In this webinar, Brady Josephson, Managing Director at the NextAfter Institute for Online Fundraising, will show you what strategies work to raise more money during year-end based on years of data, research, and over 1600 online fundraising experiments.

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right, Brady. My watch just struck 2:00 here on the East Coast. Is it okay if I go ahead and get this party started?

Brady: Do it.

Steven: All right. Awesome. Well, good afternoon, everyone. If you are out on East Coast. And good morning I should say if you’re on the West Coast. Thanks for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “Year-End Fundraising and How You Can Cut Through the Clutter Online.” And my name is Steven Shattuck. And I’m the Chief Engagement Officer over here at Bloomerang. And I’ll be moderating today’s discussion, as always.

And just a couple of housekeeping items before we get it going here. I just want to let you all know that we are recording this presentation. And we’ll be sending out the recording, as well as the slides, later on this afternoon. So if you have to maybe leave early or if you get interrupted by a coworker or a boss, I know how it is, don’t worry. We’ll get you that recording later on today, as well as the slides in case you didn’t already get those.

Most importantly though as you’re listening over the next hour or so, please feel free to chat in any questions or comments. I’m going to keep an eye on that throughout the hour. And we’re going to try to save some time at the end for Q&A. So don’t be shy. We love for these webinars to be interactive. I know a lot of people have already done that. Go ahead and introduce yourself in the chat, if you haven’t already done so. And definitely ask questions as we go along. You can also do that on Twitter. I’ll keep an eye on the Twitter feed for sure.

And if you have any trouble with your audio through your computer speakers, try dialing in by phone. We find that the audio quality there is usually a little bit better since it doesn’t rely on internet connections or software updates and versions and all that good stuff. So if you can do that, if you don’t mind doing that by phone, just check the email from ReadyTalk that went out about an hour ago. There’s a phone number in there for you that you can dial into.

And if this is your first Bloomerang webinar, I just want to say an extra special welcome to you folks, you first-timers. We do these webinars just about every Thursday throughout the year. We’ve only missed a couple of weeks throughout the year. So upwards of 50 presentations. One of our favorite things we do here at Bloomerang, but what we are most known for, is our donor management software. So check that out, if you’re interested or maybe you just kind of see what see have to offer, you can check out a quick video demo later on. Don’t do that right now because you all are in for a real treat. We’re welcoming back a friend of the program, my buddy Brady Josephson, joining from beautiful Vancouver. How is it going, Brady? Are you doing okay?

Brady: I’m doing good. Thanks, yeah.

Steven: This is awesome to have you. You were one of my first guests on Bloomerang TV back in the day, I think in maybe 2014. And we’ve kept in touch ever since. Always a good presentation from Brady. I really love Brady because he does these awesome experiments and has like real-life examples of what people are doing well, maybe what they’re doing not so well. And if you guys don’t know Brady, I just want to brag on him real quick. He is the Managing Director over at the NextAfter Institute for Online Fundraising. Definitely check out NextAfter also. They do a lot of really cool A/B test experiments. And they give away all those results and then kind of what you learn from their experiments, awesome websites, cool things on there. You may have seen Brady’s bylines in publications like “The Huffington Post,” “NPR,” “The Chronicle of Philanthropy.” His name’s all over the place either writing or speaking. You may see him on some conference schedules, as well.

And definitely check out his podcast later on, “The Generosity Freakshow.” Really cool interviews and conversations on there. We’ll get you the links to all that good stuff at the end. But this is not my show. It’s the Brady show. So Brady, I’m going to hand things over to you. You’re going to do a screen share. So bear with us here for a sec. But tell us all about year-end fundraising, Giving Tuesday, all the good stuff. Take it away, my friend.

Brady: Thank you very much. Hopefully, everyone can see my screen here. We’re just going to be talking about year-end fundraising, and how you can cut through the clutter. It’s a little weird. It feels like a little early to be talking about this. But it’s never too early to start thinking about year-end and coming up with new ideas for you to try and test. So, hopefully, I’ll give you a bunch of those by the end of the session. And we can handle even more things that we don’t cover with questions.

So just to kind of recap a little bit, Tis the Season. What goes on at year-end and at Christmas time? Well, parties. About 79% of us will attend at least one holiday party this December. What are parties without cookies. There’s a lot of baking that goes on. Many of us will be baking an estimated 275 million cookies will be baked this holiday season. What about cards? We send out these cards. About 19 billion cards, letters, and packages will be mailed between (American) Thanksgiving, American in brackets Canada’s way sooner. American Thanksgiving and Christmas, tons and tons of mail.

And what about this guy? Little Michael Bublé. The average American will hear 26.4 hours of Michael Bublé in December. Now, that’s not a real stat. I just made that up. But Michael Bublé gets quite a bit of air time in Christmas time, especially here in Canada where we have to play a certain percentage of Canadian artists.

And then what about your inbox? Did you just eat a bunch of spam? We’ll each receive about 3,630 emails in December alone. It’s a super incredibly busy time where people are sending things. We’re hearing Bublé. Your inbox if getting bombarded. How can you cut through the clutter? And that’s going to be the focus of what I want to talk about today. So I’m going to be sharing kind of five different ways that you can cut through the clutter. And then I’ll sprinkle in these kind of nine other proven techniques that aren’t necessarily year-end-specific. But they will definitely help your fundraising when it comes to year-end.

So what are these five ways and nine tactics based on? Well, a few different things. As Steven mentioned, we do a lot of research. And it’s actually the main focus of my job is to do research of a few kinds. And one is looking at what organizations do. So each year, we’ve been collecting emails in an aggregate donor inbox. So we’ve looked at over 20,000 different emails from almost 300 different organizations in the U.S., Canada, and Australia now. And we’re looking at what are they doing? When are they sending emails? What do those emails look like? What are they saying? So I’m going to use some of that analysis.

And 2019, it will be the first year we will release a Canadian-specific version of it. So you’ll be able to download this stuff soon in the fall. But that’s one data source is real email from real organizations. That’s one of the types of research that we do at the NextAfter Institute where we actually become donors. We sign up for emails and we see what organizations are doing. There’s a couple new studies that are coming out that I’m going to sprinkle in here. One is on donation pages where we looked at 204 nonprofits and their kind of giving experience and another one on email cultivation, both for donors and email subscribers. But, again, what we’re trying to figure out is what are organizations doing? How do you compare? What can you learn from those organizations, both good and bad? So that’s in here.

Another type of research that we do that Steven mentioned are experiments. So we have the world’s largest online experiment library. I’ll be sharing some of these with you today. If you can find these, you can kind of sort, look for different experiments. You can actually find interesting ones, click into them. This is a real experiment. And you can see what the control was, what the treatment was, what the hypothesis was, what the degrees of statistical significance, and the key learnings. This is all kind of there for you to see based on what we’re learning in the experiments that we’re either running with clients or other people are logging that they’re running tests.

So this one, actually, I just want to highlight it because it’s super interesting. You can see here on the treatment side all they did here was they highlighted that $50 donation button with the little treatment and said, “Most popular.” Just by using this kind of social anchoring, they saw almost an 8% increase in conversion rate, almost a 15% increase in average gift. And those are two of the main variables that lead to revenue. So almost a 24% increase in revenue just by that one subtle change kind of saying, “Most popular,” around that donate button. And underlying that, there was actually a 44% increase for people on mobile devices making it even easier for them to just click.

That’s just one example of the types of experiments that we have that you can click into. But what we’re looking at here is what do people do, not just what do people say. You’ll see throughout some of the tactics we’re suggesting may not be intuitive to you or maybe your board member or something like that. But what’s really key is it’s so hard for us to predict our own behavior and even harder for us to predict donor behavior. So this is where experimentation is really crucial to see what do people actually respond to. So that’s another kind of data source.

And I’m going to highlight some like quick tips. So we’ve actually built a full course on year-end fundraising. So it’s got four different sessions. They’re each about an hour long. So I’m going to have a few different elements. But that kind of walks you through how to have a great year-end for your online. And I’m just going to highlight some of the interesting things that you can take, some ideas here. And, hopefully, you can check out that. So we’ve tried to comb through what are organizations doing? What do we see that works?

Brady: Perfect. All right. So these are the key dates there that I just went over. You’ll see them again throughout. We’re going to look at some data. Thirty-one percent of total annual online giving occurs in the month of December. Maybe you’ve seen that statistic before. So we actually wanted to look at some of our own data that we have access to. So some clients or some people that have participated in benchmarks. So some of these stats are coming from 18 nonprofit organizations. This is looking at 2017 revenue. The total’s about $80 million in total revenue. And all this data’s coming from Google Analytics. So these are just kind of a snapshot or some benchmarks to kind of look at.

And the first thing here when you look at what percentage of total revenue, total online revenue, comes from calendar year-end, we found in our benchmark it’s about 35%. So just over a third on average of revenue comes in in this critical time period. Some as high as 80% of all their online revenue comes in in this critical, critical period. And this is actually when we look at the timeline by dates, you can see all these different graphs. And while they’re coming at you fast, there is a very clear pattern in the data when we look at year-ends from year to year to year to year. And that is that it looks something like this. We call it the year-end revenue curve.

So I’ll kind of walk through this and show where revenue typically comes from. Again, this is looking at a subset. So the first kind of spike there is Giving Tuesday. So we found in 2018 at least 5.4% of calendar year-end revenue comes on Giving Tuesday. This is actually up a little bit from 2017 where it was about 3%. And up from 2016 where it was close to 4%. But Giving Tuesday is the thing. And it continues to grow. And it’s the first kind of spike point that you see there.

Now December is a key period. Last year, Giving Tuesday was actually in November. So almost 77% of all calendar year-end revenue comes in in December, which makes sense. It’s a critical time but it’s also the biggest time in that window. What’s more interesting is that 31% of calendar-year end revenue comes in on the last three days of the year. So, again, this is about a third of everything that you’re going to raise in calendar year-end comes in on the last three days. And actually, 21% comes in on the very last day on December 31st. That is a lot of transactions and revenue on one single day.

And we looked at the average. It’s about 19% of organizations in our benchmark, they’ll get 19% of all their online revenue in this period on that last day. It’s actually up from 2017, as well, where it’s 16%. And it’s about the same as 2016. Twenty percent, again, is the average. So December 31st is something that we’re going to talk about more specifically. But just, again, when we’re looking at this calendar year-end period, you’ve got a Giving Tuesday bump, you’ve got this huge chunk in the month of December, and then you have this spike point in the last three days, and then this huge spike on the last day of the year. This is what we typically see when it comes to year-end revenue patterns. All right. So that’s just a little data to set some context.

What do you actually do? So here’s the five tips to try and cut through the clutter. Number one, can you try sending emails on the weekend? Remember this screen shot of the over-crowded inbox? How can you stand out in this inbox? And one of the things we looked at is, well, when are organizations sending or what are the best dates to send? And here’s what we found. Going all the way back to 2013 when we looked at email sends by date, you can see on the weekends here in 2013 a drop-off. And when we advance to 2016 to 2017, we still see this drop-off where weekends still remain an opportunity.

And in this newest study that we’re doing, which isn’t year-end, I should classify, we looked at, there was about 3,000 emails, about 200 organizations. And you can see that very few organizations, in general, are sending emails on the weekend. Whether it’s by cultivation or solicitation type, very few organizations are sending emails on the weekend.

Again, if your job is to kind of stand out, one of the strategies you can take is hit them where they ain’t, Hall of Famer Wee Willie Keeler said, “Hit ’em where they ain’t,” or the technical term is a contra-competitive strategy. If everyone is doing this, then you do something else. So if everyone is sending emails during the weekday, can you send them during the weekend so that you can actually have a chance to stand out in the inbox? Because here’s the other thing that we found is that emails sent Friday, Saturday, Sunday can have sometimes up to a 50% higher average gift compared to emails sent during the week.

So what often happens when we look at kind of the three main metrics that drive revenue, traffic, conversion rate, and average gifts, those are the only three things that matter and the only three strategies that you’re trying to employ, is sending email on the weekend strategy, you generally see less traffic. You do get fewer opens and you do get fewer clicks. Fewer people are engaging with email. But what you see is those who do read, who do engage, we’ve seen a higher average gift and we often see a higher conversion rate because there’s less competition.

They’re not as busy. They’ve got their coffee. Whatever it might be, it’s a better experience for them to engage with your fundraising ask or offer. So you may get fewer opens and clicks. But your goal is revenue. So you may see an increase in conversion and average gift. So that’s one of the strategies that you can try when going into the weekend. It’s definitely something worth testing is can you send emails on the weekend to try to stand out from that cluttered inbox and, hopefully, see a higher conversation and average gift.

Tip number two, hopefully, this one was kind of already obvious based on the data that we showed. But make December 31st a priority and, specifically, over Giving Tuesday. Now, I am not saying don’t do Giving Tuesday. We saw the little Giving Tuesday bump. When you look at Giving Tuesday data, this is actually this red line here. You can see how Giving Tuesday is kind of growing over time and continues to grow. But I’m not saying don’t do Giving Tuesday or don’t, you know, use the day. I am saying make sure December 31st is a priority because even by this own chart that was produced by Giving Tuesday, look at how December 31st compares to Giving Tuesday. It’s literally off the charts in comparison to transactions and revenues.

Now, that’s not the only thing that we should care about, transactions and revenues. There’s only great things about Giving Tuesday. I understand. But this is what we see. We see 29% fewer emails received on December 31st than on Giving Tuesday. Much, much, much, much, much greater revenue and transaction on the day and actually fewer emails. So to me, it suggests that our priorities are maybe a little out of whack. We spend a lot of time planning for Giving Tuesday and December 31st might be a little bit of an afterthought. So yes to Giving Tuesday but make sure you have a plan for December 31st.

Canadian organizations, this is even worse. They sent 346% more emails on Giving Tuesday than December 31st. And this, again, we see 313% additional revenue on December 31st compared to Giving Tuesday whereas 790% 2017. Do you have a plan for December 31st? There’s some reasons why December 31st is really important that aren’t necessarily related to tax. We talked a little bit about that it’s a hugely important giving day, if you have emails going out and are you set up to make the most of December 31st. That’s another kind of key tip.

Tip number three, just try sending more email. But how many emails should you send? Well, we looked at email volume and total emails received in December. And we saw about 5% of organizations sent nothing in December. So that’s going to be hard to raise money if you’re sending nothing. Seventeen percent of organizations sent more than ten emails in the month of December. And the average organization sent about six emails in December. So, again, this is kind of what’s useful, hopefully, for you is thinking if the average organization is sending 6 and some are sending 10, how can you kind of stay relevant and compete? And one of the ways is to actually just send more email.

So there’s some tactics you can do where you can send to only people that haven’t opened or haven’t clicked. Use some more advanced segmentation so you’re not sending the same email to the same person all the time. But here’s what our kind of starting point campaign looks like. And that course that I mentioned kind of walks through what this looks like. But the general progression is you start with engagement so like a survey at Thanksgiving. And then you come into Giving Tuesday. And then you start hitting the main kind of year-end fundraising ask. You’ve got the mother cultivation emails in there, a happy Christmas.

And then near the end, it becomes a lot more high-urgent, you know, “Please give today.” And that’s partly why December 31st, you know, is a key thing to take advantage of but also allows for you to have a high-urgency appeal because it’s the end of the year. So that’s a lot of emails. That’s a lot of work. So this is kind of the suggested minimum. So now we’re down to about one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight emails in calendar year-end. This is kind of what we’re saying is the starting point. So you should have some type of cultivation leading into your year-end. And then there’s kind of high urgency at the end. So this is kind of our bare minimum or suggested minimum.

Again, remember, your donors are getting tons and tons of email. So it’s unfortunate but the only way to kind of make sure that you at least have a chance is to also send email. So you need to find that sweet spot for you and your donors. It’s probably more than zero. It’s probably less than 40, 50. For some of these organizations, it’s probably somewhere between kind of 8 and 17, and, again, depending on your segmentation strategy. A quick reminder. Sending kind of crappy, you-focused, impersonal, irrelevant emails is always bad.

This is always the hardest thing when we get in the conversation about volume. How often should I send? Well, if you send great emails, you should be able to send them a lot more frequently than if you send poor emails. And if you don’t send emails frequently, then there’s a higher chance that people won’t read and won’t open your emails. It actually starts affecting deliverability. And it’s this negative spiral.

There’s a lot of factors that go into email sending. But part of it’s the equity and trust that you build up throughout the year with your great emails is what allows you to continue sending emails in December. So, again, we see the organizations typically send not enough emails to compete at this important time of year. So can you try sending more emails? And, again, they need to be great-looking, sounding, feeling email.

So what does that look like? Well, maybe they can look more personal like they’re from a real person. So why? Why should you send emails that look, feel, and sound more personal? A few reasons, one, we’ve seen that you can get more opens. So here’s an experiment. On the subject line where you’ve got the organization on the left and just a person on the right, the email from just the person, in this case, helped increase email opens 28%. Here’s a different version where you’ve got a person and an organization versus just the person. In this case, just the person increased email opens 18%. We’ve run this experiment ourselves, just removing Tim Kachuriak, who’s my boss. Removing our name off of the email or just by adding our organization name to the email, we’ve seen a decrease in opens and engagement.

Who an email is from is the number way that we triage our inbox. We don’t even know it. We start quickly scanning. And things that look like they’re from a person instantly have more value to us than emails that look like they’re from an organization because when we’re doing this quick triage, we think, “Oh, that person is going to sell me something or market me something.” Where if we see a name or something more personal, we think it might be more relevant or more interesting to us just by default. So that’s one way to just kind of get more opens. This approach being more personal, we also know it leads to more donations.

