, testing, and experimentation.

1000 Experiments is Great. But It’s Only a Starting Place.

NIO Summit Shirt“Adequacy is the enemy of excellence.” – Peter Drucker

We live by this quote at NextAfter. So much so that we put it on a t-shirt we gave away at the 2017 Nonprofit Innovation & Optimization Summit (You should come to this, by the way).

1000 experiments is a great number, but we can’t stop here. There’s so much more to be learned. And in order to keep pressing forward and discovering what makes donors give, we need other fundraisers to embrace optimization.

The real power of 1000 experiments is not in the number itself. And it’s not just in the learnings. The power is in the people that it represents, day in and day out, who are testing and optimizing to discover what works.

And when nonprofits work hard to discover what works, the revenue growth that follows has the power to provide food to children around the world who are starving. It has the power to provide training and support to families that are trapped in a cycle of poverty. It has the power to provide health services and medication to people in desperate health crises.

Optimization has the power to change the world. And 1000 experiments is only the very beginning.

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.

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

How to Get the Most out of the Email Fundraising Online Course

Published by Nathan Hill

You’re busy. I’m busy. Everyone you work with is busy (or at least I hope so).

Even if your job title has “Email Fundraising” or “Email Marketing” in it, training like this online course is normally the first thing to get pushed to the back burner.

That being said, this course is essential if you want to see your email fundraising results grow. So how do you find the time for something so essential? You have to make time.

Below, I’ve outline 4 tips that will help you make time for the course, get the most out of each session, and apply the learnings to your own email fundraising.

Let’s go.

1. Schedule your time.

Since training is often pushed to the backburner, the only way to make sure you have the time for it is to schedule it. Now, there are 6 total sessions in this course. And they’re designed to be taken in order.

You can try to go through them daily, every other day, or weekly. I wouldn’t recommend spacing the sessions any further apart then 1 week, or else you’ll start to forget how each session ties together.

Here is a calendar with a recommended schedule for taking the course. You can do the whole thing in one month if you follow this schedule. And, this schedule builds in specific time for you to brainstorm and try your hand at applying some of the key concepts.

Recommended Course Calendar

2. Take notes.

For most people, just listening to a lesson, talk, or lecture isn’t enough to ensure that you’ll retain the information. But the simple act of writing down key points that stand out to you can make a world of difference when you go to apply or share what you’ve learned.

And if you’re like me, it’s even better if you write it down with pen and paper.

Now, I understand you may completely ignore this idea since you can just go back and reference the videos. But the videos won’t have the lightbulb ideas that come to you during the middle of Jon’s explanation of how to write better email subject lines.

So more than anything, write down all of your ideas for your own fundraising. If you follow the schedule above, you’ll come back to those ideas later on.

3. Make time to apply what you’ve learned.

The easiest mistake to make in taking this course would be to listen to each session and never make any changes to your actual fundraising emails. As noted in the schedule above, you should make the time to sit down with your notes and ideas, and actually apply them.

Some of the key areas you’ll want to make time to really work on are your value proposition, email acquisition, email copy, and your landing page. Here are some tips on how to put your new-found email wisdom to work:

Value Proposition

After session 2, schedule 30 minutes to sit down and write out your answers to these 3 questions:

  • Why would your ideal donor be interested in supporting your cause?
  • Why would your ideal donor support your cause, rather than another organization doing something similar?
  • Why should your ideal donor trust your claims?

Get all of your ideas out, and synthesize them into a one to two sentence statement answering the fundamental question “Why should I give to you, rather than to some other organization, or not at all?”

After you’ve done all this, have a colleague or two read your statement through to make sure it’s clear. Remember, you don’t always have to be persuasive, you just have to clear.

Email Acquisition Ideas

This one is simple. After session 2, schedule 30 minutes to browse through some of the highest traffic pages on your website. Come up with 3 or 4 ideas that you can test to try and get more people who visit that page to sign up for your email list.

Writing an Email Appeal

After completing session 5, schedule 1 hour to sit down and write an email appeal based on everything you’ve learned. After you’ve written your appeal, have a colleague read it out loud.

Ask yourself…

  • Would a real person actually say these things?
  • Are my value claims clear and accurate?
  • Can another organization make the same value claims, or are they exclusive to our organization?

Email Landing Page

After you’ve completed session six, download the Campaign Donation Page template and print it out. Then, schedule 30 minutes to come up with 2 elements on your email landing page that you can realistically change based on what you’ve learned.

