People are weird and will lie to you

People are outwardly mostly normal. But if you scratch the surface, pretty much everyone out there is kinda weird. And with that weirdness comes a degree of unexpected behaviour.

This isn’t anything new. Anyone that’s been doing fundraising for a while knows just how strange donor behaviour can get.

So we try and mitigate the weirdness the best we can by asking donors what they like, in the form of surveys and focus groups and stuff like that.

But people are damn dirty liars and won’t tell you the truth.

They don’t *mean* to lie to you. People legitimately just don’t know what they want or like.

A few years ago I was at a conference where a really big UK charity was talking about how they surveyed their mid-level donors about the kind of images they were using in their fundraising. A couple of donors had made comments (not even sure if they were complaints?) and so they wanted to understand if it was a bigger problem or not.

And then I listened in horror when they said they’d just swapped the images out based on what the donors had said in the survey. No testing.

The donors had picked images they *thought* were good – and would make them look like good rational people too. All crap: pictures of scientists doing research, some lab photos, that kind of hyper-rational stuff that makes sense on the surface. All because a couple of comments (come on people, sometimes complaints are good!)

Everyone will give with their emotions and will rationalise it later on.

It’s why the SPCA’s Sarah McLachlin ad and ones like it are so good.

Don’t get me wrong here. Surveys, focus groups, interviews – all of that stuff has its place. Especially as a way of engaging people deeper. You should always be listening.

But when it comes to behaviour, you’ve gotta take what people say they want and test to see if it’s true.

Luckily testing is pretty easy, especially if you’ve got a guide.

(The classic example of testing behaviour was a study done by Good Luck margarine in the 1940s. They figured out why margarine had a bad rep through behavioural studies, changed a few things, and margarine overtook butter as the spread of choice in US households for the next fifty years).

The rules don’t apply anymore

Holy shit, I love Wikipedia. I use it a ridiculous amount of the time (and so does everyone else – it’s the 5th most visited site in the world).

I also love Wikipedia because they kick ass at fundraising.

They have a huge advantage (all of that web traffic!) that they use to test and hone their ask. I had the pleasure of hanging out with the Wikimedia Foundation online fundraising team a few months ago, and in addition to being super lovely people, they gave me a look under the hood. And sweet jeebuz, they sure do like to test.

In fact, they test more than anyone else I know – by a long shot.

One thing their intense testing schedule exposed: some of the old fundraising rules just don’t apply to them.

Check out their current (winning) banner:

wikipedia's ask that breaks the rules

So much in here is totally contrary to current wisdom:

The banner is so intrusive

It’s massive. It’s obnoxious. It’s the definition of an interruption.

The negative social proof

It’s EVERYWHERE. ‘Only a tiny portion of our readers give’, ‘Most people ignore my messages’. What the shit!

I remember reading a post from fundraising legend Jeff Brooks back in 2013 explicitly calling out negative social proof in fundraising, even backed up by some science. Wikipedia clearly didn’t see it.

A ‘Maybe later’ button in the form

Everything I’ve read on optimising donate forms has recommended minimising distraction – anything that will take you away from the purpose of the form (read: hitting ‘Donate Now’).

(Clicking the ‘Maybe later’ button lets you enter your email address, and then you get sent an email reminder later on – it’s a very nice flow).

Look at all those options in the gift array

EIGHT choices.

Anchoring the ask lower than the average donation

At just £2!

(I’ve also had great success anchoring even lower – just £1/$1/€1. Always performed best in tests).

No actual question

There’s no ‘could you please donate now?’-type typical ask. There are a couple of statements (‘We ask you to protect Wikipedia’s independence’ and ‘Please help keep Wikipedia online and growing’) that feel conventional, but they’re not underlined or made more prominent in any way.

In fact, the only thing that stands out is this sentence, that’s like the parent-who’s-hoping-you’ll-read-between-the-lines (your room would look much better if it were clean you know): ‘If everyone reading this gave £2, we could keep Wikipedia thriving for years to come.’

lol – brilliant.

It’s a huge blob of text

And it’s not super easy to skim (except for the underlined bit!)

They’re also doing a bunch of stuff that’s totally best practice (the ask is a personal message from Jimmy, their text is huge and easy to read, and they know *exactly* what’s resonating with their audience).

All of this has come about through hundreds of rounds of refinement, down to the exact language, button placement, donation choices – the lot. Everything that you see there has been tested and is totally optimised to maximise their income.

And to me, it’s just a huge reminder to test everything – especially the conventional wisdom – because the rules might not apply to you. We’ve all got different audiences, and for you, the unconventional might just work out.

Just in case you couldn’t love them any more, they’re also super transparent about their fundraising – how they bring in money, what they’re testing, and when they’re rolling it out, how they spend their donations. It’s all available on the Wikimedia Foundation’s fundraising wiki page.

Love it, love it, love it.

So get testing.

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