This magic word could unlock your fundraising (because psychology says so)

This was pretty interesting – the “Copy Machine Experiment” was a study done back in 1978 (holy shit, 40 years ago…). It showed that giving a reason made it considerably more likely that people would respond to a small request.

Here’s a little summary of the experiment:

A man and a woman (the participants) both approached approximately 60 subjects each asking to cut in front of them in the line with one of 3 questions:

  • Request only: “Excuse me, I have 5/20 pages. May I use the Xerox machine?”
  • Placebic information: “Excuse me, I have 5/20 pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make copies?”
  • Real information: “Excuse me, I have 5/20 pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?”

And the results:

The results were astounding for the small request:

  • Where the request was made with no reason given (request only), 60% of subjects complied with the request to allow the participant to jump in line in front of them
  • Where the request was made with placebic information given, a huge 93% of subjects complied
  • Where the participant used real information, this was 94%


Professor Ellen Langer who conducted the experiment concluded that it was the power of giving a reason, the “because”, that led to an increased chance of people responding positively to a small request.

In fundraising

I feel like this is a no-brainer: give people an explicit – and true – reason to donate when you make your ask.

But in this case, using the word “because” could be worth the time to test it out to see if it has any impact.

Hey {firstname}, these are the best email openings

Hey {firstname},

Some nerdy types did analysis of over 300,000 emails to see which common email openings had the best response rate. And it really goes to show that this stuff is seriously worth testing out:

Using a more casual greeting (like hey/hello) had almost 10% higher responses than “Dear”. And as the article highlights, a more formal greeting is typically used when there’s less shared context or if people don’t like each other – which isn’t great if you’re looking to build trust with your supporters.

Interestingly enough, just including an opening (any opening at all) generally increased response rate.

The team at Quartz include this very helpful insight, too:

Before you toss “Dear” in the dustbin, keep in mind that the data we analyzed may not be representative of email data at large. Online communities tend to be more informal, so you might find a different distribution of openings, and different response rates across them, in more formal settings. The same research also showed that participants in online communication tend to mimic each other in the formality of their writing. So keep your audience in mind when you’re starting to write a new message.

So, remember who you’re talking to. You know your audience better than anyone (hopefully) – but if in doubt, test it out!

The rules don’t apply anymore (part 2)

Bequest/legacy giving is fundraising’s next Big Thing. In the next 20 years, $30 TRILLION will pass between generations in the United States alone. At an average donation of $40,000 a pop. Nothing to sneeze at.

Enter Jennifer Xia and Patrick Schmitt, a couple of students at Stanford.

They didn’t know all the rules about bequest giving. About warming up donors with a long mailing series, making the solicitation at the end. So they developed an online-based free bequest tool.

And just like that, they showed that asking for – and securing – online bequests is a real thing.

To the tune of over $100 million pledged, and counting.

In their research in building their online tools, they found some key takeaways:

Team-wide planned giving goals are a good thing

Sharing responsibility for obtaining new bequest donors amongst the team – including your digital team – was shown to have proven success. Silo-ing planning giving to the major gifts team or a planning giving officer isn’t a great idea.

Ask donors straight up if you’re in their will

From Jennifer and Patrick: “To fill in the missing data on planned giving, organizations should regularly ask supporters: “Have you chosen to include us in your will or estate plan?” and “What motivated you to do so?” These questions must come with a clear explanation of why the information is valuable: It helps the organization plan for the future and understand how to motivate other donors.”

And of course, using that information to conduct a whole series of tests to find out what’s resonating with your audience.

Estate planning is in dire need of innovation if we want to unlock the power of bequests

The general population puts off writing their wills, and estate planners don’t discuss giving. It’s not a great combo. But with tools like FreeWill that make it easy to give, people can (and do) take advantage.

I’m super impressed.

You can read more about the thinking behind FreeWill in the Stanford Social Innovation Review here.


Link Bonanza

I’m doing the web equivalent of a compilation tape for the post today, mostly because a whole bunch of really important stuff has just been released and there’s no point in drip feeding any of it.

So without further delay:

Announcing: Blueprints for Change

You know what sucks? Talented people and organisations who are unable to access the resources they need to achieve progressive change.

Blueprints for Change is a collaborative project that compiles knowledge and field-experience from a global network of campaign innovators.

It then makes this knowledge accessible to as many progressive organizers and campaigners as possible to help everyone “up their game” more quickly.

The Blueprint guides are completely free and open for anyone to download and use.

You can also read how lessons from Blueprints for Change on distributed organising are being applied in real life here on the Mobilisation Lab blog by Tania Mejia of Jolt in Austin, TX.

Full disclaimer: I’m fully involved in this project, and proud to be.

M+R’s benchmarks report has just been released

This is always choc-full of super useful and interesting info. If you’re serious about digital and doing it right, you need to read this and see how you compare.

There are a million top takeaways, but the big one for me: Mobile saw a 50% increase in its share of online transactions.

