What Does GDPR Do to Online Fundraising?

Published by Nathan Hill

GDPRThe hot topic of the day is GDPR. So I’ve been trying to do my fair share of research on what it means for nonprofits over the past month (yes, I’ve been procrastinating on getting up to speed).

Through my searching and conversations, the one consistent theme I’ve found is this:

No one wants to definitively say anything about the effect that GDPR has on nonprofits.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s an insane number of articles and pages that dive right into the weeds of the legal jargon. But the people able to interpret what that means for the average marketer or fundraiser are few and far between.

While we’re certainly not a legal expert on the ins and outs of what GDPR means for your organization, we are experts at putting the regulations to the test and seeing what impact it could have.

So we identified the express consent rules that GDPR requires companies and organizations to abide by, and put them to the test on a major nonprofit’s email acquisition page.

Let’s see what happened…

Putting GDRP to the Test

Part of the GDPR requires that companies and organizations obtain consent from a user in order to send email. Seems straight forward.

You may be saying (like I did initially) “Oh, that sounds like CASL a couple years ago. No big deal.” CASL actually allows you to get away with “implicit consent,” meaning that if someone downloads an eBook, signs up for a course, signs a petition, etc. – they have given you implied consent to email them.

GDPR requires express consent.

Simply put, express consent requires clear language and a check box. So on your forms, you have to specifically ask something to the effect of “Do you want us to email you?”

*Disclaimer – there’s a lot more to GDPR compliance than just giving consent to send emails. Here’s a pretty good high-level summary of everything it requires.

The premise of our test is around express consent. We wondered “Will asking for express consent on an acquisition offer affect conversions?”

What Did the Test Look Like?

GDPR ControlThe control (or the original version) landing page offered a free digital guide to the constitution. It was pretty straight forward:

  • Clear headline
  • Easy to read, bulleted copy
  • Clear image of the offer
  • 5 star reviews in the right column
  • A form collecting first, last, and email address

There was also a little checkbox below where someone could opt-in to a specific email newsletter. It looked pretty similar to our email acquisition landing page guide.

For the treatment (or the new version we tested), we made one tiny change. We added another little checkbox with some text next to it saying:

“By requesting the resource, I understand that I will receive access to the Guide to the Constitution and occasional updates from [Organization].

If the user checked the box, we could email them later. If not, well…we can’t.

And the Winner Is?

GDPR TreatmentYour gut instinct is probably right on this one. The GDPR compliant language decreased acquisition rates by 15%.

If you want to know more about why this decrease occurred, check out this article on the 7 types of friction. The reason is probably a combination of decision friction, field number friction, and maybe a little bit of anxiety.

So there’s good news and bad news here. I’ll start with bad so we can end on an optimistic note… (I’m an optimist by nature)

The bad news – This kind of drop in acquisition leads to revenue loss as well. If you aren’t adding as many to your email file, you won’t have as large of a file to ask for donations to your cause. Plus, you lose out on instant revenue from your instant donation pages.

And if you don’t comply, you could potentially face some pretty insane fines. There’s a lot of debate on how compliant you need to be if you’re not in the EU, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

The good news – The likely scenario is that you have a slightly higher quality email file as a result of express consent. We often see that as friction increases, quality increases because only users with a higher motivation will make it the end of the acquisition process.

Motivation vs Friction

Here’s a post from Jeff on how motivation and friction work hand in hand.

The other good news ­– GDPR is not the end of all hope for fundraising optimization and growth. In fact, optimization and testing could potentially help get us to a place where these requirements don’t really make a significant impact on acquisition rates. Or at least not as substantially as a 15% decrease.

Here are a couple hypotheses that we could test on this GDPR compliance language to try and mitigate the decrease in conversion:

  • Make it less legalese sounding“Yes, I’d like to receive the Guide to the Constitution and other updates from [Organization].”
  • Add exclusivity ­“Yes, please send me the Guide to the Constitution and other insider updates from [Organization] to keep me up-to-date on the most pressing issues.”
  • Decrease additional friction ­– Remove the second checkbox for the newsletter opt-in to see if simply the presence of a second checkbox was the key element of friction.

Certainly, there are many more hypotheses we could test. And we will.

If you want to see more details from this experiment, you can read the full GDPR compliance experiment write up.

Other GDPR Resources

Our friends at Litmus have put together a few helpful resources that might help you figure out what GDPR means for your organization. Take a look at these for some additional insights:

  1. GDPR: What Europe’s New Privacy Law Means for Email Marketers
  2. 5 Things You Must Know about Email Consent under GDPR
  3. GDPR Re-permission Campaigns: 6 Tips for Making Them a Success

And if you want to enter full legal counsel mode…you can read the full text of the GDPR regulations.


About the author:

Nathan Hill

Nathan is the Optimization Evangelist 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.