So in this case, here’s a design experiment. From the left, you can see a pretty classic fundraising email, header, image, copy, button, signature, P.S., right? Pretty standard “best practice.” In this case, the treatment email looks like this. They just removed a bunch of those design elements and really tried to simplify it. And they saw an 80% increase in clicks and 112% increase in donations just by removing some of those design elements. And actually, if you look at those two emails side by side, it really wasn’t some like super fancy-looking marketing message, but it was the thing that looked and felt a lot more personal. There’s also some deliverability issues with more heavily-designed emails that have images, but that’s a different kind of subject.

And they actually ran this experiment again and tried to take this a step further and said, “Well, what if we made an email look even more like it came from a person?” You can see the control and treatment here. I’ll actually line them up side by side and walk through it but you can see this very, very simple one actually increased donations another 145%.

So we stacked them side by side. And you can see what this looks like or feels like to have a really personal email. First, the logo placement reduced. No one cares about your logo. So don’t make it the very first thing that’s often huge that people see because what does it mean right away? I’m being marketed to. I’m not being communicated with. So if you have to have it, it can build trust. Put it at the very bottom so that it’s still there, but it’s not the very first thing that you see. Also, sometimes, that tag shows up in the preview test. And it’s a dead giveaway that it’s a marketing email.

Second is the call to action. When you send your friend a link in an email, you probably don’t code a button. So they said, “Let’s just have this be a hyperlink. Click here to have your donation matched today,” versus a button call to action. And then the copy itself in this case they changed. So I’ll just read this one out. On the left, “When your world has been turned upside down, every connection counts. Every bit of strength. Every heart brought together.” Beautiful. But compare that to this. “I know you’ve been using CaringBridge recently to stay connected to your loved ones. And I hope it’s been a source of strength for you.” Which one sounds like you know this person? Which one sounds like you’re in a conversation?

It’s the treatment. The other one’s kind of talking at you, right? It doesn’t even really . . . It says, “Hello,” and then just launches into this kind of preach. And it goes into this beautiful story. But it’s really talking at me or talking at you versus, “Right now, we’re in short campaign to raise money to keep CaringBridge there for you, and those like you who need a safe, protective place to connect during life’s most challenging times.” Doesn’t that just sound more simple and human? We do this all the time in our copy where we try to sound professional or sound nice. And it actually can have an opposite effect when it comes to fundraising.

The other thing that the treatment here has over the control is it uses the magic word in fundraising, the word “You.” You have been using. Your loved one. You. You. Those like you.” The more that we can use “you” in our copy it makes it more personal and it makes it more about the donor. So you add that all up, the design, the change in tone that led to this large, large increase in donations by being more personal all the way through from design to tone. And yes, we changed a few different variables, a term called variable clusters where you can change a few different things and still have one hypothesis. We’ll talk about it more later. But just for those that are maybe questioning, “Is that a real test?” yes, it’s a real way to test, particularly if you have low traffic.

So you can get more donations but, again, you can also stand out from others. We’re trying to figure out how do we get engagement in this high-traffic period of time? Look at this snapshot. This is actually from our inbox that we tracked all the emails. You can see there’s kind of three here that are from a person. The rest are from an organization or a person. So there’s a few more that the person and an organization. But the vast majority are from an organization. I actually just pulled this stat yesterday from this brand new study of those 3,000 emails. Three out of four emails come only from the organization. So even if you just send it from a person, it’s one way to stand out from other organizations.

And we’ve seen this in other studies. One in five organizations, a study we did with Salesforce, on recurring giving. Only one in five came from a person. And in Canada, we looked at 152 Canadian charities. Only 3% uses that type of strategy in their email design where it looked and felt like a personal solicitation. The overarching principle here, we know this in fundraising but we often don’t apply it when it comes to online is people give to people, not email marketing machines. So how can you make your emails look, sound, and feel more personal? That’s tip number four.

And then tip number five, this is similar to the send on the weekends. So this is actually based on time. So can you send at off-peak hours? So, again, we looked at when is everyone sending their emails and the time of day and created this heat map. You can see that Tuesday to Friday, 7:00 a.m. to noon is by far the heaviest period in terms of when people are sending an email. That means the time just kind of right before, so early in the morning or right after afternoon and evening are a little bit less crowded. And the results of some research have showed that ecommerce or purchasing decision are more likely to happen in the afternoon when people are kind of dragging at work or getting a little bit bored. So that could carry over on a fundraising and that type of financial transaction, as well.

So now, this is new research. This isn’t year-end related but again, we looked at those 3,000 emails across 200 different organizations. And we see something pretty similar for emails. Most emails are sent from 6:00 to 12:00 p.m. on Monday to Friday. So, again, a little earlier in the morning, a little later in the evening could be an opportunity for you and your emails to stand out and get more engagement and donations. That’s something worth trying, as well. So try sending emails at off-peak hours.

So this is very email heavy, which is the main way to drive online revenue. So how can you cut through the clutter or kind of do things differently? Of course, one, try to send on weekends. Make December 31st as a priority over Giving Tuesday. Again, I’m not saying don’t do Giving Tuesday. Just make sure you do December 31st. Try sending more emails to make sure that you’re staying in that donor’s inbox in front of them in this busy period. Try sending emails that look and feel like they’re from a real person. And try sending emails on off-peak hours. So kind of earlier in the morning or afternoon or early evening even. Those are the five tips to kind of try and cut through the clutter specific to year-end.

Now I want to quickly go through some of these other ideas, make up some lost time for my phone cutting out. But here’s a few other ideas from the Fundraising Research Lab that relate to year-end fundraising. Here’s idea number one. It pays to thank your donor before your year-end campaign. The work that you do for, you know, 340 days throughout the year is really what makes this last 15 days of the year, 45 days of the year . . . My math’s off.

