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3 Lessons from Analyzing the Key Metrics of 155 Nonprofits

Published by Nathan Hill

Online Fundraising Benchmark image

I recently wrapped up a brand-new research study analyzing the 3 essential online fundraising metrics of 155 organizations (web traffic, monthly donations, and average gift). 

And while dissecting all the data, I found myself asking some critical questions. There were a few data issues that we had to think through in order to give an accurate look at how these organizations are performing.

So I thought I’d take a moment to share with you 3 challenges I faced that led to some important insights that can equip you for online fundraising growth.

Ready? Here goes…

1. Your Context Is More Important Than the Average

The first step in creating this study of key online fundraising metrics  was to find the average monthly web traffic, donations, and average gift size. This is a little bit easier said than done.

But after cleaning the data, scrubbing organizations whose data was verifiably inaccurate, and crunching the numbers – here’s what we found:

  • The average (median) nonprofit had 12,708 website sessions per month.
  • The average (median) nonprofit saw .61% of those website sessions convert into donations.
  • The average (median) nonprofit had a $106.71 average gift size.

3 essential online fundraising metrics

What bearing does the average have on your organization’s performance?

That’s the question I asked right away. With so many different shapes and sizes of nonprofit organizations, how does the average performance of 155 organizations really help?

If you have a lot of web traffic (say in the millions per month), you might think these online fundraising metrics aren’t even relevant. Same goes if you have really low traffic.

You may walk away thinking “This benchmark is for someone else.”

But that’s why you need to dig a little deeper and view these metrics in a context relevant to your own. And when we drilled in, we saw a fuller picture that’s a lot more helpful…

The more traffic an organization has, the lower their conversion rate and average gift sizes tend to be. 

Online Fundraising metrics by Traffic Volume

In order to get an accurate picture of what conversion rates and average gift sizes are possible for your organization, you have to compare yourself to organizations with similar traffic volume.

2. Just Because You Have Data Doesn’t Mean It’s Reliable

In another area of the report, we dove into specific web traffic channels to see which ones are most effective for driving revenue. But the initial result didn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Online Fundraising Metrics Revenue Per Channel

The number one channel for driving online revenue appeared to be direct traffic.

When we start working with a new nonprofit partner, one of the first recommendations we make is almost always some form of improving Google Analytics tracking. It’s shocking how many nonprofits (and for-profits) aren’t accurately tracking their marketing and fundraising efforts properly.

And when we look at organizations in the benchmark report that we can verify are tracking revenue and web traffic properly, the picture changes.

Email is the Most Effective Revenue Generator

In almost every scenario where we can verify that revenue and campaigns are being tracked properly, email is actually the biggest driver of online revenue and donations. Here’s a quick look at 3 organizations that are tracking their revenue properly.

A Health Organization

This health related organization brings in 199% more revenue through email than they do from direct traffic.

Online Email Revenue for a Health Organization

A Public Policy Organization

This public policy organization brings in 421% more revenue through email than they do from direct traffic.

Online Email Revenue for a Public Policy Organization

A Higher Education Organization

This higher education organization brings in 739% more revenue through email than they do from direct traffic.

Online Email Revenue for a Higher Education Organization

At the end of the day, email is the most effective channel you have at your disposal to drive online fundraising revenue. If you’re not actively growing your email file, you might want to re-think where you’re focusing your online fundraising efforts.

3. Not All Fundraising Channels Have the Same Potential

If we were to simply look at channels that drive revenue directly and stop there, we’d likely do ourselves more harm than good. Because, as you know, there’s a whole lot more to fundraising than simply asking for a donation.

That being said, based on what we’ve seen in other research studies (like this on one mid-level donors), it seems that many online fundraising programs place a major emphasis on the role of cultivation in online channels.

I would guess that we often forget or ignore online cultivation strategies because there isn’t a lot of data out there on what really works.

To help see what channels may be most effective for cultivation, we scored the engagement value of each primary web traffic channel. And we found that Referral Traffic and Social Media Traffic have the highest engagement.

Online Fundraising Metrics Engagement Scores

Using High Engagement Channels as a Donation Primer

First off, let’s define what a donation primer is.

A donation primer is a piece of content that gets a prospective donor ready for a fundraising appeal.

A donation primer doesn’t make a direct donation ask in and of itself. It simply helps someone gain a deeper understanding of why a donation is valuable.

Here’s a quick experiment to show you how it works…

Version A – Visitors did not see donation priming articles

In version A of this experiment, the traffic segment being analyzed saw the normal news articles and blog content on this organization’s website.

Version B – Visitors did see donation priming articles

In version B of this experiment, the traffic segment being analyzed saw the normal news articles and blog content, but they also looked at an article that was designed to help them understand the value of donating to this organization.

Donation Primer Experiment Example

The Results

This experiment was conducted around year-end season. After the season was over, they analyzed the behaviors of these 2 traffic segments. The traffic segment that saw the donation priming articles was 196% more likely to donate.

Although blogs and articles (that might get shared on social media, linked to from referral sites, and rank in organic search results) aren’t good drivers of direct revenue, they can certainly make a major impact on the likelihood that someone gives later on.

Turning your high engagement channels into a donation primer is one strategy you can use to start seeing direct revenue impact from your “non-revenue-driving” channels.

If you want to dig deeper, you can check out this webinar on growing revenue without sending more donation appeals.

3 Essential Online Fundraising Metrics


3 Essential Metrics for Online Fundraising Success - Book ImageThere’s a whole lot more data, insights, metrics, and quick tips in the full report on 3 Essential Metrics for Online Fundraising Success. And the whole report is designed specifically to help you figure out where to start testing and optimizing.

You can get a free copy of the report to see how your organization stacks up against others, and learn how you can grow your online fundraising revenue.

Get a free copy of 3 Essential Metrics for Online Fundraising Success »

About the author:

Nathan Hill

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.

