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Understanding donor motivation: When should you put your ask in the email?

Published by Jeff Giddens

How does putting a donation ask directly in an email impact conversion?

Let’s look at an experiment to see how the value proposition conveyed in an email impacts conversion. This particular experiment is with Hillsdale College. This was a monthly appeal where we tested the positioning of the value proposition. We were trying to decide:

  • Do we put the donation ask in the email and have it signed by Dr. Larry Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College?
  • Or do we offload the donation ask to the landing page, send them a shorter email so we can get more visitors to the website?

hillsdale value prop email experiment

You can see the control and the treatment. In the treatment, we actually convey the full value proposition and make the ask in the email. We tell the reader exactly what we want them to do and we tell them exactly why they should do it.

In our AB split tests, the treatments were validated. We had a 411 percent increase in donations from the longer form email where we had Dr. Larry Arnn signed his name underneath the value proposition language.

hillsdale experiment results

This particular case is very similar to another experiment with the Colson Center. We have a spokesperson that’s very highly trusted, very highly regarded and when he asks people to do something and he explains to them a lucid, logical argument as to why they should, people respond. This is a pretty interesting follow up for the Colson Center experiment.

Is this a Visitor Motivation “Best Practice”?

Note how this conflicts with what many fundraisers consider to be “best practices.” It is generally considered a “best practice” to send shorter emails. Yet here we have an experiment in which the long form email outperformed the short.

This mistake is usually based on the assumption that more traffic means more revenue. As this experiment proves, this is not always the case.

You must experiment! Visitor motivation is complex and no single practice will be best in every case.

About the author:

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Jeff Giddens

Jeff was the 1994 Georgia State Spelling Bee champion.