And don’t just blindly make changes. Use a tool like Google Optimize to run a test. That way, you’ll know exactly what effects your changes are having on your donations.

4. Share what you’ve learned with others involved in your fundraising program.

If what you’ve learned from the course only stays in your head, you’ll only be able to grow your fundraising so much. But if you can share what you’ve learned and develop a culture of optimization at your organization, the opportunity for fundraising growth is endless.

So before you even begin the course, schedule 30 minutes to an hour with your colleagues 5 weeks from today. Use that time to share your biggest takeaways with them. Show them your email acquisition ideas, your newly written email appeal, and your plans to improve your donation page. It’s only with their buy-in and support that you’ll really be able to get things done and see major growth.

Get email reminders to keep you on track

(This is Jon. He wants to help.)

Staying on track with these types of courses can be hard if you don’t have someone to encourage you. Luckily, Jon Powell (the guy in all the videos) has volunteered to help.

If you opt-in below, Jon will send you an email twice per week for 5 weeks letting you know which session or activity you should be working on that day. You can respond directly to him at any point to ask questions, discuss ideas, and get additional insights on how to apply the lessons to your email campaigns.

Do you want Jon to help you stay on track? Just verify which email address you’d like to get reminders at using the form below.

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.

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

How Focus on the Family Acquired 200,000 New Emails with a Free Online Assessment

Published by Nathan Hill

Focus on the Family is a Christian ministry that focuses on equipping families with the tools they need to thrive. This includes educating couples on how to have a strong and healthy marriage, providing tools for parents to help raise their children, providing counseling when people face crises or tragedy, and much more.

Focus on the Family LogoThe Problem

Being a content-driven organization, it’s crucial for Focus on the Family to be reaching new audiences, acquiring new emails, and cultivating them into donors. Many organizations have great content and are doing impactful work, but just doing good work does not guarantee that the right people are going to hear about you, value you, and donate to your cause.

In fact, someone could frequently visit an organization’s website for years, but that doesn’t guarantee they will join an email file or donate. Focus on the Family recognized this, and wanted to develop an offer that would appeal to likely subscribers, capture their email, and plug them into a donation funnel.

The Plan

Marriage AssessmentSince marriage is a major content topic for Focus on the Family, they decided to create a free online assessment that would help someone discover how healthy their marriage is. As experts in this field, they had identified 12 key marriage success traits that could be measured using simple questions.

This assessment makes a series of statements and asks the user to rank them on a scale from “Strongly Disagree” to “Strongly Agree.” At the end, the user is prompted for their email address in order to view their results. After submitting the form, the user can see a chart of all 12 key traits explaining the areas in which their marriage is strong, and the areas they have room to improve.

You can take the assessment for yourself here.

Just having an offer doesn’t guarantee results. Focus on the Family launched a series of Facebook ads, tapping into their social media community to provide their new assessment to people likely to take it.

After someone completed the assessment, they were entered into a post-assessment email nurture series. This series points the assessment takers to additional content and resources they can use to improve and strengthen their marriage. This additional content was a mixture of free blogs and articles, as well as books that could be purchased through their eCommerce store.

Email Series ExampleThe Results

This free offer netted significant results in several key areas. First, they saw a 10% increase in daily traffic to their site simply through organic social media posts. When they followed this up with paid social media advertising, they were able to lift their daily website traffic by an additional 26%.

This led to a combined 38% overall lift in website traffic. But the primary metric they were looking to lift was new emails.

This additional traffic resulted in over 260,000 completed assessments. And 200,000 of those were brand new email subscribers. The potential of these subscribers to become donors is far greater than someone simply signing up for a newsletter. They’ve experienced the value proposition of Focus on the Family directly, so that when a donation appeal comes, they will have a much more tangible idea of what they’re supporting.

The Learning

One of the biggest takeaways that we can draw from this campaign is the idea that not all content offers are created equal.

Focus on the Family - Best Recurring CampaignEven as we evaluated the applications for the 2017 Nonprofit Innovation & Optimization awards, we saw many organizations that were utilizing Facebook advertising to give a free offer in exchange for an email address. But in many cases, organizations use offers for acquisition that aren’t related to the work the organization does.

For instance, Focus on the Family could have given away a chance to win a free cruise in exchange for an email address. It may have gotten a lot of submissions, but that doesn’t help someone understand their organization better. By creating an offer that is relevant to your work and helps someone experience your organization first hand, you can increase the likelihood that a new email subscriber will be engaged with you and become a donor.