The world's most mind-bending virtual phenomenon for online fundraising & digital marketing... NIO SummitLearn More »

3 Online Fundraising Metrics that Every Nonprofit Needs to Track

Published by Nathan Hill

3 Online Fundraising Metrics for Nonprofits to Track - blog image

After a workshop, conference, webinar, or other online fundraising training event, the most common question that people ask is, “Where do I start growing my online fundraising?” But the answer is rarely as simple as “Start with your donation page” or “Start with your email copy.” The answer always comes back to 3 key online fundraising metrics.

There are 3 online fundraising metrics that are essential to helping nonprofits grow their online revenue. And knowing where you stand with each of these 3 metrics is how you answer the question of “Where do I start growing my online fundraising?”

Over the course of this post, we’re going to look at each of the 3 online fundraising metrics and look at a few key strategies to growing each one.

But first, it’s important to understand why these 3 metrics are so important.

3 Online Fundraising Metrics that Directly Impact Revenue

If we’re being honest, the only online fundraising metric that really matters is revenue.

3 Online Fundraising MetricsBut just saying “I want to improve my revenue” doesn’t really give you a starting place for how to improve your revenue.

So we have to dig a little deeper.

The natural next question is “What metrics influence revenue?” And when it comes to online fundraising, there are 3 metrics that have a direct impact on your bottom line:

  • Website Traffic
  • Donation Conversion Rate
  • Average Gift Size

Let’s think on it for a moment…

Increasing Revenue Directly

If you get more people to show up to your website, and the same percentage donate to you and they’re giving the same amount – your revenue goes up!

How web traffic affects revenue - example image

In the same way, if you don’t change the amount of people coming to your website, but you get a higher percentage of people to donate at the same average amount – your revenue goes up!

And if you all you do is get the same donors to give a little bit moreyour revenue goes up!

Increasing Revenue Exponentially

Now imagine you got more people to show up to your website, and a higher percentage of them started giving. Your revenue is going to grow like crazy.

And if you were able to get more people, to donate more often, and donate in larger amounts…you won’t even know what to do with all the new revenue you have. Imagine the impact it could have for your cause.

How multiple metrics affect revenue - example image

These 3 online fundraising metrics – web traffic, conversion rate, and average gift – should be the driving force behind all of your online fundraising decisions. If your new campaign idea isn’t going to affect one of these fundraising metrics in the long run, is it really worth it?

Online Fundraising Metric #1 – Website Traffic

3 Online Fundraising Metrics - Website TrafficLet’s take a closer look at website traffic. This is one of the hardest online fundraising metrics for a nonprofit to improve – especially if your traffic is really low to begin with.

Why is it so hard? Because it often takes money and a healthy budget to boost traffic.

But I’m going to share a couple options that don’t require you to enter a credit card in order to boost your traffic. If you want to spend money, there’s a million ad platforms willing to help you out – although I’d recommend that you start with Facebook if you’re looking to acquire donors.

Grow your Website Traffic Using the Google Ad Grant

The first free way to boost your website traffic is through the Google Ad Grant. In short, Google gives nonprofits $10k worth of free search advertising to spend per month. The problem is that most nonprofits either:

  1. Don’t know about it
  2. Don’t know what to do with it

While I certainly don’t have time to break down exactly how to spend your Google Ad Grant, we have a webinar that can give you all the details and a little bit of coaching on the best way to put the Google Ad Grant to work for your organization.

Here’s a little video from Google about how it works:

Grow your Website Traffic by Creating Good Content

You’re probably familiar with the term SEO (search engine optimization). Essentially, this is the practice of improving the content on your website so that it shows up when people search for related topics.

For instance, if you search for Nonprofit Fundraising Optimization, we should be right there at the top. Want to know the secret formula we’ve used to rank at the top for that keyword?

We create good content related to nonprofit fundraising optimization. Plain and simple.

Now, there are a lot of other factors that come into play when Google decides what websites show up in their search results:

  • Are you targeting a specific keyword?
  • Does that keyword show up in your headline?
  • Are people who visit your page spending time there?

But at the core, if you create good content that’s relevant to your cause, you’re going to show up when people search for topics related to your cause.

Looking for some specific strategies to boost your SEO? Check it these ideas from Andy Crestodina on how to improve your search rank and get more traffic.

Other Ideas to Grow Web Traffic

There are a seemingly endless number of ways you can allocate your time, budget, and resources to grow your web traffic. Here are a few more to get the wheels turning:

  • Direct donors (and potential donors) to your website at events they attend
  • Send a postcard to your donors inviting them to watch a video online
  • Use Facebook ads reach potential donors with relevant content
  • Use tools like AdRoll to launch re-marketing campaigns
  • Email your donors with your latest blog posts, articles, podcasts, etc.

Online Fundraising Metric #2 – Conversion Rate

3 Online Fundraising Metrics - Donation Conversion RateOnce you’ve got the web traffic rolling in, you want to make sure those website visitors are converting into donors.

There are a number of areas you can look at optimizing to improve how many visitors are converting into donors, but we’re just going to cover a couple key areas.

Make Sure Your Visitors Know Where to Donate

One of the most common mistakes is to bury your “Donate” button in a place where no one can find it. And sometimes, these “Donate” buttons can be hiding in plain sight.

For example, we conducted an experiment with an organization whose “Donate” button sat in the top right corner of their website navigation. That’s a pretty normal spot to find it.

The problem was that it was the same color, size, font, and style as everything else in their website navigation.

So we wondered… “Can we call the donate button out in a contrasting color and get more people to the donation page?” 

Here’s how the experiment worked:

Sure enough, making the “Donate” button stand out led to a boost in traffic to the donation page. But more importantly, it led to more donations.

By making it easier for someone to find the donation page, we saw a 189% increase in donations.