The work you do all year is really where you see the value and benefit of what you’ve been doing all year. And this includes thanking your donors. But there’s a real specific strategy that you can take to thank them. In this case, this is an experiment looking at multichannel cultivation. So what they did here is they sent . . . The control group didn’t receive a postcard before the online campaign. The treatment group received a postcard. All it did was say thanks, it pointed them online to a video where someone could watch a little message of the executive director of the organization saying, “Thanks.” There was no ask in the postcard. That’s all it was.

It went out after American Thanksgiving and about two to three weeks before they were going to start their online year-end campaign. What they found is a 204% increase in donations for people who received that thank you postcard. Again, it wasn’t asking for money. Just by getting that touch point that two to three weeks before the online campaign, people who saw that saw 204% increase in donations.

One of the ideas is can you use the offline, especially like a postcard, to impact your online? But if you go the other way as well, so in this experiment this organization used the online to touch and leave an impression on the offline. So this nonprofit actually saw an experiment very similar to this in a research library where they used Facebook ads targeted towards direct mail donors, not asking for money, just to be a branded impression ad to see if that would help drive an increase in their direct mail.

So in this case, again, the control here on the left is people who just got the direct mail. And the treatment here on the right, people who saw branded Facebook ads about three weeks, two to three weeks before they got the direct mail and about two weeks after. The people who saw the Facebook ads, just saw the Facebook ads, had a 25% increase in revenue. But they spent about $690 on Facebook ads and saw about a $10,000 increase in direct mail revenue just by using that strategy. And, again, the key thing here, the ads are not asking for a donation or a link to a donation. They’re about stories or about content, other things that aren’t related to asking. You can use the online to impact the offline.

And then the other thing is can you use the online to impact the online? Here’s an example of using content, primarily through a blog, to help influence the likelihood of someone to give. So this organization, the control group, did not read any of these blog articles. The treatment group read articles like, “How Your Donation to an Organization Makes a Difference,” “Your Support for the Organization is Critical, and These 21 Comments are Pretty Awesome Too,” and, “Organization is Having an Extreme Impact. Here are Four Examples.” These are blog posts that donors or potential donors could actually read. And see how it’s kind of subtly here or maybe not so subtly, talking about the impact and the value of the gift.

The people who just saw those blog posts were almost 200% more likely to make a donation. Again, these articles did not have an ask or a link to a donation. This is how you can try to use online, your content, your blogs, your emails, not asking, to impact further down the stream the chance of someone making an online gift.

So you maybe heard a few common patterns like, “Why does this work?” Well, there’s this concept called priming. It’s where we kind of leave this memory effect in which exposure to a stimulus influences response to a later stimulus. This is where in Canada at least when I get into a car and I’m about to do errands, I immediately want Tim Hortons because my years of growing up watching Tim Hortons’ commercials and then going to that pattern makes me want Tim Hortons.

Or sometimes when you’re like, “I could really go for a Starbucks.” What really happened is you saw a bunch of Starbucks ads and you don’t really know it. This is priming or impression-based marketing. And brands do it to us all the time. And nonprofits typically don’t take advantage of it because it’s often very expensive and it’s hard to do and it’s hard to compete.

But these key points make it possible. In each of those examples, it was kind of two or three weeks before. And the online version there with the blog post is a little shorter. But you’re trying to leave an impression about two or three weeks before you actually ask. If it’s too soon, the value of the impression kind of goes away and people forget about it. If it’s too late, you don’t have enough time to build up the impression. So if you can figure out when that drop date is or when your campaign’s going to launch and kind of go two or three weeks before and a little bit after is the kind of sweet spot to use this strategy.

None of them had an ask. That’s also really, really key. If you showed someone an ad that is an ask for a donation and they say, “No,” well, now when they get an email also asking, in their mind, they’ve already said no to you. So they’re less likely to change their mind now. So if it’s a branded . . . If you’re trying to take advantage of this priming strategy, do not ask. Make sure that it’s about the value of the gift, the impact of the gift since videos are content but not asking.

And specifically, that content should focus on the importance, the appreciation or personal fulfillment. Sorry, fulfillment. “The importance of the gift,” “Thank you, you’re so great,” or “When you make a donation it means this,” which is more of a value statement. Those are three specific areas that can maximize this priming strategy. We got a whole webinar on how to use these types of strategies to like cultivate your donors without sending more appeals that you can watch. But those are kind of the three main experiments in this concept of priming. So that’s something else we’re thinking about.

And now, kind of getting into your donations page as a giving experience, again, a lot of transactions, a lot of traffic, a lot of volume. How can you optimize your donation page? Here’s a few things that we’ve learned. One, visually remind your donors that their donation is secure. So here’s CaringBridge. Here’s the experiment. You can see that this is their kind of general main donation page here. From this experiment, you can see the control. You can see the treatment. And the only difference here is they actually shaded that credit card area a different color and put that little lockbox in the corner to visually reinforce to donors that, “Hey, your credit card information is secure,” where it matters most, when they’re putting in their credit card information. Just that one little change increased donations almost 14%.

And, again, the irony here is that little padlock icon, it didn’t have any influence on how secure the page was. It was a visual reinforcement next to where it matters most. That’s the key thing. Here’s a different version of it. The same type of experiment. Ten percent increase in donation.

In our donation page study, we saw a few different examples of this. Something like this. Submit donation and a lockbox or maybe like this where they have this little line, “All transactions are secure and encrypted.” And then they have a little lockbox where the card number is. Some of that’s related to your form but even that little line, “All transactions are secure and encrypted,” can just prime someone where it’s important that their information will be secure. And information security is increasingly important, particularly for older donors who are most likely to give online and give large donations online. This security thing is a small thing but it can make a pretty big difference for your donation page, particularly high volume year-end.

Another pretty easy thing to try is remove distracting and unnecessary links on your donation page. Something as simple as this navigation, no navigation, almost a 200% increase in donation. Again, for us as the donor . . . Sorry, us as the marketer fundraiser we might go, “Well, they already could donate. They’re here to donate. Why would they click something else?’ Well, look at events. Oh, that’s interesting. A blog. Policies impacting me. A bridge to something. These are all little things for them to get distracted. So just remove that.

