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Discovering Why Your Donors Give

Published by Nathan Hill

Everyone wants to have more data to inform their fundraising. Where are donors coming from? Which ads are they clicking? How much revenue did this email appeal bring in?

But the most important question you should be asking of your data is not where, or which, or how much. The most important question you should be asking is “Why?”

Matt Bailey so eloquently explains this in his session at the 2016 Nonprofit Innovation & Optimization Summit. And if any part of you is a Star Trek fan, you’ll appreciate his example:

“When I know the why, I can change.”

This quote from Matt Bailey represents an essential lesson about optimization…

The purpose of testing is not to get lifts – It’s to get learnings.

When you’re focused on the learnings, you can begin to get inside the mind of your donor. You can discover what motivates them to give, as well as what elements of friction might keep them from completing their donation.

Let’s look at a couple of experiments that illustrate why we need to focus on the learning ­– not just the lift.

Testing Your Way to the Why

Experiment #1671

In this experiment, CaringBridge wondered if choosing a different sender for their email appeal could affect its performance.

In the control, the email was sent from the CEO of CaringBridge. For the treatment, they sent from Kelly – a Senior Development Specialist. The treatment also had some variations in the body of the email. The template was different, the copy had a different tone, and they didn’t use a P.S.

Experiment 1671 - Control

Sure enough, changing the sender significantly impacted performance. The treatment received a 6.3% lift in open rate. They also saw a significant increase in clicks from the changes they made to the body of the email.

Experiment 1671 - Treatment

But CaringBridge wasn’t content with just knowing they got a lift. They wanted to know why.

Experiment #4174

In their pursuit of figuring out why they were seeing lifts in their emails, CaringBridge launched another experiment. They were sending another email appeal, and wanted to specifically see if using a simpler template impacted clicks.

The control had a big image, a button, and background colors.

Experiment 4174 - Control

For the treatment, they removed these design elements to make the email look more like one you might receive from a friend.

Experiment 4174 - Treatment

And the result…An 80% lift in click-through rate!

Learnings are Greater than Lifts

CaringBridge looked back over their data to see if they were any closer to discovering why they were getting lifts. They had learned that:

  • A more believable and accessible sender lifted open rate.
  • An email with a more personal tone, design, and layout lifted clicks.
  • An email that looked like a friend could have sent it lifted click-through rate.

You can quickly start to see the commonalities. Email performance improved the more that their emails appeared to be from a real person.

This led CaringBridge to discover a simple fundraising truth that has since shaped email fundraising for countless organizations: people give to people.

Understanding that people give to people has impact far beyond just a couple of lifts in click-through. It informs how you write copy, send emails, develop communication strategies, and it can even change how you structure an organization. (There’s more on that in Jeff Giddens’s webinar on People Give to People.)

The answer to the why is far more important and impactful than just the data and lifts on their own. That being said, in order to answer why, you have to be collecting reliable data. If your data isn’t reliable, then you can’t trust that you truly understand why some of your fundraising is effective, and some is not.

To make it easier to find the why, we built a free tool to make it as simple as possible to accurately track your campaigns in Google Analytics. So when you’re setting up your next email, social media post, or ad – use to create your links.

This way, you’ll ensure that you’re getting reliable data so that you can answer the why.

If you’d like to learn more about getting more out of your fundraising data and analytics, watch Matt Bailey’s full session from NIO Summit 2016.

Published by Nathan Hill

Nathan Hill is Vice President, NextAfter Institute.