Make Sure Your Donation Page Aligns with Your Donor’s Motivation

This strategy is a bit trickier. It’s easy to change the color of a button. But understanding your donor’s motivation is a bit more nuanced.

But there are a few tested and proven ways you can start creating pages that align with your donor’s motivation right away. It all starts by understanding this key idea…

Not all donation pages are the same.

Here’s what I mean…

One major lesson we’ve learned through 1,892 experiments is that there are (at least) 3 core types of donation pages. Each one aligns with a different donor motivation.

The 3 types of donation pages are:

  • The General Donation Page
  • The Campaign Donation Page
  • The Instant Donation Page

3 Types of Donation Pages - template image

We have a whole online course that gets into all the details of these pages. You can check out the course here if you’d like.

But let me give you a quick little summary.

General donation pages have a wide variety of traffic and motivations.

The messaging that you use on these pages needs to relate to your organizations broader goals and vision. It shouldn’t focus on a specific aspect of your cause or a specific campaign. If it’s too specific, you risk alienating a lot of your potential donors. Get a general donation page template »

Campaign donation pages have a more specific motivation.

The people visiting these pages have been driven either by an advertisement or an email with a specific prompt. The messaging on your campaign donation page needs to align with the call-to-action that your potential donor just clicked on. Get a campaign donation page template »

Instant donation pages are a replacement for your normal confirmation pages.

A visitor to this page has just submitted a form – they’ve signed up for your newsletter, requested an eBook, registered for a course, etc. Your instant donation page needs to thank them, and then pivot into a donation ask related to the offer they just received. Get an instant donation page template »

Online Fundraising Metric #3 – Average Gift Size

3 Online Fundraising Metrics - Average Gift SizeThe last key online fundraising metric that’s essential for nonprofits to track and optimize is average gift size.

If you don’t fully know what this is, let’s define it quickly…

Average gift size (for online fundraising) is your total online revenue divided by your total number of donations.

For instance, if you received $10,000 in donations this month, and you had 100 total donations, your average gift size would be $100.

This key online fundraising metrics is arguably the hardest of the 3 to control. You can’t just spend more money on ads like you can with web traffic. And swapping the color of a donate button doesn’t necessarily make people more generous.

The common factor in increasing average gift size is your value proposition.

Now, you could make a solid argument that more complex online fundraising metrics like donor retention play a big factor in average gift size. And they likely do. But the way shape and craft your value proposition is the easiest factor to control.

How to Increase Average Gift Size by Crafting a Better Value Proposition

Your value proposition is, essentially, the way you answer this question: “Why should I give to you, rather than some other organization, or not at all?”

And the way you answer this question in your emails, in your advertising, and on your donation page directly affects the likelihood that someone will donate. But your value proposition also can affect how much they donate.

One organization we work with has a very unique service they offer…they provide websites for people going through health crises so that their loved ones can keep up with them on their health journey.

This unique service makes it hard to ask for donations in a traditional sense. They don’t raise money to cover medical costs – they raise money to provide their service to more people for free.

Here’s what one of their on-site donation ads looked like:

Value Proposition Example - Control

It says, “Honor Kade and Kallan with a donation to [Organization]. You make Kade and Kallan’s website possible.”

We created a treatment to try and help potential donors better understand the impact of a donation. The treatment version looked like this:

Value Proposition Example - Treatment

It says, “Show your love and support for Kade. Make a donation to [Organization] to keep Kade’s site up and running.”

The treatment version increased donations by 44%. But it also increased average gift size by 16.2%.

Not only did improving the value proposition lead to more donations, it led to larger donations.

Determining Which Metric to Optimize First

Online Fundraising Benchmark Study

Now that you’ve seen the power of all 3 of these online fundraising metrics to increase revenue, you need to figure out where you stand.

Is your web traffic low? Or are you just not converting enough of your website visitors into donors? Or…maybe you have a lot of people donating, but they’re giving very little.

In order to know where to optimize first, you need to compare your 3 online fundraising metrics to other similar nonprofits to see how you measure up. You can compare your 3 key metrics to other organizations with the online fundraising benchmark report here »

About the author:

Nathan Hill

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.

The world's most mind-bending virtual phenomenon for online fundraising & digital marketing... NIO SummitLearn More »

Fastest Way to Improve Search Engine Rankings for Nonprofits

Published by Nathan Hill

Fastest Way to Improve Search Engine Rankings for Nonprofits
Getting on Google’s first page is not easy. But this marketing hack can help you quickly improve your website’s search engine rankings.

Andy Crestodina

Today, I wanted to share an excerpt from Andy Crestodina’s 2018 NIO Summit session on “Search, Conversion, and Content Optimization.”

Because Andy’s session was absolutely packed with actionable advice, there’s no way I could fit it into one blog. To watch the entire session, check out the video below.

And if you want to be there next time for more high-quality, field-tested wisdom like this to optimize your digital fundraising success, sign up for NIO Summit 2020!

Driving Traffic Long-Term

From optimizing email acquisition pages to donation pages, we’re obsessed with answering the question “Why do people give?”

But before you can optimize conversions, you have to have a steady, sizable flow of traffic to your website. Otherwise, there’s little to no people to convert into donors, right?

Now there are a lot of digital marketing channels you can use to generate traffic to your website. These include email, organic social media, paid social, search ads, and display ads, and a ton more.

But these channels are (generally speaking) short-term traffic boosts.

For example, if you send out an email campaign to drive traffic to a blog post you wrote or to a landing page, it should generate a spike in traffic to the URL you’re sending them to.

But what happens when the campaign is over? You can’t keep sending emails to continue driving traffic to the same page. People will stop opening and clicking. And you’ll burn out your list.

However, there is a marketing channel that can reliably bring traffic to your website day after day, year after year…


SEO: The Sail on Your Boat

Think of your digital marketing strategy as a boat navigating the waters of building your organization’s brand.

