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Mini Manifesto: Against “Best Practices”

Published by Tim Kachuriak

If your ideal donor invited you into their living room for a one-on-one discussion during your year-end campaign, could you walk out with a check?

That’s the way it works with major donor fundraising. But what if you had a shot at that with your entire list?

In just a minute, I’m going to show you the data from 17,263 End of Year campaign emails reveals 5 tests you can run to your entire list to win an invitation into their mental living room this December.

First, a quick point about the simple principle that underscores this research.

Everyone talks about funnels, and rightly so. Your funnel is important. We talk about funnels, too. In fact, our research into what makes donors give is conducted in a living laboratory that contains hundreds of donation funnels.

Sometimes though, people are so focused on tools and technology – and what everyone else is doing – that they forget the fundamental inputs to the conversion funnel.

It’s all about Attention.

Online fundraising is getting increasingly competitive, and as we run workshops and manage our clients’ testing and optimization, we find ourselves frequently guiding the conversation back to this fundamental truth:

If you never get your prospect’s attention, the rest of the funnel is meaningless.

For example, if your subscriber never even opens your email, how much impact will that new tech tactic on your landing page actually have?


Pretty basic, right?

“Best Practices” are hostile to attention

So why do so many nonprofits neglect this first principle of online fundraising conversion?

My theory is that, in a sincere effort to do what is best, they adopt “best practices.” But, they forget the main problem of best practices: as they are adopted, they rapidly cease to be best.

If the effectiveness of best practices is inversely correlated with adoption, then by the time a particular tactic is officially recognized as a best practice, it is unlikely to produce an above average result.

(Our research has revealed a few particularly fascinating reasons for this. That’s for another day…)

Fundraisers who rely on best practices commit this critical mistake of mindset: they are pursuing the company of fundraisers instead of data-driven insight into their donors.

They may think they are looking at their donors through a window…in reality they are looking in a mirror.

Principles trump Practices

So, if “best practices” produce – at best – average results, best practices are – at best – a starting point. You can tread water for a long time by adopting every best practice that comes along. Or you can use those practices as a starting point to get above-average results.

How? What should you do?

You must test. Continually. 

Systematic testing is the only way to optimize your results.

Now, there are established principles that guide your testing. And the difference is more than semantics.

Unlike “best practices” which dictate how you ought to engage your donors, these principles dictate how you should go about testing into real insight. Best practices are pointed at the mythical median donor. Best principles are aimed at your organization and create a roadmap for insight into your donors.

Therefore, these principles are more powerful than any practices. True best practices are unique to your organization. You can’t copy them from someone else. You have to discover them through systematic testing and optimization based on sound, scientific principles.

Avoid the “best practices” trap

Here’s the bottom line: If you get trapped in the “best practices” mindset, you end up in a crowd—a very noisy crowd all competing for the same, very precious thing: your ideal donor’s attention.

With data, it’s not always complex or difficult to get an advantage. 

Now, getting the data may be difficult—but that’s why we’re here! And that’s why I am sharing some research we’ve conducted to give you a head start on simple tests you can run this year-end campaign to stand out and grab your donors’ attention.

This is NOT a new set of best practices. This is real data that shows you what everyone else is doing so you can test doing something different.

Download the guide to beating your donors’ inbox clutter and beginning the conversation.

The eBook, based on Next After’s exclusive analysis of 17,263 emails from 151 nonprofits, shows you 5 specific ways you can “Cut Through the Clutter” to get your message seen by your ideal donor this year.

Want your year-end campaign to stand out?

Avoid the crowds. Start testing to discover your unique best practices—because the only best practices you can bank on are those revealed by your tests.

Stand out and maybe you’ll score that “sit-down” invitation after all. Download the e-book now:

A Mini Manifesto Against Best Practices

P.S. In a future message, we’ll talk about the hidden power of systematic optimization: compounding results of optimization. If you’re not already a subscriber, use the form at right to sign up now so you don’t miss out.

Published by Tim Kachuriak

Tim Kachuriak is Chief Innovation and Optimization Officer of NextAfter.