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The (Occasionally Acceptable) Cost of Friction

Published by Jeff Giddens

When is the (occasionally acceptable) cost of friction worth it for a nonprofit?

In optimizing landing pages for nonprofit organizations, we deal with friction a lot. So when is the cost of friction acceptable? We define friction as “any element in the conversion process that makes it difficult for your visitor to complete the intended action. Friction can just as easily be physical (making someone click through several pages to get to a donation form) as it can be mental (giving the donor too many choices and inducing decision paralysis).

As a general rule, we seek to reduce friction as much as possible. Our recent case study with The Heritage Foundation showed that when we reduce the number of available choices, we can actually increase the conversion rate. By making the decision-making process easier, we can often increase the amount of people who will make a decision. This isn’t true as a blanket statement — it must be tested in each use case.

But friction isn’t always bad. Make no mistake of this — friction has a cost, but sometimes the cost is acceptable because of the additional information that it gives us. Our friends at MECLABS have a graphic that illustrates this well — as useful friction goes up, so does lead quality.


Let’s look at a test we ran for a for-profit client, iDonate. iDonate created a giving form that allows donors to give anything online — cars, boats, electronics, stocks. They developed a content offer for their church prospects in the form of an eBook, called “The Secret to Doubling Church Giving”. The landing page for this asked for a few basic points of information: name, organization, and email address. iDonate had a call follow-up strategy that had been successful for calling inbound leads in the past, so we decided to run a test to answer the question: “How does adding a phone number to the signup process affect conversion rate?” The two landing pages are below.


As you can see, the two pages are exactly identical, except for the inclusion of the form on the treatment page. We ran an email campaign to these prospects, and quickly found a winner:


Adding the additional field for a phone number resulted in a 49% decrease in conversion rate. Most testing would call this a complete failure, and instantly name the control as the winner. But what is the value of a phone number to iDonate? When we went and looked at sales numbers, most of their closes had a phone touch at some point. In fact, based on their data, the call was a very important piece of the funnel. There were two key ramifications from this experiment:

1. A 49% decrease in conversion rate effectively doubles the cost per lead.

This forced iDonate to look at the comparative cost per lead in relation to other campaigns. This campaign delivered some of iDonate’s most cost-effective leads, which made the tradeoff not that impactful in terms of overall cost-per-lead.

2. Having a phone number significantly increases the likelihood of a sale, which is the ultimate goal.  

If we had focused on just the short-term objective, we might have made the wrong decision. By looking at data from the entire funnel, iDonate were able to make a decision that seemed costly, but actually delivered better results against their the long-term goals.

Are there points of friction in your donor funnel that might actually deliver downstream value? For years, many nonprofits have ignored the “work phone” field as part of the donation form. If you had to reach one of your donors during daytime hours (which for most is a preferred time), how would you reach them? This is just one example of how friction can occasionally be acceptable. Please note — this is not a call to go out and add “work phone” to your donation forms — you must test it in and have a reason to do so (i.e., a calling strategy related to a relevant campaign).

What elements of friction are delivering value for you?

Published by Jeff Giddens

Jeff was the 1994 Georgia State Spelling Bee champion.