Your boat has four primary means of propulsion:

  1. PPC (Pay Per Click advertising)
  2. Email
  3. Social media
  4. SEO

PPC does a lot more of the heavy lifting for you. But PPC can gobble up your budget. It’s a lot like the gas-hungry motor on your boat.

Image of a boat, with SEO as the sail, PPC as the gas-guzzling motor, and email and social as the oars.

Email and social media take a lot of grunt work, but they are way cheaper than PPC strategies. They’re the oars on your boat.

Oars and motors can really move you forward, but eventually you run out of fuel and strength to keep them going.

In the same way, it’s normal to see an initial spike of traffic due to an email, social media, or PPC campaign within the first week, but then traffic dwindles to a trickle of visits per day.

Image showing traffic to a landing page from SEO over time

So how do you keep traffic streaming to the page you created?

Like a sail for your boat, SEO can move you towards your traffic goals for free. It’s pure organic traffic.

And content that’s been optimized for search engine rankings can bring your website visits day after day without your ongoing effort. At this point, the search engines are working for you.

Even better, you can put an unlimited number of sails on your boat!

Just keep adding new pages of content that are optimized for the keyword phrases you want to rank for. Over time, these pages accumulate visits to your website. And ultimately, organic search can become a primary driver of new visitors and traffic for you to cultivate, acquire the emails of, and convert into donors.

Image showing how a page with good search engine rankings accumulates major traffic growth over time

That’s the long-term idea behind SEO, but what can you do with the content you’ve already got?

Search Engine Rankings Hack

Here’s what I think is the most valuable thing that Andy gave us in his session. Step by step, I’ll walk you through Andy’s SEO hack to improve the search engine rankings of content you have already published.

Step 1: See what keyword phrases you’re currently ranking for.

Getting this information is easier than you might think.

Go to your Google Analytics account. Click on “Acquisitions.” Click on “Search Console” and then “Queries.”

Image from Google Analytics showing search queries and your search engine ranking for those terms

Step 2: Identify which phrases you’re ranking for on page 2 of Google Search results.

To do this, you need to filter the phrases you’re ranking for on your queries page. Go to the search bar above the table with the phrases you’re ranking for and click the “Advanced” link.

In the advanced filter that appears, set the filter to include pages with an average position greater than 10.

Image showing how to view page 2 search engine ranking pages in Google Analytics

If your content has a search engine ranking of 11 or higher for a keyword, that means you’re on page 2.

The bad news is…

Your content is on page 2 of the Google search engine rankings results. Almost nobody clicks on the second page of the search engine results, so the chances of your content being found is close to zero.

The good news is…

The content you have showing up on page 2 of your Google search engine rankings are low hanging fruit. It doesn’t take too much tweaking to optimize them so they’re more likely to show up on page 1.

Which leads us to the final step in Andy’s SEO hack.

Step 3: Optimize content with the phrases for which they’re ranking.

On the left of the Google Analytics report, you’ll see the list of keyword phrases for which you are almost ranking high.

Image showing how to find the pages you can most easily optimize to grow their search engine rankings

Go to each page on your website that is ranking for these phrases and see if they are optimized for those keyword phrases.

More than likely you’ll find many pages on your website that rank phrases that do not appear on the page at all. These are “accidental rankings.”

So if you’re showing up on page 2 accidentally, getting to page 1 purposefully should only take a small amount of tweaking.

  1. Edit your pages to include the keyword phrase they are accidentally ranking for. This will improve your page’s relevance for that phrase.
  2. Look at the bottom of the Google search results page for searches related to the keyword phrase and try to include these phrases as well into your article.
  3. Answer the best questions regarding the topic you’re writing about.
  4. Make your page the best page on the Internet for that topic.

These relatively small changes can have a huge impact on your search engine rankings and get you onto page 1 of Google’s search results!

That means that more search users will find you and come to your website. And with your traffic optimized, you’ll then be able to optimize your site’s conversions.

Get brand new strategies and tactics that you can apply at your organization to improve your digital marketing and grow your online fundraising revenue by getting a free ticket to NIO Summit 2020.

About the author:

Nathan Hill

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.

The world's most mind-bending virtual phenomenon for online fundraising & digital marketing... NIO SummitLearn More »

How Care Net Grew their Web Traffic by 91% Year-Over-Year Using Multi-Channel Marketing

Published by Nathan Hill

Since 1975, Care Net has been working to help women and men find realistic alternatives to abortion so that they choose life for their unborn children and abundant life for their families. It’s their mission to provide compassion, hope, and help to people facing pregnancy decisions.

The Problem

There are three key metrics that directly influence an organization’s revenue:

  • Web Traffic
  • Conversion Rate
  • Average Gift Size

When we can lift one of these metrics while maintaining the others, revenue goes up. And if we can lift them all, we can grow our revenue exponentially.

In this case, Care Net had a significant amount of traffic coming to their website already. But in order to grow their impact, they wanted to find a way to lift their web traffic while maintaining their conversion rate. Traffic is often easy to come by if you have a big enough budget, but the biggest difficulty is getting more of the right traffic.

In this case, Care Net needed to find a way to drive more people to their website without causing their lead conversion to drop.

The Plan

The first step in developing their plan was identifying what the right traffic looks like. In their case, they wanted to attract more people that were interested in the pro-life movement.

Now, it’s only in the rarest of cases that an organization finds the silver bullet content offer, blog post, viral video, etc. that sends their web traffic off the charts. This sort of growth is nearly impossible to plan for or create intentionally.

Care Net looked across all of their channels and content to devise an inbound content strategy that would attract the right people and capture them as leads while on the site. They invested in creating regular and consistent content that was of high value to people interested in the pro-life movement. They wrote blog posts that covered the latest headlines, and they developed eBooks that provided training on how to communicate the message of life to those considering an abortion.