This is one of the things we look at when we do donation page studies. We find that over half, 55%, of organizations have menu and navigation distraction. And another 38%, almost 4 out of 10, have multiple calls to action. So on a donation page, sign up for email or do something else. They’ve clicked donate or they’ve been driven to your donation page. Remove all possible distractions.

Here’s a good and a bad example. So not this on the left. See this navigation? All possible distractions. On the right, it’s gone. The only thing you can do on this page is pretty much donate. If you go down to the bottom, you see all these other ways to give and then all these other links to click. Different navigation. Find food. Get involved. Social media. All of these things are possible options that take donors out of the donation flow. Versus on the right, you can see . . . Well, you can see these trust marks at play. So you can see on the right, again, there’s very few links, very few distractions. It’s built and focused for you to complete the donation.

So maybe you don’t always have control over your forms and things like that. But you should have control over what navigation items show and what other links you’re putting on your donation page. Just remove them.

Another idea here. If the goal is donations, which, in this case it is, so we’re assuming it is, try using text instead of video. This is a kind of controversial one every time we talk about it. But in this experiment, this is a video versus text. On the left a video. On the right, it’s actually the same words that that man is saying just put into text. And we saw a 560% increase, increase, by using text and not video.

A big reason why video often decreases conversion rates is a few things. One, videos are very slow. If you’ve ever had to go and push a button, now you have to sit and watch this man talk for 30 seconds or a minute telling me why my donation is needed while on the right, I can just scan and read and I’m on my way. I can extract value from reading and scanning whereas with a video, you can’t extract value. You have to click play. And the value or why I should give is the biggest main reason why I should give. And so people will either skip over the video, they’ll be impatient, they won’t listen, it’s too distracting.

And you also get a little bit of an endorphin rush when you watch a video. And maybe that’s enough for them to feel like they don’t need to make a donation. So there’s a few different things that go into why video maybe doesn’t work on your donation page.

Another example, donation versus no donation, 203% increase. Sorry. Video versus no video. No video versus video, a 77% decrease in video. Videos are great for clicks, great for stewardship, great for storytelling. But when it comes time to convert into an action on a donation page, we’ve seen no evidence that it helps and a lot of evidence that it can hurt and hurt a lot. So consider text and not video.

And speaking of copy, you probably need actually more copy on your donation to show why a donation is needed and how it makes a difference. Here’s a few examples. You can see here on the left this is the one line. “Together we’re writing the next chapter of Illinois’ history within social media.” And on the right, there’s actually, you know, four kind of short paragraphs talking about what the organization does, the impact of the donation, why the donation is needed, and then reconfirming a call to action there before the form.

And this helps increased donations 150%, 150%, or something like this where you can just see here there’s one extra line of two sentences just talking a little bit about why a donation is needed and what it does helps increase donations by 28%. Because, again, if you look at these examples, on the left, why would you make a donation to that organization unless you’ve completely made up your mind? There’s nothing there that communicates why my donation is needed.

The same thing on the left. Why is my donation needed? Why are we called the value proposition question? Why should I give to you rather than another organization or not at all? It’s the most important question that you need to answer. And it’s almost impossible to answer if you don’t use copy. So, obviously, things like this, kind of visual, “How do you want to give,” versus tons of copy helped increase donations 146%. That’s a pretty extreme example. But we often think, “Oh, people won’t read.” Why do we think that? Is that because you don’t read, because your board member doesn’t read? Well, our research is showing that people not only read but they need to read at least somewhat to understand the value of the donation. And this is something, 30%, of organizations just aren’t doing at all. That’s it. Again, unless you’ve reached this donation page and you’re totally convinced that you want to make a gift, there’s nothing in here to value.

We’ve also seen that just adding a little line under the donate button that just reconfirms like, “Thank you so much for making your gift today. You’re going to help more victims today,” or whatever it is can increase anywhere from 20% to 40%. So even though someone’s clicked the button and they’re on your donation page, the job isn’t done. There’s still work to be done. So even just reconfirming the value proposition is important.

We found 62% of nonprofits did something like this where they had less than four sentences. So, right, again, here’s like a line or two, which is better than nothing. But it’s really hard to truly know why your donation would make a difference. And only 38% of nonprofits had more than four sentences on their donation page. So you can see an example like this. A strong headline, “Please give today to provide bullet, bullet, bullet.” Our default template includes bullet points that are great to scan and extract some good value. And then they have some numbers in here that build trust. Since this date, how many thousands of people we’ve helped. Notice how they don’t lead with the numbers. They lead with the impact of the gift. And then they use the numbers to build trust. The numbers are great to build trust, not to inspire giving. And that’s the right sequence to order them in.

For something like this, “Act now. Give birds a chance.” A little bit of copy about what the donation does. And then they are even trying to use some copy to nudge you towards the monthly gift, something that very few organizations do. You can see that they also have this kind of social nudge that I showed in that very, very first experiment where they’re trying to anchor you towards the $75 gift using some peer pressure and then some charitable credibility with Navigator, as well. So this is a good donation page that we scored. But the main thing here is they’re using copy to communicate value.

And then a couple more unique things around a campaign or something that you can do at year-end. One is if you have a goal, let people know about it. In this case, just by displaying the goal, they helped increase revenue 20%. Now, why does this work? Why are we geared towards giving towards goals? Well, there’s this concept called goal proximity effect covered in this book called “The Science of Giving.” And they looked at . . . In this experiment, they had 10% of the goals, 66% of the goal, or 85% of the goal. Those are the three different treatments. And they sent out an appeal. And the people who received the 85% of the way there were much more likely to give. And we experience that all the time, which is probably why those crowdfunding pages can really work because everyone wants to be the one who helps finish at the end.

So the downside of goal proximity effect is it can actually have a negative impact on giving, if you don’t have any progress. So anything less than 50% potentially is actually hurting the likelihood of someone making a gift because it feels like they’re not going to be successful. I might be the only one. So if you’re going to use this goal proximity effect, you have to make sure that you’re at least 50% of the way to the goal. Otherwise, you might actually be hurting donations. So if you have a goal, tell people about it. Just make sure you’re at least halfway there before you tell people about it.