Digital = mobile. Mobile = digital.

(Just as a side note, the site is slick af too)

The next generation of American givers?

Blackbaud just released its report into the next generation of American givers, and check this out:

Two big big takeaways from this for me:

  • Boomers account for more than twice the amount of revenue as the civic generation. Boomers are also HUGE online donors (the majority of your online donors are almost certainly Boomers).
  • Gen X accounts for more revenue than the civic generation. They’re even more technically savvy than Boomers and have different demands from nonprofits than civics.

Essentially: a huge shift to digital isn’t going to happen — it’s happened. There’s a whole generation of new organisations out there eating the lunch of the big, more established charities, because they can see the shift in demographics of donors – and their demands, and are nimble enough (or have the right culture) to react.

Check out the report here.

One other side note: did you know the oldest Millennials are now 38 years old?!

Top campaigning trends also just released

And last but definitely not least, the great people at Mobilisation Lab also released their campaigning trends for 2018 report.

Like all of the above, it’s a doozy.

And one of the emerging trends: the rise of mobile, especially in terms of messaging apps.

Why care what’s happening in campaigning when you’re in fundraising? Well, this article demonstrates that some of the best innovation happening in our sector right now is from small and nimble campaigning groups.

That’s it for now!


P.S. just a reminder — I’m doing a full day digital workshop at the Western Canada Fundraising Conference in Vancouver in just a few weeks. It’s top value for money (and you get to go to Vancouver!) – all those details are here.

Opt in to opt in testing

The new opt in requirements under GDPR (which will start being enforced on May 25) have a lot of us freaking out.

Enter the team at Forward Action – they’ve got you covered through this excellent opt-in checkbox and language test:

We tested two different versions of opt in copy on a petition page for All Out. Our aim was to see if using the copy to emphasise different incentives to sign up for emails could increase opt in rates.

So far so good.

We tested this approach on two petitions (adapting the copy appropriately for each petition).

The results were striking. On the first petition, the “campaign win” framing produced a relative increase of 48% (statistically significant). Opt in rate rose from 52% on the “theory of change” control to 77%, the highest opt in rate we’ve seen on a petition to date in our testing.

They saw an increase of nearly 50% more people subscribing to the All Out email list purely through focusing the opt-in language on the person signing the petition.

Of course. OF COURSE!

And for All Out, this testing is definitely worth the effort. From Forward Action again:

Legal compliance is, of course, one half of the role opt in language has to fulfil — but it also has to actually get supporters to subscribe, and charities and campaigns groups cannot afford to ignore this second role. Email list growth is essential to the success of digital programmes: it is the foundation upon which your digital fundraising and ability to mobilise to win campaigns is built.


All Out’s ability to fulfil its mission is greatly increased because they took to the time to invest in testing. As a result, their ability to fundraise and win campaigns will be considerably stronger.

This is exactly why I put testing at the top of my list of Best Practices for Online Fundraising.

Full and explicit opt-in (to physical mailing lists too!) is only one part of GDPR, but it’s great to see one org absolutely smashing it.

Great work Forward Action and All Out!

(If you haven’t already, go read the full write-up here)

How to beat Facebook’s new algorithm

Facebook is feeling a bit of heat lately (understatement of the year?). But even with all of talk of #deletefacebook and reports of declining usage, the truth is the vast majority of people are still on it and using it very regularly.

Many of those people will be your donors.

Facebook’s new algorithm is throwing up new challenges to lots of nonprofits (especially those without the luxury of having big budgets for advertising).

M+R posted a great update about how the new algorithm seems to be working.

The main takeaway: The only way to beat the algorithm (without paying) is to post actually engaging content. 

It’s actually really easy to figure out how engaging your content is, too – thanks to their nifty calculation:

Jump into M+R’s article and check out the Clap, Talk, and Share scores for more specific engagement measurements.

M+R’s April benchmarks study will have the baseline Facebook engagement score for nonprofits – luckily that’s not too many sleeps from now.

You can get a pretty good idea of what’s resonating with people (and what might work on social media) by tracking the right metrics and following best practices.

But yeah, I highly recommend you check out M+R’s blog post for more on this.


P.S. If you’re a Firefox user, you can now use this extension to prevent Facebook from following you around the web.

The Trust Equation will make or break your fundraising

The Trust Equation was introduced to me last year by my friend Hanna and it’s really stuck with me since.

First, a quick intro to the Trust Equation.

The equation is made up of four variables:

Credibility has to do with the words we speak. In a sentence we might say, “I can trust what she says about intellectual property; she’s very credible on the subject.”

Reliability has to do with actions. We might say, “If he says he’ll deliver the product tomorrow, I trust him, because he’s dependable.”

Intimacy refers to the safety or security that we feel when entrusting someone with something. We might say, “I can trust her with that information; she’s never violated my confidentiality before, and she would never embarrass me.”