They developed PPC, display, and Facebook ads that featured these various content offers. They also utilized slide-in offers, exit-intent offers, and other on-site calls-to-action to capture leads from their inbound traffic.

And finally, they began A/B testing their landing pages in order to optimize their conversion rates and make the most of the new traffic they were bringing in.

The Results

Through this multi-channel marketing effort, Care Net saw a 91% increase in web traffic year-over-year.

But as we said, a key part of the success of a web traffic campaign is maintaining your conversion rate. Care Net not only maintained their lead conversion rate, but actually saw it increase from 2.06% to 3.6% – that’s a 75% lift in conversion rate!

The combination of a lift in web traffic and a lift in conversion rate led to a 235% increase in new contacts added to Care Net’s email file. We see time and time again that the size of an organization’s email file is one of the key indicators of their online fundraising success. An increase in email acquisition this large should lead to significant returns in donations downstream.

The Learning

One of the most important things to note about this campaign is that every aspect is something that can be recreated at virtually any organization. Now, the message and the content will vary from organization to organization. And the budgets to spend on the various tactics will fluctuate.

But none of the tools used are exclusive to big-budget organizations. You don’t need big teams of developers, designers, copywriters, and creative staff to create the various campaign assets.

Too often organizations will get caught up trying to create one big and innovative campaign. We’ll get so focused trying to figure out how to create the perfect email welcome series, eBook, or other content offer – all the while neglecting the basic blocking-and-tackling that can yield major results.

We gave Care Net a 2017 Nonprofit Innovation & Optimization Award for this very reason. They were able to orient their marketing efforts around a singular goal, and systematically build an inbound marketing machine that it is generating significant results and growing their impact.

About the author:

Nathan Hill

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.

The world's most mind-bending virtual phenomenon for online fundraising & digital marketing... NIO SummitLearn More »

For most organizations, traffic is perhaps the least understood metric that directly contributes to online revenue. Even though our Flux Capacitor of Online Revenue Maximization (FCORM) shows that optimizing traffic is just as important as conversion rate and average gift, few people know how to get more traffic. What happens when you realize that your traffic levels leave something to be desired?

FCORM - Traffic Optimization

Flux Capacitor of Online Revenue Maximization – Traffic Optimization

You can always buy traffic. Most organizations already buy traffic through advertising, email list rentals, or co-registration campaigns. But if your end goal is to get more donors and not just website page visits, buying traffic is not exactly the end all solution.

That’s why I’m devoting this post to going over three strategies to bring more traffic, and more motivated traffic to your website and your donation pages. By focusing on engagement and targeting high-value visitors, these strategies will help you acquire more of the right traffic to convert new donors.

1. Capture, Retarget, and Remarket to existing web site visitors.

People who have already visited your website are some of the most valuable segments of traffic. They also are some of the most neglected. Existing website visitors are no strangers to your organization, but are one step away from being an active lead. How can we get these visitors to re-engage on our websites?Multi Step Remarketing and Conversion

A while back, we developed a campaign called Multi-Step Remarketing and Conversion (MSRC) where we designed a compelling multi-step experience for website visitors.

It can be a quiz, a game, or a survey—something that engages people’s minds and creates an elongated engagement experience. At the end of this experience, we give them some sort of free offer.

The purpose of the free offer is to capture an email address. It could be a white paper, a download, an eBook, a petition, or any number of things; as long as it requires people to give you their name and email address. This will allow you to continue to engage them in a conversation through another channel.


Petition Example


After they give their email address, the engagement doesn’t end. Present these new subscribers with an opportunity to give a gift right away.

As the visitor says “yes” each step of the process, momentum is building in their mind. This increases the likelihood of them saying “yes” to a more significant call to action. You might be surprised how many people will say “yes” to a donation ask right after they’ve just said “yes” to joining your email list.


Donation Ask Example


The people who don’t give a gift enter a remarketing experience. We can tag these people and target them with display ads. That way, when people leave our website and go to other sites, they see our ads showing up everywhere.

This tactic allows us to stay in front of that targeted audience. We’re not wasting advertising dollars by advertising to a generic group. We’re advertising directly to people who came to the website and engaged with us.


Remarketing Walkthrough


Since we captured their email address, we also can send them an email – or even a series of emails – that connects the dots from their initial interaction to an opportunity to support our organization with a financial contribution.


Email Follow Up Example


We have found that there is a pretty dramatic downstream effect when using this model. Not only do we get instant conversion from the initial donation ask, but we get significant conversion later on.


Downstream Revenue - Traffic Optimization


This rainbow chart represents revenue. Where the dotted red line stops is where the initial campaign ended. The big blue bar is the initial revenue that was donated right away. They gave their email addresses and gave a gift immediately—we call those instant conversions.

All of the other color bars you see are the downstream effect of revenue that was generated. Over time we got two times the amount of revenue from the downstream effect than we get from the instant conversion.

When you think about traffic, don’t think only of strangers discovering your site for the first time. The most valuable traffic is the traffic you already have if you create an engaging, long term experience that brings that traffic to your site again and again.

2. Optimize upstream channels and sources of traffic.

Upstream sources could be a number of things. If you do a banner advertisement or search engine marketing, you may optimize your ads to generate more clicks. You can also optimize your keywords to generate more traffic. But all of us have an email list that could be optimized.

Let’s look at a formula to help breakdown email optimization:


MECLABS Email Heurisitc


If we break this down, there are two different components: Value factors and Cost factors. The value factors are relevance, offer, and incentive. The cost factors are friction and anxiety. The goal is to find ways to increase the value factors while lowering the cost factors.

Here’s an example of how to take that abstract formula and apply it to your email campaigns:


Email Click Optimization Example


These two emails are exactly the same – the only difference is the final sentence in the email: the call to action.

We set up our A/B split test, sent out the emails, and found that the treatment produced a 139% increase in click through rate. It also produced a 42% increase in revenue.