And then, again, this December 31st tax incentive, which isn’t increasingly important with the change of the Tax Code, and a lot of people don’t claim it anyways, but they feel like there is an end to the year. And they feel like they may be able to claim a tax, the tax urgency . . . The December 31st year-end urgency is real. And urgency is actually real important for fundraising.

So any kind of campaign or appeal you have to answer these questions. Why should they care? Why should they care about you? And why should they care now? Because your cause is going to be there next year, next week, the next day. Why should they give today? And this is where that kind of end campaign date, particularly December 31st, can be important because it’s hard for us to just manufacture urgency. That’s what we found in the Canadian study. Very few organizations have a way to communicate urgency.

So if it is the end of a campaign and there’s a definitive time end like there is a year-end, you can employ this strategy. How much time is left? It helped increase donations 68% just by letting people know that there’s so many days left. Even though they know in their brain December 31st, visually reinforcing it is key to make sure they go, “Oh, I need to make my donation soon.” All right. That was on a donation page. We’ve also seen it where it works in email, 51% increase in email response rate in that case or in this case, 65% increase in donations by visually reinforcing how little time is left.

Another key thing. You can’t be urgent for too long. So it’s similar to the goal proximity effect. If you don’t have money, it could have a negative impact. If you’re trying to be urgent for too long, it could also have a negative impact. So here’s one example of a countdown clock as the campaign got closer to the end of the campaign. And you can see the yellow line or the orange line is the clock. And the blue line is just the normal no clock. And until it reaches the last kind of week, the no clock versions wins because if you see something that says, “There’s only 30 days left,” it doesn’t really make me feel like it’s urgent. It actually has the opposite effect whereas once you start getting to the last week or maybe two weeks, now that starts to feel a little bit more urgent. So the same type of idea. If you’re going to use that countdown clock, you should probably be within the last week of your campaign.

And, again, a key thing to remember here, end of year and tax, those aren’t the reasons to give. That’s not why people should care or why they should care about you. It is a lever that we can pull to help incentivize people to give now. But it is not the reason why they should give. Don’t conflate those two. That’s a very common mistake. Give now is different than why they should give overall.

So those are kind of nine other ideas from the Research Lab that, hopefully, apply all year. But I think they’re particularly important at this critical time. So can you thank donors before your year-end campaign actually in that two to three-week time? Can you prime your audience online for an offline appeal two to three weeks? Facebook has no ask. Can you make your case for support before you make the ask? Content on your blog. Posts on social media. Not asking but communicating the value or impact priming people for when you do ask.

Can you visually remind your donors that their donation is secure when it matters in the credit card field area in particular? Remove those distracting and unnecessary links from your donation page. If you have a goal of donations, try thinking about text, not video. You probably need a little bit more text than you think to communicate why a donation is needed. If you have a goal towards a campaign like a year-end, let donors know the progress, be it 50% or more. And urgency is your best friend here. Leverage urgency. Just don’t do it too soon.

So if you want to go deeper, again, all of these different resources, guides, of course, you can find all of this stuff on our site, That will go a lot deeper and even more step-by-step how to run a great year-end campaign.

And then another opportunity. I was talking to Steven before we hopped on. We do a conference every year. This year we’re in Denver at the Opera House where we try to bring together some of the best speakers from for-profit and nonprofit talking about this databased optimization and how do we better understand why donors do what they do. We’ve got two days of speakers from all over the world. A lot of fun. If you’re interested in that, you can find out more at And if you use the code “WEBINAR,” you can save a couple hundred bucks. So I kind of went a little quick through the end. I had to make up for lost time. But, hopefully, you found some ideas and some of that useful. And we have a little bit of time for questions.

Steven: Yeah. That was awesome, Brady. Man, my pen and paper is smoking from all the tips that you laid down. I love it. Thank you so much for sharing all that good stuff. But no worries about the phone. We still got it in here. And we’ve got time for questions. So if you haven’t typed in a question, do it now. We’ve got maybe five or six minutes.

Here’s a question from Jessica, Brady. Any guidance on the suggested gift amounts of your online donation pages? I know that was in a lot of your examples. But do you have any specific tips on how many, suggested amounts, what the amounts should be? How they should be spaced? Have you guys seen anything around that?

Brady: Yeah. So man, this could be like a whole hour session on . . .

Steven: I know.

Brady: . . . gift arrays. But real quick, the main thing is to gift array is importance in the giving equation is not nearly as high as you think. It’s another thing that we over-emphasize. The main thing that moves the needle is, do they understand the impact of their gift? Full stop. If they do, then you’re golden. And then the gift array is a pretty minor level actually when it comes to conversion rates. So make sure that you’ve got a great form, a great value proposition, and the array is actually relatively minor.

That being said, two things. One, one of the tests that you can try is an open field. No gift array. We’ve seen that work quite often, particularly for organizations that have a higher average gift. So if your average online gift is like $150 and up, that’s pretty high. Any suggested amount, you might actually be unintentionally anchoring people down. And if you have a lot of recruit donors, there may be smaller donor base that gives more frequently, just leave an open field. And they can often be more generous than you would even think. So that’s one test to do, if you fit that criteria, a high average gift or a lot of repeat donors.

But for new donors or acquisition or lower level, a few things. We found about 70% of organizations use four or five gift arrays. I don’t have any personal experiment data to say that that’s good or bad. But that seems to be most common. So that’s kind of a safe spot. We often default to three kind of limiting choice. An opt-in helps you create conversions. So I’d say anywhere from like three to five. Once you get above five, it can be kind of too overwhelming. And then the one thing that we have seen is about a quarter of organizations use like a suggested amount that’s either like pre-selected or highlighted. That can work. The key thing is make sure you’re suggesting and highlighting a gift amount that’s higher than your average gift.