Self-Orientation refers to the person’s focus. In particular, whether the person’s focus is primarily on him or herself, or on the other person. We might say, “I can’t trust him on this deal — I don’t think he cares enough about me, he’s focused on what he gets out of it.” Or more commonly, “I don’t trust him — I think he’s too concerned about how he’s appearing, so he’s not really paying attention.”

Add Credibility, Reliability and Intimacy together and then divide by Self-Orientation. It ends up looking like this:

the trust equation

If you remember fractions at school, you want those ones across the top to be as high as possible, and the one of the bottom to be as low as possible.

The equation is mostly geared towards individual behaviour. But it’s totally relevant to organisational behaviour too.

I think you’ve got an opportunity here to run your own organisation through the Trust Equation.

Totally honestly, I don’t even think you need to assign values to each variable – it’s just helpful to know that the top line should be high, and the bottom should be low.

The Trust Equation for nonprofits:

Credibility for your organisation is what you’re saying to people about the work you do and how you’re positioning yourself. This encompasses pretty much all of your outgoing comms (including fundraising).

Reliability is whether or not you actually deliver on what you say you do. This is one of the easiest areas you can improve as an organisation: report back on how you’re spending donations. Show the impact you’re having in the world.

Intimacy is about people. High levels of intimacy are why peer-to-peer fundraising does so well. It’s why so many nonprofits invest in major donor officers. But even if you don’t have those resources, you can create intimacy with people by telling stories about people. Be transparent about finances. Make people feel like they know you at more than just a surface level.

Put a human face on your organisation and don’t keep secrets.

Self-orientation is how much you’re looking out for your own interests vs. the interests of the people your non-profit is set up to serve. How much do you talk about how you can make your donor’s vision of the world become reality? Because that’s literally why people give – they’re giving through your organisation to make their dreams come true.

All of this sound kinda familiar? It’s essentially the basis of donor-centricity. It’s about just doing the right thing as an organisation that literally exists to help other people.

How to find out where you stand

Ask people. Survey your donors. Call them to say thanks and then have a chat. Set up a focus group. Make time to learn more about how people perceive you – because their perceptions of you are their reality.

Revisit your baselines each year.

Next steps

Trust doesn’t improve overnight – it takes months or years of repeated actions to build up trust.

Be critical with yourself as an organisation. Look at the equation variable-by-variable. You may discover there are some areas where you can quickly make changes to improve.

Do some testing. You’ve set your baselines, so focus on a variable in the equation and see how certain things improve trust – and results. Take self-orientation as an example. Try talking about yourself vs. talking about your donors and the people they can help. Reducing self-orientation is a no-brainer to me and the results from that experiment should be super clear.

Give it a go and let me know how you get on or read more about the Trust Equation here.

(p.s. Wanna learn more about how you can use the Trust Equation to make your fundraising better? Come to my full day workshop at #WCFC2018)

Google just announced a huge change for email

Classic Google… just like that, what seems like a small announcement has the potential to shake up the way all of us do email fundraising and campaigning.

On the face of it, Google is making things a lot easier.

People will be able to interact with you from within the gmail app on mobile without having to go to a new webpage. Especially if you’re asking for donations, this has potential to be a game changer.

Check this out:

The AMP for Email feature will allow you to do things like RSVP to events, browse and interact with content, or fill out forms without leaving an email. For example, Google says if a contractor wants to schedule a meeting with you but isn’t able to see your calendar, they’ll contact you about availability. With AMP for Email, you could respond interactively through a form without ever leaving the email client.

The vast majority of your donations online will be driven through email (it’s how Obama, Bernie, and Labour in the UK made most of their cash!) so potentially having a donate form with pre-filled name and credit card details within the email itself is really really big.

So this means huge opportunities: more engaging email and higher action rates, purely because people won’t have to leave their inbox to take action with you.

But it’s not all fun and games – it could provide some major challenges.

It’s planning to make the changes through its AMP (accelerated mobile pages) tech. AMP has been called a “blight on the web” and coming to email is largely being called a bad idea and a power play by people that know things about the internet.

Just getting technical here: to use AMP means adding a third MIME-type to emails, which most email service providers don’t offer.

For non-techies: you’d need to create a unique email just for Gmail.

It’s still early days – I’m looking forward to seeing how this actually rolls out.


Come see me in Vancouver

I’m going to be at the Western Canada Fundraising Conference in Vancouver this year (May 30-June 1).

I’ll be doing a full day digital masterclass and workshop. No matter what size your nonprofit is, you’ll leave with a digital strategy – plus a whole bunch of practical skills you can start implementing as soon as you’re back in the office.

I personally think it’s the best value conference out there by a long shot (CAD $399 for the early bird, including a masterclass!). I’ll be joined by Simone Joyaux, Tom Ahern, Tony Myers, Harvey McKinnon, Sam Laprade, Jennifer Collins and more.

As a bonus, it’s at the Museum of Vancouver and HR MacMillan Space Centre (killer venue!)

Plus, Vancouver itself is pretty nice I guess…

Check out all the deets at