Because of their ability to create an offer that tied so well into the work of their organization, and its effectiveness in acquiring their target audience, we’ve awarded Focus on the Family a 2017 Nonprofit Innovation & Optimization award.

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.

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

How Canuck Place Children’s Hospice Acquired More Donations by Building a Blanket Fort

Published by Nathan Hill

Located in Vancouver, Canuck Place Children’s Hospice has been serving terminally ill children in British Columbia, CA for more than 20 years. They offer a wide range of services for children and their families including medical and nursing care, recreational therapy, and counseling. 55% of Canuck Place’s funding comes from donations, so donor acquisition efforts are crucial to their impact as an organization.

The Problem

Public perception of Canuck Place is consistently positive – it’s hard to come by someone who doesn’t think serving terminally ill children is a good cause. In fact, a portion of their funding comes from the Vancouver Canucks and the Province of British Columbia. With this sort of public support, you might guess that fundraising would come easy.

But according to Elizabeth Moffat, the digital communications coordinator at Canuck Place, the topic of terminally ill children tends to shut down conversations. This makes finding and acquiring new donors difficult. If no one wants to have the conversation, how can you ever ask them to give?

They needed a plan to re-orient the way people viewed the work of Canuck Place – taking the spotlight off of terminal illness, and shifting it towards something more positive.

The Plan

To solve this problem, Canuck Place – in partnership with Capulet –  launched the Best Day Ever campaign. The core of this campaign was a giant blanket fort that they constructed downtown Vancouver. They invited the public and media to join them as they shared stories of how previous donations to Canuck Place had provided children with their Best Day Ever.

Watch the video below to see the Best Day Ever blanket fort:

Surrounding this event, they spent an entire month sharing Best Day Ever stories through email, social media, and direct mail. They sent cards that were drawn by a child to current donors thanking them for their support. Over 200 recipients responded back with their own cards, wishing the children at Canuck Place their own “Best Day Ever.”

They also set up a “Birthday Stewardship Program” in which they collected the birthdays of existing donors and visitors to their blanket fort. They plan to use this data share stories and ask them to give back on their “Best Day Ever.”

All in all, Canuck Place launched an integrated multi-channel campaign to re-orient the public’s view of their work. This way, when people think of Canuck Place, they don’t just think of sick children – they think of the joy and life that these children are able to experience through the generosity of others.

The Results

As a result of this integrated campaign, Canuck Place doubled their web traffic in May 2017 compared to May 2016. They collected over 200 email addresses – a big success for this size of organization. And throughout this campaign, they had a goal of reaching $10,000 in donations.

At the end of May, they had surpassed their online donations goal with $14,500 in donations. 20% of those donations came from first time donors. They brought in an additional $31,000+ from direct mail, and approximately $3500 from donations from school groups and at the blanket fort itself.

According to Elizabeth Moffat, Canuck Place received numerous comments of support and gratitude along the way, confirming that they had achieved their goal of shifting the way people viewed Canuck Place.

The Learning

This isn’t one of those campaigns you can perfectly copy and paste over to your organization. It wouldn’t make sense for everyone to go build a blanket fort in their downtown area. But the underlying theme in the success of this campaign is how your message affects your donor’s motivation.

Canuck Place didn’t fundamentally change the work they were doing to serve children – they just changed the way they demonstrated it. They invited their donors and their community to experience the value that they bring to the lives of these children. And by allowing someone to experience your value proposition for themselves, you can begin to shift their motivation and increase the likelihood that they will support your organization financially.

That’s why we gave Canuck Place Children’s Hospice a 2017 Nonprofit Innovation & Optimization Award. They were able to 1) identify that people weren’t connecting with their value proposition in an effective way; 2) refocus their message in a way that brought in droves of supporters; and 3) convert their new-found supporters into emails, donors, and revenue in order to grow their impact.

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.

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

How Forest Cliff Camps Saw an 883% ROI with an Innovative Recurring Giving Campaign

Published by Nathan Hill

Forest Cliff Camps is a charitable camping organization based in Ontario, Canada. They host over 3400 children at summer camps and day camps every year. While most families will pay $200 to $600 to send their kids to camp, there are many that can’t afford this for their children. To help accommodate these families, Forest Cliff Camps has a scholarship program called the SummerFund that helps make camp possible for over 300 children.