Email Click - Call to Action Example


What conveys the stronger value proposition to the person who’s reading this email for the first time? Is it taking the taxes out of the online contribution or becoming a Charter Member of the George W. Bush Presidential Center? By setting up a simple A/B split test, we were able to find the answer and experience a huge boost in revenue.

Next, let’s look at an example of optimizing a Facebook ad to get more highly motivated traffic. Here’s one we did with the Susan B. Anthony List:


Facebook Ad Control Facebook Ad Treatment


In this experiment, we thought that the people seeing our ads might have a different motivation than what we were targeting with the control ad. We created a treatment in which the imagery focused on the educational opportunity through the eBook rather than the protest.

Facebook Ad - Test Results


As a result, we saw a 76.4% increase in names acquired from the Facebook ad.

Not only does optimizing upstream traffic sources allow you to get more traffic, but it can help you get more of the right kind of traffic that will increase conversion rates.

3. Make it easy for your traffic to get to the right place.

When you send an email, tweet out a link, or even print a URL in a mailing, you’re sending your soon-to-be web traffic to a specific location on your web site. But what about the traffic to your site from organic search, direct traffic to your homepage, or other sources where you haven’t precisely directed them to a landing page? In order to get more of the right traffic to the right place, we have to optimize the donation pathway.

Let me show you a simple example of how even small changes in the donation pathway can have a drastic impact on traffic and revenue:


DTS Donate Button Test


In this experiment, we wondered what effect we could have on traffic to the donation page if we simply made the donate button stand out against the other navigation options. We made it look more like a button and gave it a purple background color.


DTS Donate Button Results


Now, we expected to see an improvement since the original donate button blended in with all of the other options. What we didn’t expect, was exactly how much treatment would impact revenue.

When we looked at the donations that came from the treatment we saw an 860% increase in average gift size. The compounding effect of the traffic increase and the average gift increase produced a 2682% increase in revenue.

This test goes to show that simple methods of optimizing your traffic can have a huge impact on the downstream revenue.

Flux Capacitor of Online Revenue MaximizationNextAfter - FCORM Report

Looking for other ways to help grow your online revenue? Our Flux Capacitor of Online Revenue Maximization (FCORM) makes it easy to identify your key areas of growth.

We will help you identify your strengths and weaknesses in the 3 key metrics of online revenue optimization: traffic, conversion, and average gift. Start optimizing your online fundraising by getting your free FCORM report today.


About the author:

Nathan Hill

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.

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A Quick Review: Here’s the FCORM formula for revenue

This one simple formula containing just 3 variables dictates the revenue of every campaign:

Traffic x Conversion Rate x Average Gift = Revenue

We call it the Flux Capacitor of Online Revenue Maximization (FCORM).

This post, let’s focus on revenue.

Finally, right?

Here’s the TL:DR version (which we will unpack in the rest of the post):

“If I improve even one of the three FCORM variables, I’ll increase my revenue.”

“Yes, obviously,” you say. Stand by … because here’s where it gets interesting.

“When I systematically test, I can boost two or all three variables. That’s how I can dramatically increase revenue because lifts in multiple variables compound results.”

The process is simple: Measure what you do, interpret the results, and form a hypothesis to do better next time. Repeat.

Why repeat? Check out the change in revenue: it’s more than the sum of the increases…

Screenshot 2015-12-29 10.52.41


It can’t be that simple, can it? What’s really going on here?

Because testing and optimization validate your hypotheses, you get insights. Insights are learnings that can be repeated from one experiment to another.

In other words, your lift from the last experiment becomes your baseline in the next.

So, when you apply the optimization process to two (or all three) FCORM variables, you don’t just increase revenue. You dramatically increase revenue.

We affectionately call this win-stacking. Think of it like compound interest—you get paid on principal and the “interest” of all your previous tests.

This is how you stop running campaigns as isolated events (like a series of coin tosses) and start building a systematic program that delivers predictable revenue.

How to get more YESes (and revenue): the conversion heuristic

So, you’ve done the FCORM self-analysis by now (right?), and you know which variable, once optimized, will yield the biggest impact.

How do you influence that variable?

Here’s the tool we use to engineer a test designed to lift that variable. We can use it both to evaluate the status quo and form specific hypotheses.

Screenshot 2015-12-29 11.06.06


If the FCORM is GDP, the conversion heuristic helps you fix the sector that’s dragging down gross productivity.

Or here’s a sports analogy: If FCORM is the scoreboard, the conversion heuristic is the playbook to optimize your offense (or defense, if the scoreboard indicates that’s the problem).

We run our baseline through this formula to form a hypothesis for how to boost the FCORM variable we’re targeting. We also use it as a sort of checklist to craft the creative elements within the campaign. In other words, it helps us choose which levers to pull first.

Here’s an example: Let’s suppose the FCORM analysis says you should focus on Conversion Rate first. You run a few tests and validate a treatment that increases conversion.

Now, focus on another variable, say Traffic, but still apply your Conversion Rate learning (which is now part of the baseline/control). Now you’re sending more traffic to a page that converts at a higher rate than before.

More people arriving and a higher percentage of those people converting means the net impact is more than the sum of the two lifts.

Stacking incremental targeted wins like that is how you grow reliably and predictably.

Plus, there’s no reason to stop after one lift, either. Continue testing your Conversion Rate, for instance, even if you’ve made progress already.

Stack ’em up: More traffic … More gifts … Higher average gift … equals transformation.

You know which variables to target first because you’ve used the FCORM formula to identify what’s holding back revenue.

You use the conversion heuristic to form a specific hypothesis about what changes to which element(s) will yield the lift you’re looking for.

Warning: Think of optimization in two directions

I’m not going to get into every tactic you could test to influence each variable (you can find plenty of inspiration in the experiment library). But I do need to drop down one level to deliver this important warning.

