Best Practice is Test Practice

Let me set the scene: You’ve just attended a conference and your head is buzzing with new ideas. But there’s one in particular that you have to try! You know your organization’s donors will love it and really respond to it. So you go to your decision-maker and put the idea in front of her. She immediately shuts it down. “Our donors won’t respond to that!”, she says. You, deflated, go back to doing the same old, same old.

Here’s another scene: You just got an email from your favourite charity (but not the one you work at). It has a lot of copy, yet you’re captivated the whole time you read it. You get to the end and can’t help but make a gift. But there was so much copy! That’s not best practice! And yet… you gave. So you start thinking about the charity where you work. You only write short copy emails there; it’s “best practice”, after all. You consider making your next email a bit longer, but the digital experts in your office might say no. And what if it sacrifices revenue?

If you’re like most fundraisers, one or both of these situations is familiar to you. Revenue is precious, and if it’s coming in, then there’s not a revenue problem. If there’s no problem, there’s nothing to fix. If there’s nothing to fix, why try something new?! New ideas have no place in your charity.

But there is a problem! Status quo is a problem. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but at some point things will plateau if they haven’t already.

And chances are, the most senior people at your charity don’t want to see revenue go flat. They want to see it go up.

But how?

We use a quote from Albert Einstein a lot in our office to shake us out of status quo:

So how do you stop being insane? How do you challenge your known best practice without sacrificing (too much) revenue?

You test.

In my opinion, we don’t do nearly enough testing in fundraising. We’re so risk-averse – and understandably so. We don’t have money to just play around with, and for most charities it would be irresponsible to “play” with our money anyway.

But there’s so much to learn by trying new things!

Testing is the way. Testing is the way to convince your organization’s decision-maker to try something new. You go status quo with one group of donors – maybe send them the year-end package you always have. And then with another group of donors – send them the new package! Or the long-copy email you’ve been wanting to try!

6 Tips for Testing:

  1. Test ONE thing. To have a true test, you have to be able to identify the one thing that made one “package” more successful than the other.
  2. You don’t have to do a 50/50 test, you can do 75/25 or whatever you want! But – for the test to be conclusive, you want to have a minimum of 100 responses.
  3. Don’t just test for testing’s sake. If the element that you’re testing “wins”, the assumption is that you’ll roll out that element in future efforts, so it needs to have value.
  4. Digital testing is the same as testing through mail. You’re still testing one thing.
  5. You can test more than just creative/copy elements. You can also test data elements. What would happen if you mailed 50% of your inactive donors a totally different letter than other donors? Would they perform better? Or what if you tested your usual ask grid ($50 $100 $250) against something a bit more aggressive? Would that result in a higher average gift?
  6. Sometimes – even without testing it – it’s time for your longstanding control package to go. (Note: Your “control” is the package that keeps on winning against test packages.) Just because it’s “winning” doesn’t mean it should still go out in the mail. Sometimes it’s time for something new, with or without testing.

(Shout-outs to my awesome colleagues Laura & Sara for sharing their best testing tips!)

Good luck, and happy testing!

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Written by Maeve Strathy

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for ten years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
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Guest Post: How Fundraising has Changed in the Last 10 Years

One part of What Gives Philanthropy‘s mission statement says that the blog “intends to discuss and explore… topics from all angles and points of view, inviting guest bloggers to write and share their ideas”.  My hope has always been that people from all over the industry and all over the world will contribute to this blog, and today’s guest blogger Alison Richmond has helped me get the ball rolling on that.  Here is something relevant to our peers in the United Kingdom and in Europe as a whole.  Thanks, Alison!

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An economic recession or a financial crisis is usually tagged with the ability to decimate charitable collections from philanthropic organisations and individuals. However, as per an article published in the Third Sector UK, most of the charities within the European Union, close to 75 percent, have been able to increase or maintain their voluntary streams of income even during the ongoing Eurozone crisis.

Economic changes in the international markets impact every aspect of financial transactions, business-related, or otherwise. Similarly, fundraising has also evolved considerably over the last decade or so, especially with the dramatic changes in the global market scene, technological advancement and other global changes. In the paragraphs that follow, let us take a quick look at some of the recent trends in the fundraising system in Europe:


Going Beyond Borders

Fundraising is an important way of keeping a crisis situation under check, be it a local disaster or even a global problem. The last decade has witnessed some terrifying tsunamis, hurricanes and other natural and man-made catastrophes. While state-run disaster-management squads have a big role to play in relief, fundraising is an extremely important mode of giving aid and providing relief during a tragedy. One important trend that the fundraising system in Europe has witnessed over the last decade or so is the tendency of cross-border giving. Charitable donations are mobilised beyond their local area to more large-scale and international issues.
The Impact of Social Media and Technology

No one can deny the role of information technology and how it has transformed through leaps and bounds, especially over the last decade. Mobile phones are ubiquitous and almost everyone is on social networking media. The importance of such technological platforms is that they have become a fundamental part of communication. They have become so integral to everyday life that they have consequently also become excellent modes of campaigning and raising funds for specific causes. They have a great deal of international exposure, and are a guaranteed way of spreading the message far and wide. Websites, blogs, email forwards, social networking, news channels and so on are fantastic platforms for fundraising campaigns.
Entry of Private-Owned Firms into the World of Fundraising

Fundraising has taken on a corporate outlook, with the entry of several private corporations into the world of fundraising. One of the outcomes of this foray is that fundraising has become more professionalised and more efficient. The access to technology is one step that has been enhanced. In addition, fundraising itself gains more legitimacy when it is backed by a corporate tag, since more people see the validation in an agency that is collecting funds, rather than in small organisations or individuals doing the same.
Online Transactions

Online transactions are not just limited to credit card payments anymore. Fundraising has gone online and internet-based charitable contributions is one of the most significant channels through which donations and voluntary contributions are made today. These methods are not just instant and effective, but they are also hassle-free.

