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How Visually Increasing Urgency in an Email Increased Response Rate by 51.1%

Published by Jeff Giddens


Dallas Theological Seminary is a nonprofit educational institution that offers theological and biblical programs for students to earn Masters or Ph.D level degrees. The seminary is funded exclusively by donor support and student tuition.

Year-end fundraising is important for DTS — as it is for many nonprofits. Year-end fundraising is the most crowded fundraising time of the year – almost every nonprofit sends multiple solicitations. That’s why DTS knew that they had to create urgency with their communications – if they couldn’t inspire donors to give in the moment, then the opportunity might pass them by. To motivate donors and prospects to give in their December 31st email, DTS wanted to test the effectiveness of visually communicating urgency by including a countdown clock. The donor would not only read about the need for a year-end donation, but would see the countdown clock ticking closer and closer to the year-end deadline.

The Test

To quantify the effectiveness of the countdown clock, two emails were created. One email simply stated the need for a year-end gift along with a text call-to-action to give. The second email included the exact same text but added an animated counter that would actively count down as the donor read the email.Both emails had the same call-to-action, and led to the same landing page.


Email ControlEmail Treatment


Half of DTS’s email file received the email with the counter and the other half received the email without. Tracking clickthrough rate was not enough – we wanted to see if it actually affected gift response as well. The test was designed to answer the research question: Does adding a countdown clock within the email create more urgency to compel the donor to make a donation?

Results and Learnings

The email that included the countdown clock increased the response rate by 51.1% — showing that the countdown clock not only generated urgency to click to the landing page, it also improved donation conversion rate.

This tells us that expressing urgency through text – especially at a time of the year where other organizations are actively fundraising – isn’t enough. The countdown clock gave a visual cue to the reader that time was running out before midnight on December 31st. It raised a good kind of anxiety in the mind of the donor that they might miss the opportunity to make a donation if he did not do it soon. Visual urgency can be a powerful motivator to not only increase clickthrough rate, but also to increase overall response rate.

Published by Jeff Giddens

Jeff was the 1994 Georgia State Spelling Bee champion.