The Problem

In the past, these scholarships have been primarily funded through an Annual Banquet fundraising event. Through this event, Forest Cliff had acquired over 150 donors to help sponsor the scholarship program. But to reach 100% funding, they needed 150 more.

A large portion of Forest Cliff’s email file is made up of parents of current or former campers. These parents are ideal prospects to become donors since they have seen the positive impact that Forest Cliff Camps has had on their children first-hand.

The problem they faced with tapping into this segment of parents for fundraising was that their relationship with Forest Cliff had never been about giving. Tyler Shaule, the Executive Director at Forest Cliff Camps, had to figure out how to bridge the gap between these parents’ transactional view of Forest Cliff and the need for their generosity.

The Plan

Tyler came up with a plan to utilize the Christmas season as an opportunity to bridge this gap between a transaction and generosity. The plan was to reach out to these parents in a more transactional way they by offering them a “Stocking Stuffer Swag Bag” for their child for free. All they had to do was pay for shipping. It was Forest Cliff’s Christmas gift to the parents and their children.

After the parent had accepted this offer and entered their information to pay for the shipping cost, they were immediately presented with an opportunity to make a $53 donation to help another child attend camp. This donation represented one month of a child sponsorship.

If the parent said “Yes” to this one-time donation, they were then asked to make their gift a monthly recurring donation. This recurring $53 donation equaled a full child sponsorship and ensured a child would be able to attend camp the following summer.

The Results

In one day, they had sold all 50 stocking stuffer swag bags. This resulted in six immediate donations, and one new recurring donor. With a follow-up series of emails, they were able to get one more recurring donor.

Now, the total number of donations here are small. But let’s look at the impact this had on revenue.

The campaign had a total cost of $812. This includes the cost of shipping and the bags themselves. They netted $815.50 in immediate revenue, which means that they broke even. But when you consider the average lifetime value of one of their recurring donors, there’s an additional $6360 in revenue for Forest Cliff Camps that they can use to send more children to camp and grow their impact.

With a total cost of $812, and a gross revenue of $7175.50 – Forest Cliff saw an 883% ROI on their campaign.

The Learning

One of the primary reasons we selected this campaign for a 2017 Nonprofit Innovation & Optimization Award is the way in which Forest Cliff Camps went about executing this plan. Had they rolled this campaign out to their whole list of 15000 people, they would have been taking a large risk without any assurance the campaign would be successful.

What if people took the offer and didn’t donate? They would lose $14 per stocking stuffer bag, and that would have put them in a deficit. They took a strategic risk to test their idea, and now they have a strategy they can rely on and optimize for the future.

From here, Forest Cliff Camps is planning future campaigns using this same formula – testing different offer levels and gift amounts in order to increase their conversion rate, strengthen their ROI even more, and fill their scholarship fund.

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.

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

How Hillsdale College Lifted Year-End Revenue by 69%

Published by Nathan Hill

Hillsdale College, located in Hillsdale, Michigan, has been providing students with a classical liberal arts education since 1834. In addition to the college, Hillsdale offers free online courses related to politics, government, the Constitution, and more.

Each day, Hillsdale has over 1000 new online course enrollees, and their most popular course – Constitution 101 – has more than 800,000 students across the world. As a result, Hillsdale College has become a national leader in training students, opinion leaders, and policy makers.

The Problem

As Hillsdale College has increased their focus on online courses, they have seen significant growth of their email file and pool of potential donors. Although they see a lot of success in acquiring instant donations after a user signs-up for a course, the year-end season remains an essential time for growing their overall revenue and bringing in donations from donors that have been cultivated throughout the year.

Across the board, organizations see stronger and more valuable donors when they are engaged across channels. Hillsdale hypothesized that by engaging donors with an integrated multi-channel campaign during the year end season, they could see greater donor conversion and lift their overall revenue.

The Plan

To accomplish this goal, Hillsdale ran a fairly simple, but clever experiment. They pulled a list of their donors and split it in half. The first half entered into their standard year-end campaign path.

They sent two emails around Giving Tuesday. During December, they sent 10 emails to their file starting with emails focused on their value proposition, and ending with a more urgent ask as the December 31st deadline approached. They also made a special year-end appeal to people who signed up for their online courses during that time. Like many other organizations, some of their appeals included a gift matching opportunity.

All in all, it was a fairly robust campaign, utilizing all of their available channels to ask for a year-end donation.