 

Written by Alison Richmond

alisonrichmondAlison has worked in the fundraising industry for several years and enjoys helping to develop different fundraising methods for schools.  It’s important that fundraisers don’t lose hope during these difficult economic times and strive for innovation!  She currently works for easyfundraising.  You can contact Alison at a.richmond@easyfundraising.org.uk.

End-of-Year Giving

My years so far in fundraising have taught me so much, and one thing they’ve taught me is that we use parts of the year as anchors for good solicitations.  Certain times of the year are better for fundraising than others; the summer, for instance, is a bit of a wash!  Fall and spring seem to be the best time of the year for direct mail appeals.  And then there’s December…

I thought this would be a timely discussion right now: end-of-year incentives to give.  The end of the calendar year seems to be a great anchor for good fundraising.  The question is: what’s your angle???

I sit on the alumni association at my alma mater and had the chance to proofread an end-of-year email blast for the Annual Giving office there.  Their angle was to encourage alumni to give NOW so that they can be receipted for this tax year.  Many donors plan their giving around tax-related things, so this is a worthwhile angle to use; this could really compel some people to give now rather than later.

Then, of course, I also work in an educational institution myself, where we sent out Christmas cards to our alumni encouraging giving with more of a “’tis the season” angle.

Both are meaningful angles; one is more practical than the other, perhaps, but they both strike some kind of chord and hopefully spur action.  Could you say that using the tax year as the incentive is kind of dry?  Well, you could… but you could also say that sending out Christmas cards is risky to those that don’t celebrate Christmas…

At the end of the day you have to make a thoughtful decision on how to make an ask in December, but I think we can all agree that with the spirit of giving in the air, it’s a good time to make the ask.

 

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And with that, dear readers, I am done posting for 2012.  It’s been a great year at What Gives Philanthropy, with engaging content, new guest blogger friends, and lots of interaction on the site, Twitter, and offline.  I hope you have a very enjoyable holiday season, and you’ll hear from me on Friday, January 4, 2013.  All the best!!!

 

Written by Maeve Strathy

livestrong
Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in educational fundraising for the past 6 years.  Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
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Enter email subject here

I’ve never been one to let a blog fall by the wayside, and What Gives??? will be no exception. That being said, I prefer quality over quantity; if I can’t find anything meaningful to blog about, then I’ll wait until I do. That’s why I’ve let a little time pass since my last entry. I’ve been pondering and pondering, but didn’t come up with a meaningful topic until now.

I just received an email from Canadian Philanthropy & Fundraising (formerly Hilborn, I believe) in which the subject line was “Enter email subject here”. It seemed a funny subject, but then I thought, “Silly me! It must be about email subject lines and what is and isn’t effective.”

…it turns out that the email wasn’t about that at all. It must’ve been a slip-up, but either way it inspired me and helped me to conceive of What Gives???’s next topic (you guessed it!):

Email Subject Lines.

We’re all bombarded non-stop, all-day with emails. Emails from friends, family, co-workers, companies, groupons, airlines, etc. These emails are personal, commercial, and work-related. If I had to reply to every single email that I got at either of my email addresses (1 work, 1 personal), I wouldn’t have enough hours in the day. We have to prioritize: is this urgent? Who’s this from? What does the subject line say???

If a subject line says “urgent”, I’m more likely to open it faster. If I know who it’s from and they’re important to me, I’m more likely to open it faster. If the sender is not important to me and the subject suggests it isn’t urgent, then what other factors would get me to open it?

An exciting subject line.

But that brings me to my main question: What makes an email subject exciting??? How do we “lift our message above the torrent” in order to break through the inbox? Is it customization? If our subject is specific to the person receiving the email, are they more likely to open it? And sooner?

“Mike — you’re going to want to be at this event!”
Will that do it?

Is it conciseness? Is short & sweet the key? On top of that, does excitement come from hyperbole or flashiness?

“The Best Event of the Year!”
Is that the trick?

The truth is, I don’t know the answer. My personal strategy is usually clarity over anything else; I want to know that the person receiving the email knows what it’s about before they even open it. But I’m no subject guru; I try different approaches with different emails, but haven’t really come to find something that always works.

In fundraising/alumni relations, we send out a lot of emails – solicitations, invitations, newsletters, alumni news… the list goes on. Can we get someone to make a gift with a flashy subject line? I think we can, I just don’t yet know how.

What do you think??? Share your tips & tricks when it comes to email subject lines by commenting below.

 

Written by Maeve Strathy

livestrong
Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in educational fundraising for the past 6 years.  Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Email