4 Steps to Fundraising Testing

Advanced, Donor Communication, Fundraising

By Jeremy Reis

Make intelligent decisions about what to test and then get out of the way of the data. 

Too often, we do great testing and then let our opinion get in the way. If a test tells you something, learn from it. If you’re not sure, test again. 

But above all else, don’t test and then ignore the results because you don’t like the outcome. 

You aren’t your donor. You aren’t the target audience. It’s a mantra I repeat to myself often: you are not the donor. I’ll admit it: I’m guilty of letting my opinion hold too much value. Recently, I was testing an ad on Facebook and I really liked one photo over another. I tested both. The other photo won. My first instinct was to go with the photo I thought was better, but the audience was telling me they preferred the photo I didn’t particularly like. So, I went with the second photo and enjoyed 20% more lead conversions.

But how do you develop a good test for your fundraising? Follow these four steps:

1. Know Your Audience

First, know who the audience is for your test. Identify the segments you’ll be sending your fundraising appeal to and the channel you’ll be fundraising in. Once you’ve identified your segments, review the personas for that donor segment. (Don’t have a donor persona? Use this resource to create them.)

For example, you might identify these segments for your fundraising campaign:

  1. Active/lapsed donors who have given to an education fundraising campaign in the past 24 months
  2. Active donors who have given $50+ in the past 18 months
  3. Mid-level donors

For each of these segments, identify the appropriate personas. The persona is the demographic and psychographic profile of an individual that “looks like” your typical donor for that segment. You likely have several personas built for your nonprofit.

2. Set Your Goals

Define the goals for the fundraising campaign. If you enter a campaign not knowing what to expect, how will you pull the right levers to make it successful? For a direct mail campaign, you’ll have basic metrics to know whether or not it’s a profitable campaign (many nonprofits are happy at a 3:1 to 4:1 return on investment in direct mail). For other channels, such as email or search ads, your expected goals may vary based on past experience. Set a goal such as:

  1. Acquire 200 new donors.
  2. $45,000 in revenue.
  3. Acquire 125 new email leads.

3. Develop Your Test

There are a number of different things you can test in your fundraising campaign, such as:

  1. Email subject line
  2. Sender name
  3. Graphic design vs plain text
  4. Long vs short content
  5. Buttons vs text links
  6. Use of photos; type of photos
  7. Videos
  8. Outer envelope
  9. Double sided vs single sided letters
  10. Font size

Decide what you want to test based on your audience and the goals you want to achieve. 

4. Understand Your Metrics

You’ve defined your audience, goals, what you’re going to test, now you need to understand how you will measure the test and what metrics are important. For example, you may decide to test a graphical email vs an all-text email. The important metrics in this test will likely be:

  1. Click thru rate
  2. Conversion rate
  3. Total revenue
  4. Average revenue per donation
  5. Number of donations

One or more of these metrics may be the decision factor for the test, so you need to identify which metric(s) will determine the winner in the test. For example, total revenue may be the deciding metric in this test.

Keep testing, but when the data tells you something, get out of the way and let your supporters tell you what they like.



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