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The Power of Perpetual Optimization

Published by Tim Kachuriak

Getting a lift from an optimization experiment is exciting, but the beauty of testing comes in perpetual optimization.

Perpetual optimization is the process consistently testing over time to achieve an even great lift. Amanda Mark at CaringBridge has embraced the power of perpetual optimization in their online fundraising. Over time, CaringBridge has lifted their donation conversion rates by over 1000% by continuously optimizing.

With each experiment, Amanda learned something new about the CaringBridge donors. This allowed her to continually hypothesize new ideas, test them, and prover what works to raise more money online.

At the 2016 Nonprofit Innovation and Optimization Summit, Amanda shared about the power of perpetual optimization. Over the course of a year, she ran 11 experiments that led to a 1000% cumulative lift in donation conversion.

Experiment 1 – Adding Clarity to the Tribute Widget

Perpetual Optimization - CaringBridge - experiment-1-1

The first prompting on the CaringBridge site to ask for a donation is the tribute widget. They wanted to improve this initial encounter with donors, so they moved personalization into the header, clarified the recipient of the gift, added emotional appeal with urgency and relevancy, and clarified the button copy and action step.

They were also hoping to clarify that the donation went to support CaringBridge – not the user whose profile page they were on. They had a relatively high rate of people who requested refunds because they didn’t understand where their gift was going.

Perpetual Optimization - CaringBridge - experiment-1-2

This experiment resulted in a 19.3% increase in clickthrough rate, a 51.2% increase in page conversion rate, a 53.9% decrease in people requesting a refund. All in all, that’s an 85.8% increase in donor conversion.

With increased clarity, more people took the intended next step and made a donation. In this case, less text meant more clicks for CaringBridge.

Experiment 2 – Streamlining the Ask and Tribute Widget

The winning messaging from Experiment 1 included two calls-to-action: “donate” and “read”. To eliminate friction, they shortened the copy, removed the “read all tributes” call-to-action and a flower icon. Then they added a running total number of donors who had also given to CaringBridge.

Perpetual Optimization - CaringBridge - experiment-2

The shortened copy, focused call-to-action, and donor numbers helped their donors proceed further into the giving process, lifting clicks by 51.9%.

Experiment 3 – Donor-Centric Language

At this point, CaringBridge wondered how they could inspire the donor to see their role in the donation. Again, building on previous testing, they created a treatment for the tribute widget that focused the headline on the role of the donor. They also expanded the copy to include more donor-centric language.

Perpetual Optimization - CaringBridge - experiment-3-redone


This experiment showed that shorter and more succinct copy is more effective for their audience.

Experiment 4 – Adding Personalized Copy

The next step from the “Tribute Widget” was optimizing the actual donation page. CaringBridge created a treatment from their current page by adding value proposition copy to demonstrate the impact of a donation.

Perpetual Optimization - CaringBridge - experiment-4


As a result of adding value proposition copy, they were able to increase donation conversions by 28%. Keep in mind, that as a result of experiments 1–4, CaringBridge had an even greater amount of traffic coming to this page – making a 28% conversion lift have an even greater impact on revenue.

Experiment 5 – Donation Form Friction

Even with this list, CaringBridge noticed that donors were still abandoning their giving page at a higher rate than preferred. So they looked at their donation form and saw that it was a long page with individual form fields vertically stacked. They created a treatment by adjusting the layout of the donation form to make it appear less lengthy.

Perpetual Optimization - CaringBridge - experiment-5

Without removing any fields, CaringBridge was able to increase their conversion rates by 39.4% by making their form appear less lengthy.

Experiment 6 – Reiterating the Value Proposition

Over time, CaringBridge realized that some donors were confused at how their gift was actually being used. They thought that more copy on the page would increase clarity, but the extra length might hurt conversion. So they put it to the test.

It turned out that by increasing clarity, they also increased their conversion rates 31.3%.

Experiment 7 – Adding an Additional Giving Option

At one point, CaringBridge had changed their giving options. As a result, they noticed that their average gift size was down. To try to get it back up, they hypothesized that adding a $500 giving option could help.

Perpetual Optimization - CaringBridge - experiment-7-1

Perpetual Optimization - CaringBridge - experiment-7-2

To their surprise, this actually resulted in a 5.2% decrease in donations and decreased the average gift size even more.

Experiment 8 – Personalization of Donation Offers

In another attempt to lift conversion on their page, CaringBridge tested out a new headline. They typically led their copy with “Give to CaringBridge,” but they thought that a more personalized headline could lift conversion.

Perpetual Optimization - CaringBridge - experiment-8

Unfortunately, this also resulted in a negative result: 30.6% decrease in donations. But perpetual optimization is all about continued learning. So they pressed on.

Experiment 9 – Personalization in Donation Page Headline Copy

They then tried reframing the headline using “You” and an individual’s name in the headline to make it highly personal.

Perpetual Optimization - CaringBridge - experiment-9

This won was a winner! They got a 21.8% increase in conversions by making the headline highly personal.

Experiment 10 – Organization-Centric Language

In an attempt to add clarity on their donation page, the page stated that 90% of their funding comes from people like this donor. They wanted to know what would happen if they used more concise and personal language, so they changed it to say “When you give, you provide a safe space.”

This resulted in a 6.6% increase in conversion rate.

Experiment 11 – Cause and Effect Copy

Finally, for their last donation page test, they wanted to expand on their winning header and explain that giving was a two-part process stating: 1) This site was necessary. 2) The donor made it possible. They created a treatment with a new header and a sub-header to explain this.

Perpetual Optimization - CaringBridge - experiment-11

This increase in clarity about the impact and value of a donation increased conversion by 21.1%.

What CaringBridge Learned After a Year of Perpetual Optimization

Never assume. Every test is based on a hypothesis about what will work better. When we put this marketing intuition on the line, we often realize that we’re not as intuitive as we thought. As a result, it’s imperative that we rely and testing and data to determine what works.

Be personal. The majority of the winning treatments above were successful because they tapped into a personal connection with the donor. We believe that fundraising is all about relationships, and our landing pages are an extension of that. Beyond CaringBridge, this concept proves itself over and over again.

Track your wins and losses. The goal of testing is not lifts, but learnings. Even when we see decreases in conversion, there is always a valuable lesson to learn about our donors that will help us get lifts in the future. Keep track of both your wins and losses because theirs value in both.

One test is exciting, but perpetual optimization can fundamentally change an organization. With all the compounding lifts in both traffic and conversion, CaringBridge saw an increase of 1000% in their donation conversion over a year’s time. Imagine how much more impact your organization could have if you increased donations by 1000%.

Published by Tim Kachuriak

Tim Kachuriak is Chief Innovation and Optimization Officer of NextAfter.