The second half of their donor file was put into the exact same path, but with one distinct difference. These donors received a hyper-personalized post-card from the president of Hillsdale College, Dr. Larry Arnn, right around Thanksgiving.

This post card gave a short message from Dr. Arnn inviting the recipient to view a video he had recorded giving his thoughts on the holiday and its history, and thanking them for their partnership with Hillsdale. To view the video, the recipient would go to a URL and enter their personalized code.

The resulting landing page had the video, as well as a donation form; although, there was not an overt donation ask or further call-to-action.

The Results

The results of this experiment were astounding. After the year-end fundraising season ended, Hillsdale reviewed their data to see what effect the post-card had. They found that people who received this Thanksgiving post card were 204% more likely to donate during year-end than those that did not receive the post card.

View the full write up of their experiment.

This experiment, along with Hillsdale’s robust use of all of their available channels to present a unified value proposition and year-end appeal, resulted in a 69% overall increase in year-end revenue when compared to the year prior.

The Learnings

Year-end campaigns can tend to become formulaic and routine. Most organizations pull out all the stops in order to send more emails, put display ads and banners on all of their web sites, and make sure they’re always emphasizing the year-end goal.

As a result, it can be difficult to think creatively and find new ways to address your audience in a manner that re-enforces your value proposition and prompts greater generosity. That’s why we gave Hillsdale College a 2017 Nonprofit Innovation & Optimization Award. They were able to cut through the traditional campaign strategy, engage donors in a new way, and see a substantial lift in revenue as a result.

One of the biggest learnings that others can take away from this experiment is that multi-channel engagement can influence a more generous donor. It can be incredibly difficult to get an offline donor to start giving online, and even harder to get an online donor to give offline – even though we know that a multi-channel donor has more value. But effectively engaging an online donor through an offline channel can strengthen their affinity towards your organization, increase the likelihood of an additional gift, and increase your revenue.

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.

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

How the Salvation Army Grew their Recurring Donors By Strengthening their Value Proposition

Published by Nathan Hill

The Salvation Army is most often recognized by their ringing bells and red kettles around the holiday season, collecting donations to serve over four and a half million people in need. But their relief work expands beyond the holidays as they offer relief and aid both domestically and abroad year-round.

Although the Red Kettle Campaign is a large source of donations for the Salvation Army, they have a significant recurring giving program that helps them accomplish their ongoing relief work around the world.The Salvation Army

The Problem

The Salvation Army began considering their recurring donor program, and hypothesized that they could improve upon its value proposition and provide a more nurturing experience to those already enrolled. Before this campaign, their value proposition essentially was, “If you give a recurring gift, we’ll ask you for donations less often.”

As a result, they had 2 primary goals for their new campaign:

  1. They needed to develop a value proposition that would increase the percentage of people signing up to be recurring donors.
  2. They needed to roll their existing recurring donors over to a new program without causing confusion or creating anxiety that might result in someone canceling their gift.

They also strived to develop this program in a cost-effective way. They didn’t want to inflate their costs by developing lots of brand new content.

The Plan

In partnership with Russ Reid, The Salvation Army developed the True Neighbor campaign.

The first aspect of this campaign to note is who they’re targeting. They aren’t focusing their efforts on people who are brand new to their email file, but rather on those who have already donated in the past. These people have already experienced the value proposition of The Salvation Army and have a prior understanding of their work.

The most important aspect of any marketing or fundraising campaign is the message. In this campaign, their message starts by communicating that the target donor is already a True Neighbor because they give to provide help and relief in their city.

Their call to become a recurring donor gives the donor an opportunity to be that kind of True Neighbor all year long, designating their gift in an area that matters most to them. Rather than simply donating to stop being pestered, they’re given the chance to make a great impact in their community.

Salvation Army - True NeighborChannels
Most of the communication in this campaign was initiated through direct mail. But while many direct mail campaigns simply provide a story and a way to mail in your gift, this campaign focuses on driving the recipient online to watch a video showing what it means to be a true neighbor. By getting the donor to take this small step forward, they can increase the likelihood that the donor will take a bigger step and convert to a recurring donor.

Salvation Army - True Neighbor VideoContent
In order to keep costs to a minimum, this campaign utilized existing YouTube videos and other publicly available content that demonstrated their message. This reduced the amount of time and overhead involved in deploying the campaign, which directly affects their ROI.

