Testing in fundraising is not for the faint-hearted

It’s not fun being a fundraiser nowadays: depressing trends like declining responses, high-cost-acquisition in combination with through-the-roof-attrition, rock-bottom-retention and charity-bashing-media… pfff, mission impossible?!

Or, is there still a bright light in the fundraising sky? Sure there is, plenty!

We just have to continue to improve ourselves. Watch out that you are not being sucked into the motionless status quo. We will fight attrition, increase response numbers and retention rates, build pure and genuine supporter relationships by honest storytelling and true engagement and raise all the money we need to make this world a better place!

It’s probably not so simple either… and therefore, as fundraisers, we test.

We test, test, test and test again. We test the color of the envelope, we test the font, we test the stamp, the salutation, the underlining key copy messages, the pictures, the opening copy, the closing copy, the sender, the signature, the incentive, the color of the incentive, we test everything!

Some time ago, Julie Verhaar commented on one of my blog posts about the best ingredients for a successful fundraising program:

“As you asked, one thing that might be added is, test, test and test again. Never assume you know if something is going to work, so test and make it better. This is one of the great advantages of fundraising we can test so many exciting things and get a clear result. So pick the best and roll it out!”

I don’t know why I didn’t add testing in the first place, because Julie is right. So, to make up for it, I want to share a thought with you…

What I find striking, is that all of the above mentioned tests take about 1or 2 months before you have your results. It’s relatively easy if you know what you’re doing. But, can you think of a test that is taking place over a period of 1 year, or more? If set up well, they can have much more effect than the statistically significant 0.03% increase of your acquisition pack.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t do short term testing, because it can and will improve your results, but I’m thinking long term testing will have a much bigger impact.

Let’s face it, most short term testing aims at donor acquisition. While most of our issues could be solved if we know how we keep our donors. Testing in long term donor communication seems therefore much more interesting, but is not done on such a wide scale. Why not? Is it too difficult? Are there too many outside intrusions to set up a clean test? Or are we actually not looking further than our own horizon?

Think about it. What if you create two groups of newly recruited direct debit supporters. Group A gets the current supporter communication, which consists of, let’s say, 4 offline newsletters spread throughout the year and a monthly e-news update. Group B gets a totally different set of contact moments: 6 offline newsletters, 2 extra appeals for an extra donation, a weekly action e-mail in which they are asked to participate in some sort of petition or survey and they’ll receive a thank you call just before the annual December campaign. The point is: two completely different approaches.

It is indeed much more difficult to set up. Think about the statistically significant supporter numbers you need to execute such a test and the segments within that group, and the extra communication materials you have to create…  But that’s maybe not even the biggest trouble. It’s the strategic choices you make before. What do you want to improve and how will testing help you?

And yes, I know that the common understanding among fundraisers is that future supporter behavior is pre-dominantly determined when the supporter signs-up or donates for the first time. We all know that very young supporter profiles will most likely get supporters to cancel or lapse. That is probably (and hopefully) the reason why we focus on testing in acquisition so much.

But what if we can make an incredible impression in the first year? What if we can counter those attrition rates by also engaging our supporters? Take them on a journey that turns them into a life-time ambassador! To make that happen you need to be brave enough to test your supporter communication on a larger and long-term scale.

Again, I’m not saying short and long term testing are mutually exclusive! I’d do them both. And I’d still go after the same profile or your most successful supporters.

But don’t just try to recruit those supporters, also retain them.

What do you think?

Related Articles


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *