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The Fundraiser’s Creed, Article Three: Testing Trumps Speculation

Published by Jeff Giddens

If we are going to be virtuous fundraisers who speak to our donors like people and accept giving as an act of trust that must be honored, then we also must admit that we don’t know everything. We must also admit that the only way to know if a hypothesis about our donors is by testing it.

It’s common in the world of fundraising to hear “I know what works”. We’ve become conditioned (often by success) to think that we are fundraising experts — that we have some brilliant personal insight into our donors’ hearts, minds, and passion points. Fundraiser's Creed - Article 3 - Testing Trumps Speculation

But I’m not a fundraising expert. And neither are you. 

But there is a group of people who can tell us what works in online fundraising — our donors. They might not be aware of the factors that make them give, but their responses can give us incredible insight into the passion points, psychological triggers, and value propositions that resonate with them. That is, if we are willing to listen to them.

This requires us, as fundraisers, to admit that our intuition is faulty at best, and that we must test our hypotheses with our donors to see how they respond. Then, we must be willing to act upon the data we receive — even if it goes against our gut, or commonly held best practices.

Testing Hypotheses in a Living Laboratory

The internet allows us to create a living laboratory for our fundraising programs. We can easily test designs, messages, value propositions, subject lines, copy approaches, and much more.

This should come as great relief to fundraisers! No longer do you have to bear the weight of trying to read your donors’ minds. You can now get great insight into the motivations of your donor base by simply “asking” them through a test.

We must also make sure to use strict scientific validity indicators to make sure that our data is honest. Until a test has reached a significant level of confidence and a valid sample size, the results cannot be trusted.

This can be hard, at first. It’s not easy to set aside what we think we know and commit to an unknown outcome. Testing requires much humility. But without testing, donors and dollars are left on the table. Here are three learnings we never would have uncovered if we hadn’t tested them first:

How a radical donation page redesign affects donor conversion

Harvest Ministries had a donation page that produced above-average conversion rates (at nearly 20%). However, they viewed this as an 80% failure rate, and wanted to run an experiment to optimize for donor conversion.

Experiment 1 - Control

The treatment removed all the excess navigation from the page and began with a simple, clear value proposition: “Your gift helps reach the lost with the gospel of Jesus Christ”. It then unpacked the value proposition, providing evidentials to each claim of value and connecting the gift to different forms of impact. Then, it repositioned the premium as a thank-you in response to the gift, rather than the reason for the gift.

Experiment 1 - Treatment

The treatment page generated a 44.8% lift in donations — a big feat for a page that was already attracting highly motivated donors. This showed that some combination of all the elements of friction on the page were distracting would-be donors. It also proved that focusing on the clarity of the value proposition (rather than the incentive alone) can increase motivation to give.

How adding video to an donation page affects revenue

As part of their fiscal year end campaign, the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA) wanted to showcase the educational content that they produce for use in Texas classrooms.

Experiment 2 - Control

We had a hypothesis that a video could tell the story better than simply text alone. We also know from previous experiments that a video is able to drive significantly more traffic to a landing page. Based upon this hypothesis, we created a treatment that began at the email and linked to a landing page with a video that then transitioned into the donation form.

Experiment 2 - Treatment

By adding an image of the video in the email, we were able to increase the unique visits to the donation page by 71.4% for the video treatment.  However, these visitors were motivated to watch the video instead of giving a gift. As a result, the increased traffic had a significantly lower response rate.

Due to the significantly lower response rate, the email with video links resulted in an 81% decrease in overall revenue.

What we learned from adding value proposition copy to a donation page that didn’t have any

Jews for Jesus sends out a monthly newsletter via email. The newsletter has articles and videos people click-through to read and watch, and they recently added an appeal to the newsletter. In efforts to improve donor conversion, they developed a treatment of the donation page for the newsletter appeal.

Experiment 3 - Control

We wondered, would the addition of value proposition copy on the donation page increase conversion?

Experiment 3 - Treatment

The treatment with the addition of value proposition copy on the donation page saw a decrease in donations by 38%. While value proposition usually helps improve conversion, these results suggest that the presence of the value proposition copy may have actually created friction for this highly motivated audience. This audience was already motivated to give once they arrived to the donation page and didn’t need or want additional reasons why they should make a donation.

Download The Fundraiser’s Creed

Are these learnings the new “best practices”? Absolutely not! These organizations have very different donor bases than yours. But these can give you ideas for tests to run within your own organization. I hope you’ll join with us in upholding the Fundraiser’s Creed.

The Fundraiser's CreedWe believe that donors want to be known by us, they want to trust the organizations to which they are giving, and that we can never truly know what motivates donors unless we test. The Fundraiser’s Creed is our commitment to treat donors like the complex and unique individuals that they are.

Will you make this commitment with us?

Complete the form below to get your copy of The Fundraiser’s Creed. Share it with your coworkers, use it to inspire your staff, and post it on your wall to remind you of these truths about our donors.



About the author:

Jeff Giddens

Jeff was the 1994 Georgia State Spelling Bee champion.