Remember the inverted funnel? Prospects aren’t falling in, they’re falling out. To get to “yes” they must climb the sides of the inverted funnel–a series of “micro-yeses.”

Screenshot 2015-12-29 11.05.46 


If there are multiple micro-yeses feeding one FCORM variable (and there usually are), make sure you apply the conversion heuristic to all of them. Neglecting just one can scuttle results for an entire campaign. Of course, expected lifts that don’t materialize are also useful as a signal that some micro-yes

Of course, expected lifts that don’t materialize are also useful as a signal that some micro-yes is not optimized. But they’re costly.

Here’s a simple example. Suppose you’re targeting Traffic in a broadcast email campaign to a donation page. Traffic isn’t optimized once email open is lifted. You also need the click-through to landing page. Make sure you’re identifying and measuring each micro-yes and running tests to optimize each one.

When you celebrate wins that don’t impact FCORM, you’re falling prey to vanity metrics. Don’t do that.

This happens a lot with page views, for example. A big increase in page views looks great in your Analytics dashboard. It doesn’t mean anything (except that you wasted a bunch of money and effort) if all that traffic abandons your funnel at the first micro-yes.

The FCORM keeps you focused on the variables that matter. If you neglect a micro-yes in the conversion pathway of each variable, you won’t see the FCORM lift you expect. Find the bottleneck. Then test into a complete process that lifts the FCORM variable before you move on to the next one.

3 steps to starting your own optimization program 

By now you should have a pretty good idea why optimization is transformational. Here’s a quick review of how to do it:

  1. Use the FCORM audit to see where you should focus first. The FCORM is the simple formula that determines your revenue (and identifies what’s holding you back). It is the top measure for online fundraising success and the program-level metrics you should constantly track. It’s your online fundraising dashboard.
  2. Next, use the MECLABS conversion heuristic to devise a test to influence whichever FCORM variable you are targeting first.
  3. Apply this learning through the entire conversion pathway for each FCORM variable. Identify each micro-yes related to that variable throughout the entire conversion process—and optimize it.

Finally, don’t stop at a win—keep testing. Re-run the FCORM audit and repeat the process for the next variable.

Remember, the real power of optimization is compounding wins through the FCORM formula.

What’s better than optimizing your funnel?

What could be better than systematically boosting revenue by optimizing your entire funnel?

Here’s a bold claim: The non-revenue benefits of optimization are both larger and more impactful than the revenue benefits.

That’s a crazy thing to say for a man whose livelihood is based on optimizing online fundraising revenue. But it’s true. I’ve seen it time and again.

Optimization creates an uncommon culture that sets certain organizations apart as true leaders.

In my next post I’ll tell you more about that.

In the meantime, understand that what you’re optimizing is revenue. But what you’re building is your impact.


  1. Here’s the link to the free FCORM self-analysis. Run it yourself in a few minutes and get strategic clarity once and for all.
  2. Visit the experiment library to see how we use the conversion formula to target FCORM variables in our own experiments. Then get started optimizing yours!
  3. Sign up to receive our monthly Optimization Edge email, packed with curated experiments, tools, and articles to keep you focused on making real progress.

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.

The world's most mind-bending virtual phenomenon for online fundraising & digital marketing... NIO SummitLearn More »

We recently hosted an online optimization session that broke down the three key metrics to online fundraising and presented examples of how to optimize each of them to increase online revenue. In this video, you will see how simple growing your online fundraising can be when you look at the right data. (more…)

About the author:


Jeff Giddens

Jeff was the 1994 Georgia State Spelling Bee champion.

The world's most mind-bending virtual phenomenon for online fundraising & digital marketing... NIO SummitLearn More »

How Senator John Cornyn increased donor conversion by 258%

Published by Jeff Giddens

John Cornyn has served as a U.S. Senator from Texas for more than 14 years and is the current Senate Minority Whip for the 113th Congress. Our team connected with Josh Eboch, political director for Team Cornyn, when we partnered with him to present a webinar on activating donors through social media. Josh expressed interest in the science behind web optimization, and proposed a test to see if we could increase donor conversion on

The Challenge

As election season begins, a torrent of traffic comes to This traffic includes likely voters looking to confirm their affiliation, donors looking to support the Senator, and people seeking information about all of the candidates. The team wanted to make sure that friction and anxiety were minimized and credibility and clarity were increased so that the most motivated potential donors would make a gift to support the Cornyn campaign.

The Test

Initially, the donation page was plain, with little in the way to increase donor motivation or increase donor confidence — just a picture of the Senator and a four-step donation form. Due to campaign finance regulations, this page is required to have a large disclosure statement on the page. This was immediately visible, and the team hypothesized that it might be a factor that increased donor anxiety. One of these statements in particular was somewhat jarring to the donor experience: “Your contribution cannot be accepted unless each statement applies to you. If you are not able to affirmatively answer each question, you are not eligible to make an online contribution to Texans for Senator John Cornyn Inc.” This raises all sorts of questions in the mind of the donor: “Am I eligible?” “Am I going to get in trouble?” “Is this illegal?”


Control Donation Page


Treatment Donation Page


The team formed a hypothesis that adding the correct amount of value proposition language from Senator Cornyn’s resume alongside the page would increase donor conversion by increasing motivation and pushing the copy that presumably caused donor anxiety further down the page and away from the donation form. We knew we had a lot of value proposition language to work with. Factors were added that would appeal to potential donors: experience and affiliation. The team also added a few points from his Senate voting record, and his history of standing up for veterans. Copy around his campaign messages was included to reinforce some of the likely messages the prospect had seen in their inbound path (“Beat the Democrats”, “Keep Texas Red”), and then placed a direct ask at the end of the messaging.

After the Cornyn team spent some time making the page fit the design of the rest of the site, a new treatment was launched.

