How to run tests to make your online fundraising program great

I talk a lot about testing, and for damn good reason. As a digital fundraiser, you should be testing everything, all the time.

If you’re not sure how to go about testing, I’ve created a little guide to help get you started – and realise where you might need extra help*.

So here you go: Fundraising is Awesome’s guide to running awesome experiments.

(I’ve put it on its own page because it’s pretty long, and it’s also easier to bookmark it)

Take me to the testing guide

BONUS BONUS BONUS: a downloadable testing checklist!


*My biggest tip – become best friends with your tech and data people.

Three magic words: ‘Let’s test it’

Digital fundraising is exciting, partly because it’s changing all the time. It’s also exciting because a lot of the rules that used to work just don’t apply anymore.

You’re going to suggest some stuff that people in your org don’t like because it doesn’t fit with how things are done.

So here’s a line that will get you out of a jam: ‘Let’s test it.’

It’s pretty hard to turn that down – it’s a reasonable request.

Just remember: testing is unbelievably easy. If you’re right, that’s awesome – but even if you’re wrong, at least you know. Just don’t be a sore winner (or sore loser), and make sure you have a cut-off point for your experiment. More on that later…


Great email from Movember

I just got a pretty decent email from the Movember Foundation asking me to sign up again this year (to be fair to them, they sent it over a week ago – it was more that I only just read it).

It looks like a personal email – check out the format, the subject line, and the initial tone. It’s got his email signature with a phone number in it. In fact, I thought it was a personal email until I saw the ‘view online’ and ‘unsubscribe’ links at the bottom.

Personal is great, especially if you’re making a high-bar ask.

There are a couple of things I would’ve done differently:

  • Had a reply-to address that looked like his actual email address (even if it wasn’t)
  • Made the tone more casual – this still felt like a promo email once I got past the initial introduction line
  • Put the ask in a lot earlier
  • Re-sent (kicked) the email a few days later

I’ve tested an almost identical personal approach before and it performs really well, but it needs to be on something where you’re asking for something a little *more* than normal.

Try adding this to your next testing cycle.

By the way, I did Movember back in 2011 when I was living in Canada. Here’s the horrendous result:

Yeah, I know.

Actual lol

Look at this ridiculous shit – “my BS future” – christ on a bike (click to make bigger):

Unintentionally honest design aside – here’s the thing: we do this kinda stuff all the time. We’re so immersed in our organisations and our issues and our campaigns. No wonder though, it’s what we do all day.

So you get jargony and use dumb acronyms, and then that creeps into the stuff you communicate with people outside the org.

And because everyone else in the approval process knows what you’re talking about, you get shit like the giant professionally printed wall above.

From time to time, get someone who is unfamiliar with you to look at your stuff – and then listen to them if they say it doesn’t make sense to them.

Otherwise you’ll go on a BS journey to a BS future.

#IFC2017: best conference ever?

Just got back from the effing awesome #IFC2017 fundraising conference. If you get the chance, get that in your professional development plan (or if your org has no budget, you can volunteer too).

Here are some of my key takeaways that are applicable to all of us:

With technology, power dynamics are changing

Jeremy Heimans talked about the old power vs new power dynamic in the opening keynote, and that set the tone for the whole conference. It’s worth a watch.

We’re not structuring our organisations for success

Some of the organisations who have had the biggest impact recently have been structured to:

  • Be flexible
  • Empower BIG change by asking people to do something big in exchange for something big
  • Empower change agents within your organisations (and if you’re a manager, run defence for them!)
  • Be OK with not taking the credit for the victory
  • Offer value beyond data collection and being someone’s direct debit

I feel like people are underestimating digital

Power dynamics are definitely changing, and it’s more clear than ever that flexible organisations with a culture of taking risks are taking advantage of key moments when they matter. Take ACLU – when was the last time someone raised $42 million in a single weekend through DM*?

They had all of their ducks in a row (culturally and technically) to take advantage of some of the world’s biggest fundraising and activism moments. All they needed to do was be prepared.

Any of our organisations can be taking advantage of key moments like the ACLU (or countless other US-orgs have done).

Through the sheer number of people at Paul de Gregorio and Jo Wolfe’s mobile session, there’s also clearly still a mental separation between mobile and digital (and as Paul said, digital = mobile, mobile = digital). We’ve gotta rethink this stuff.

*Just as a total side note, the only people I’ve ever heard saying “direct mail is dead” are consultants complaining that people are saying “direct mail is dead”. Direct mail is very much alive, it just serves a different role.