The Results

This campaign had two primary goals:

  1. Increase recurring donation conversion rates.
  2. Roll over their existing recurring donors without losing any.

Their benchmark for converting existing donors into recurring donors was 1%. This means that every 1 in 100 donors would become a recurring donor. While this campaign is still in its early stages, having been piloted in January 2017, the Salvation Army is currently seeing a 2.4% conversion rate – a 140% lift above their benchmark.

Secondly, they saw a 0% attrition rate as they rolled over existing recurring donors into this new program. That means they’ve maintained their prior recurring revenue, and are only adding to it as they continue to roll out their acquisition plan.

The Learning

We chose The Salvation Army as a 2017 Nonprofit Innovation & Optimization award winner because they had several significant takeaways from their campaign that serve as great learnings for all of us.

Russ Reid - Best Recurring CampaignFirst, your message is critical. It needs to convey value, not cost. We can’t hold our donors hostage by requiring them to give more in order to be bothered less. We must focus on answering the one question all of your potential donors are asking: “Why should I give to you, rather than to some other organization, or not at all?”

Secondly, direct mail and online channels are not independent of each other. In fact, when we use them in conjunction with one another, we often see significant results. In this case, direct mail was a great way to get their donors’ attention, and driving them online served as an effective way to convey the value of a recurring donation.

Thirdly, you don’t always have to shell out tens of thousands of dollars to create content for a major campaign. Most organizations already have troves of content sitting around that just need to be organized or compiled into something of value. In this case, the Salvation Army demonstrated that you can effectively use content from other people to convey your own message.

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.

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

Crafting a High Converting Email Acquisition Form

Published by Tim Kachuriak

The email acquisition form is both your best friend and your worst enemy. The amount and nature of information you ask for will determine which one.

How the amount of required information impacts conversion

Experiment #289

This is a test we performed with Hillsdale College. They have a free publication called Imprimis that’s almost 40 years old, and can be delivered in a hard or digital copy.

Below is the name acquisition offer for this publication. Historically, this form required both an email and home address so it could be delivered both ways.

Experiment 289 - ControlHillsdale College thought that the amount of required fields in the email acquisition form was contributing friction, and lowering the conversion rates on this page. For the treatment, the number of required form fields were reduced. Specifically, we removed the address information and removed an image of Imprimis issues.

Experiment 289 - Treatment

The treatment produced a 136% increase in the number of email signups received! The conversion rate increased from 32% to 76%.

Truth be told, there is a downside to reducing the amount of information required on a form. When you ask for less information, the volume of names acquired typically increases, but the quality of the names is typically lower. If you have less fields, you typically have less friction which means that your traffic doesn’t have to be as highly motivated to convert.

When you ask for more information, the volume of names acquired may drop, but those who do convert will have a higher motivation – making them a higher quality lead.

It’s important to weigh the value of having both the email address and the postal address, and ask which is more important: having high quality names or high volume?  

By asking for only email addresses right away, you may see a lift in conversion through the form. This means you won’t receive their postal address right away, so you’ll need to find a different avenue to obtain it. It creates multiple ways of engaging and communicating with the person on the other side of the screen.

For example, you could send a follow-up email saying, “You just received the digital copy of this. Do you want me to send it your home? Just fill out your postal address here!

How breaking up the email acquisition form into two parts affects conversion

Experiment #2039

Another strategy is to break the form into steps. This allows you to get more names and emails initially, and then you can customize those names and emails in the secondary step. It reduces cognitive friction for the user.

Here’s an example. This is a signup page for the Heritage Foundation’s President’s Club Event hosted in Washington D.C.  Experiment 2039 - Control

As you can see, the form is designed as one long page. It requires all the information necessary to register for the event at once. Right away, the visitor is required to provide an enormous amount of information that takes time, energy, and immediate planning.

The visitor has to think through a lot of details to answer the questions on this form.

By requiring all this information up front, we were excluding a potential segment of the audience that planned to come, but hadn’t figured out all of the details of attending.

For the treatment, we broke the form into two separate pages. The first page acquired the commitment to attend the event and the relevant contact information. The second page captured the rest of the event details.

Experiment 2039 - TreatmentThe treatment produced a 99.4% increase in signups for the events!

Wrap Up…

The strategies shown in these examples are the easiest places to begin optimizing your email acquisition form. Get rid of fields, change the types of fields required, and break the form into two steps. There are many more ideas that can be tested, such as combining the use required and non-required form fields. As you make changes to your forms, continue to test what works best for your target audience.

About the author:


Tim Kachuriak

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