So in that experiment that I showed at the beginning, $50 is actually higher than their average gift. Their average gift is about $30. So unintentionally, sometimes organizations will highlight $50 and then will do analysis and be like, “The average person gives you $85.” So you’ve basically suggesting everyone to give you less than they normally would on average. That’s not smart. So if you’re going to use a suggested amount, try to make sure that it’s higher than your online average gift.

Steven: It makes sense. Wow. That would really be an hour-long session or more. Love it. Here’s one from Heather. And I’ll kind of paraphrase. Brady, you gave a lot of good advice on the email appeals. Any general guidance on the length? Is shorter always better? Can long emails be just as effective, if not more effective, than shorter emails? Do you see anything around length there specifically?

Brady: Yeah. So length is similar to kind of volume. A really long crappy emails sucks. But a really long great email is great. So quality is a huge determining factor. So that’s a big caveat. Generally speaking, longer emails outperform shorter emails for fundraising. Again, the main thing that we need to communicate is why should someone care about you? Why should someone care, why should they care about you, and why should they give today? And we normally need a little bit more time to communicate that to donors. In our own minds, we’re like, “Yeah. We’re the best. Why wouldn’t you want to give to us?” But donors are getting bombarded with all kinds of stuff. They’ve got kids and they’re busy. So they actually need more reason.

So short emails will often get more clicks but less donations. Long emails will often get fewer clicks but more donations. And your goal for a fundraising email is donations. Where that changes a bit is later emails. So like December 31st emails or emails at the end of a campaign, those are typically a lot shorter. By that point, you’ve kind of made the case. You’ve primed people. They know why it’s giving. You don’t need some long exposition really about why their donation is needed. Hopefully, you’ve done that groundwork. And it’s really like, “Hey, time’s ticking out. Your $50 is needed today to do X, Y, and Z. Please give today.” Like you can be a lot shorter at the end of the campaign. But generally speaking, we also need to kind of lengthen our emails, as well.

Steven: That makes sense. So it can kind of a trail off towards the end of the [campaign 00:58:12]. That makes sense.

Brady: Correct. Yeah.

Steven: Man, we’re almost out of time. I’ll put you on the spot for a final question though, Brady. The chart we shared from Giving Tuesday to New Year’s Eve, do you expect that spike to continue, even though the tax incentive isn’t really much of a thing now at the end of the year? Or do you think that December 31st and that last week will continue to be the big week in the years to come, or do you think Giving Tuesday will overtake it maybe?

Brady: Nope. I expect that trend to continue. It might be slightly smaller. I think Giving Tuesday will continue to grow. And December 31st might take a hit a little bit. The reality is only about a third of Americans were even able to itemize tax deductions before the new tax policy.

Steven: Right.

Brady: And so not that many people are actually that impacted by the new policy, particularly online smaller donors that have never been impacted. That’s just so interesting because people will say it’s kind of important or, you know, a factor for giving. And actually when you do more research and studies like no one actually really cares that much.

Steven: Yeah, I bet.

Brady: So there is a little chicken-egg with like year-end and you send all these emails and urgency in tax, even though it’s not really that important. But I would say tax has never been super, super, super important anyways. So I don’t see that changing too, too much. There’s other factors that go into December like gratitude. People are with family. They’ve experienced a bunch of gifts. Maybe they feel guilty. There are some reasons for a tax write-off. We also think in linear ways like end the year, start of the year. So there’s a bunch of other things not related to tax that I still think make December 31st a really strong giving day.

Steven: Don’t sleep on it, like you said. That was my main takeaway from this. There were a lot. And don’t sleep on that last week. Giving Tuesday is okay. But you all saw that spike in that chart. So stay busy that last week. I love it. Well, it’s 3 o’clock.

Brady: Just another thing too.

Steven: Go for it.

Brady: Like if someone’s on the phone, is your website ready to handle more donations through your customer service? It’s kind of an unfortunate thing that it’s such a big giving day that’s kind of a holiday. It’s after Christmas. I used to work in a nonprofit where we had that week off. It’s kind of tricky. But it’s such an important time. You’ve got to make sure that your systems, both online and offline, are really set up and ready to go on that day.

Steven: That’s hard. Maybe the vacation week should be January 2nd, not, you know, December 23rd. I don’t know. That’s an interesting point. All leave that you all for to decide for yourself to help you work. Wow. This was awesome, Brady. Thanks so much for being here and sharing all the work you do.

Brady: Sure.

Steven: I mean, you do all this work. And then you just kind of give it away for free. So thank you. This is awesome. I hope everyone else listening enjoyed it. And I know we didn’t get to all the questions. But you’ve got Brady’s contact info there. Hit him up on Twitter. He’s always tweeting. I see that every day. He’ll answer your questions. So don’t feel free or don’t feel bad about reaching out. Check out Check out NIO, his conference coming up. I always hear really good things about that. I need to get out there. Brady’s been inviting me. And I’ve been slacking. So maybe this is the year I do it. Yeah, check it out. Got Adrian Sergeant, you have some serious speakers there. We were talking about the speakers you’re having. They’re really cool there. So go to it. And if you’re in Denver, that’s a no-brainer. You can go right over there. Well, cool. We’ll send you guys the recording and the slides. Just looking for an email from me later on today. We’ll get all that good stuff in your hands.

And, hopefully, we see you on another webinar. We’re going to do these every Thursday. Like I said, we keep this train rolling. We’ve got an interesting one coming up in two weeks from our buddy, Linda Lysakowski, “Three Simple Steps to Advance Your Fundraising Career.” So if you are maybe struggling with upward mobility or maybe earning potential, earnings growth in your nonprofit career, check this one out. It’s going to be a good session. Linda is awesome. She’s been doing this a long time, a wealth of knowledge. So hopefully you will join us.

There’s other webinars on our calendar. We’re scheduled out until next February already. I can’t believe it. We’re talking about year-end. So why not? So I’m hoping we’ll see you again on another session. But look for an email from me with all the goodies from today. So we’ll call it a day there. Have a good rest of your Thursday. Have a good weekend. Stay safe. Stay cool out there. And we’ll talk to you again soon. Bye now.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.