The Results and Key Takeaways


The new treatment delivered a 258.1% increase in donor conversion, with a statistically valid sample size. Josh Eboch noted that “we could now expect to convert more than three times as many visitors into donors, which in turn means a more invested and engaged supporter base for our campaign. Everyone on the team was thrilled with the results and excited to keep improving.”

Team Cornyn learned a few things about their donor base through this test:

1. Experience matters. Even though the donor might be motivated to get to the donation page, they need to be reminded throughout the process that Senator Cornyn aligns with their core beliefs and is worthy of their donation. Donors to Senator Cornyn are thoughtful — they can’t be expected to just react to a donation opportunity, they must be persuaded along the way.

2. Design matters. Simply adding the copy to the page hurt results. Keeping continuity in the user experience throughout the entire donation process is crucial to a positive lift.

3. The learnings are transferable across other media. Eboch commented: “[these] results can be applied to anything from email acquisition to persuasive messaging experiments. We will continue to apply these techniques wherever possible moving forward to ensure we maximize effectiveness throughout the campaign.”

The first step to optimizing your site for more donations is understanding where your donation funnel needs to improve. That’s why we put together a free report to show you how your site stacks up against nonprofit benchmarks on the three key metrics that drive revenue: traffic, average gift, and conversion rate. Grab your free, customized report here.

About the author:


Jeff Giddens

Jeff was the 1994 Georgia State Spelling Bee champion.

The world's most mind-bending virtual phenomenon for online fundraising & digital marketing... NIO SummitLearn More »

One of the things I love about optimization is that the work is never done! There is always some aspect of our fundraising that can be improved to increase fundraising revenue — and even if we achieved the mythical goal of 100% conversion rate, we could still invade other channels or find new audiences to approach. As intricate as optimization can get, it’s important not to forget the big picture — the three key metrics that affect online revenue.

1. Traffic: how many visitors come to your site or landing page?

2. Conversion Rate: how many of those visitors do you turn into donors?

3. Average Gift: how much does each visitor give?

You’ve seen the Flux Capacitor of Online Revenue Maximization, or FCORM all over this site. In the video below, I unpack the FCORM and how it can dramatically increase your fundraising results. After watching, if you would like us to generate a free FCORM report for you, fill out this form here. We’ll get back to you in 24 hours. Enjoy!



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.

The world's most mind-bending virtual phenomenon for online fundraising & digital marketing... NIO SummitLearn More »

Usability, or lack thereof, is one of my pet peeves.

You might be more familiar with the term user experience, UX, UI– but whatever term you use to describe it, your organization might not be doing much to optimize it. Many sites claim to have robust sites with optimized this, and high level that, but when it comes down to it, the user experience was designed more for the web site owner than the intended target user.

You’ve experienced this. How often have you gone to a website retailer and found it impossible to locate what you came for in the first place? Within the nonprofit world it’s even worse…

The other day I was looking through other nonprofit websites to glean and share best practices with some of my clients. It didn’t take long to discover that most nonprofits do everything they can to discourage would-be donors from making a donation. One major worldwide nonprofit in particular took me through 11 screens before I was even given a chance to increase their impact with my financial contribution. I guess they really, really, wanted to make sure I wanted to donate…

Here are some helpful ways you can be maximizing online donations and increasing online fundraising revenue by optimizing your website:

  • It’s all about the experience. Making a donation has a completely different feel than ordering tchotchkes from Amazon. Do away with the online store feel and try to create a one-to-one relationship between each project and the associated donation response form.
  • Less clicks, more dollars. There is a direct correlation between the number of clicks that you put between a user and your goal that negatively impacts conversion rate. The technical term for this is called “funnel abandonment”. Try to limit the number of screens that the user must click through in order to complete the donation. If at all possible, enable the user to complete the donation on the same page that prompted it.
  • Um, can I have a little help here? If you do have a multi-step check out process, clearly communicate that to the user. Provide some frame of reference as to where they are in the check out process and when the torturous form-filling will end. Give them clear directions as to what information is required and optional, and for the sake of everything holy, provide the user with coherent and easily identifiable error messages.
  • You have not, because you ask not. We recently launched a microsite for a client that included a free resource offer for users that filled out a registration form. The goal was purely name acquisition. About a month into the campaign we added an option for users to also make a donation through the form. That simple little change translated into thousands of “extra” dollars and did not affect the conversion rate for the form whatsoever. Whenever appropriate, add a donation option to registration or name acquisition forms.
  • No, I don’t remember my password! Putting a login screen between a user and a donation form is like putting an obstacle course between a grocery shopper and the check out lane. It seems like a good idea—after all, once the donor sets up their account all of their information will be saved, right? Wrong! I learned this lesson the hard way. Trust me, don’t do it.

Can you imagine what you would do with a 50% increase in online donation conversion? What kind of impact could you have if it grew to 75% or even doubled?

Or maybe, if you’re like me, would rather ask, “How could my community, state, nation, or world be different if our organization had more resources to invest in the work that we do?”  This is the great thing about online donation optimization– the more money we can raise with greater efficiency, the more good we can do. And that, should be all the motivation that we need.

How many online donations is my site losing?

One of the biggest problems with online donation abandonment is that we don’t ever truly know just how many online donations we may have lost due to a poor online donor experience.  That’s why we have developed a tool to give you an idea how your web site is doing compared to nonprofit industry benchmarks.  We call it the Flux Capacitor of Revenue Maximization (silly name, I know– but very powerful tool).  The Flux Capacitor of Revenue Maximization (FCORM) Report will help you assess the three key areas that drive online revenue: Traffic, Donation Conversion Rate, and Average Gift and provide you with insights into where your web site may be leaking revenue.  After reviewing your FCORM you will be better equipped to put together a strategy that helps you plug the leaks, and capture more revenue.

Get your free FCORM report today (by answering three simple questions) and start maximizing online donations.

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.