Good fundraising is good fundraising

The core elements of what makes a great fundraising offer don’t change, no matter what the medium. Whether you’re talking itch & scratch; fluff & bite, or the Four Whys, it all comes down to making a credible offer to the right person at the right time.

I disagree with Tom Ahern

Shit, I’m going to stick my neck out here and say I disagree with something Tom Ahern said. He said there are no best practices in digital – that’s not true. The single best practice in online fundraising: test everything. I’m going to write a post about that soon.

FLICK the haters: complaints can be a good thing

Quick note: This isn’t just another article about how you can turn a bad donor experience into a good experience by handling it properly!

At pretty much every job I’ve ever had, people FLIP OUT when lots of angry emails come into the supporter services inboxes. Especially senior people.

Here’s a truth to repeat in those moments to quickly ground yourself:

Your best campaigns – the ones that motivate most people into action – will probably also generate the most complaints.

If you’re doing your fundraising properly, you’ll be telling a deeply emotional story that will feel uncomfortable. To lots of people, they want to right the wrong you’ve just told them about.

But there’s also a small section of people who don’t seem to enjoy life. They’ll just get angry that you’ve made them feel uncomfortable and will flick off an email about how bad you are.

It can be easy to get caught up in the hysteria about needing to change stuff to address the complaints, especially if your boss is the one receiving emails. So, take a step back and do this:

  • Figure out how many complaints is “a lot” (often it’ll be fewer than ten)
  • Look at how many donations you’re getting
  • If you’re getting lots and lots of donations, don’t worry about it – you’re running a great campaign! Get back to the people who have written you the angry messages, but pat yourself on the back for a job well done – because of you, you’re raising lots of money to make your mission possible
  • If you’re generating a lot of complaints and your donation rate is shitty, your campaign might actually be pretty grim. I can’t help you there, better go into damage control mode.

It’s about reframing the conversation to “look at how much money I’ve generated for our cause!”

You’re doing great work.

The ratio you need to know for fundraising email success

The ratio? 1:1(:1)

Spend as much time on subject line brainstorming as you did on writing the whole email. And then test the shit out of them to see which one performs the best (remember: you’re measuring action rate).

If you’re using a box (like this), then spend as much time writing that text as you did writing the email body. You’re looking to condense your message into 2-3 short sentences that tell the entire story, and they need to answer the top three of the four whys.

If you’re using an image in your box, spend as much time finding that image as you did writing the email body.

Then test, test, test.

You have a responsibility to your organisation and the people you’re helping send the very best email you can and raise as much as possible to help them!

Super simple stuff.

The unmissable opportunity for measuring email engagement

One of the reasons I like email so much is because you can instantly figure out how good (or bad) it’s performing.

But you can only really do that if you’ve got some sort of measurable action.

Luckily, forcing yourself to put a measurable action into an email is a great way to ask yourself “what am I trying to achieve with this message?”

For some messages, it’s easy: you want people to donate. Or you want them to add their name to a petition. Those are easy to measure.

And then you could (should) be reporting back on how you spent their donation.

There’s a simple opportunity there: in the report back, provide a way for them to engage with you again. Provide a link for them to share their accomplishment with their friends. And put a passive donation ask in there too, because people will want their donations to achieve more of the same or continue the fight*.

It doesn’t really matter what kind of message you’re sending – if it’s a quality message, people will want to engage with you. And it’s up to you to provide that opportunity for engagement every time.

Do this a few times and you’ll quickly figure out your baselines. Then test and optimise.


*Don’t expect this to be a driver of significant income – think of it as a reward for a job well done.

Does your site pass “the restaurant test”?

I eat out all the time, and I see this problem over and over with restaurant websites: so many just don’t have the info I’m looking for on the site.

If you’re Googling a restaurant, you’re generally looking for these four things:

  • Where the restaurant is
  • When the restaurant is open
  • What’s on the menu
  • How to book

Everything else is just nice to have.

So what the shit does this have to do with fundraising?

Lots of nonprofit websites make the same mistake. Your focus needs to be on your donors and prospective donors – figure out why they’re visiting your site and what they’re trying to do.

Here are some hints:

  • What your purpose is
  • Where you’re showing impact
  • Who needs help
  • How to get involved (donate/volunteer etc)

And for everyone’s sake, make sure it looks decent on a phone.

So, does your website pass the restaurant test?