Digital Testing Trumps Fundraising Intuition

Tim Kachuriak’s first digital experiment came with the George W. Bush Presidential Library. He was playing around with a message for support and tested nearly identical messages, one asking readers to “stand with President and Mrs. Bush,” and another offering the reader to be a “charter member” of the library.

The latter, the one leading with a value proposition, generated a 139-percent increase in click-through and 42-percent increase in conversion. Kachuriak’s interest in playing with digital messaging was born.

Kachuriak and Nathaniel Ward, associate director of online membership programs for The Heritage Foundation, discussed their findings from hundreds of web experiments during their session “The Web as a Living Laboratory” at the Direct Marketing Association Nonprofit Federation’s annual New York City conference. Lessons shared during the session included:

• Testing trumps intuition. Nonprofit fundraisers don’t have to be the smartest in predicting what will work, but they have to test. “Donors are the experts, they are the only ones that can tell us if something is truly optimized,” Kachuriak said;

• Revenue growth is the product of traffic, average gift and conversion rate. An increase in any of those areas leads to increased revenue. Increases in two or three of those areas compound on top of one another;

• Prospective donors do not fully understand why they should give to an organization; it is fundraisers’ job to convince them. Value to donor should be communicated at each step toward a donation: providing contact information, becoming a member, giving, etc. Provide reasons to give, bolster credibility and make next steps clear;

• Avoid copycatting or succumbing to trends. What works for one organization might not work for another. Be wary of best practices, Ward said. Adopt principles that others have found success with, but do not blindly cut and paste implementation; and,

• Use testing platforms such as Google Analytics to test and determine the greatest opportunities for optimization. Main donation pages, email-signup pages, email body copy, and email landing pages are among the best places to start looking for places to improve. Copy, calls to action, headlines, form design and button copy are among the communications worth looking at.