How a personal tone affects donations in an email fundraising appeal

Experiment ID: #4171


CaringBridge offers free personal, protected websites for people to easily share updates and receive support and encouragement from their community during a health journey. Every 7 minutes, a CaringBridge website is created for someone experiencing a health event.

Experiment Summary

Timeframe: 03/03/2016 - 03/22/2016

CaringBridge sent several email fundraising appeals as part of a campaign. Their team had the second appeal ready to go, a personal letter from one of the development team members. However, they hypothesized that they could increase results by removing the parts of the email that stood out as “marketing” and increasing the personal tone of the email copy.

The control had a logo at the top, which stood out as something that normal personal emails don’t have. It also had a call-to-action button, which rarely, if ever are used in personal emails. But the biggest shift was in the copy tone. The control was written from a detached third-person point of view that didn’t feel like someone sat down at a computer and wrote it.

They created a treatment that moved the logo to the signature area, replaced the button with a text link, and drastically changed the copy. The treatment copy started by acknowledging

Research Question

Will a radically more personal email increase donor conversion rate?


C: Branded
T1: Personal Tone


 Treatment NameConv. RateRelative DifferenceConfidence
C: Branded 0.01%
T1: Personal Tone 0.02%145.5% 99.1%

This experiment has a required sample size of 66,318 in order to be valid. Since the experiment had a total sample size of 232,750, and the level of confidence is above 95% the experiment results are valid.

Flux Metrics Affected

The Flux Metrics analyze the three primary metrics that affect revenue (traffic, conversion rate, and average gift). This experiment produced the following results:

    0% increase in traffic
× 145.5% increase in conversion rate
× 0% increase in average gift

Key Learnings

The treatment generated a 145.5% lift in donations. This shows, along with several other tests, that personal tone can have a radical effect on fundraising results. As marketers, we spend too much time crafting a message engineered to deliver the desired result, without remembering the way that people actually write emails. When we remember that fundraising is about relationships, we can use empathy to actually communicate with our donors.

Email is so much more than a “one-to-many” tool — it’s something that most people use every day to stay in touch, and it gives us the ability to give that personal experience to thousands of people at the same time.

Experiment Documented by Jeff Giddens
Jeff Giddens is President of NextAfter.

Question about experiment #4171

If you have any questions about this experiment or would like additional details not discussed above, please feel free to contact them directly.