Two months, 17 fundraising strategy clients, 252
BSD Tools customers, 653,216 donors, 993,277
donations, $51,764,462 dollars.
You know it’s November when your steady stream of revenue suddenly
becomes a raging river, and 2014 was the raging-est it’s ever been.
Then why do we feel a slight sting?
Because we had to jettison quite a few of our best practices. Test everything,
be attached to nothing!
A better way to look at it: This past year proved more than ever that you can
always be building a smarter program and get better at delivering what your
donors want so that they respond in kind. But it requires a year-round
effort, and based on our learnings in 2014, we suggest you get started with
these eight insights. (And we suggest you get started today!)
!2BLUE STATE DIGITAL
For BSD Strategy
Clients 2014 vs. 2013:!
in average gift
3. 1Court your donors
How do you convert that signup into a donor who
will never leave your side?
You are wooing thousands of people at once. Some are just getting to know
you, some are ready for you to put a ring on it. You should know who you’re
talking to and at what stage in the relationship.
A supporter will pay attention when it matters most if you’re
sending relevant content and appropriate “asks” based on who
they are. Tailor your content to reflect where supporters are along
your ladder of engagement, and reward them for their participation.
Based on the supporter’s source or first action, is there a particular issue or
approach that will resonate? Is a donor’s lifetime value or highest previous
contribution a better indicator of a future gift amount? Smart segmentation
and personalization are key to optimizing a donor’s experience and building
strong relationships throughout the year.
Let’s get technical for a second. None of us have time for hand-written notes
or messy datasets. So how do you personalize your messages? As email
technology improves and your donor base becomes more accustomed to a
more curated experience, we recommend leveraging the advanced
capabilities of your email toolset to *automatically* optimize messages for
your supporters. For example, we use the BSD Tools’ contribution history
“tags” to insert conditional content in a mass email. We can automatically
include, or refer to the following values, in personalized emails:
• A full supporter record containing the amounts and dates of all of the
• Custom ask strings based on a donor’s full contribution history (amounts
• The date and amount of the supporter’s most recent contribution, and the
number of days that have elapsed since then
Not only does this allow for more effective fundraising asks, it also makes
the entire process of sending highly-targeted and personalized emails much
more efficient for our analytics and communications teams, particularly
during year-end madness. Investigate which automatic personalization tools
you have at your disposal through your CRM, or learn more about the
BSD Tools’ capabilities here.
Now that you’re committed to personalizing and micro-targeting, how can
you be sure you’re sending the right thing? It’s essential to collect and
analyze data on the key metrics that matter most to your organization.
Design and implement A/B tests throughout the year to identify the best
messaging, email format, sender names, subject lines, images, landing
pages, and more. You’ll discover exactly which asks are working among
specific segments, and you’ll be able to adapt, iterate, and improve the
quality of your asks year-round.
While a sophisticated segmentation strategy is key, some of our findings were
universal (with exceptions, of course): the best emails are brief; they’re written
in colloquial language that doesn’t rely on jargon or cliches; they’re sent
from real people with a defined voice. When it comes to the “ask,” an email
should drive action over disseminating information; convey urgency and/or
a deadline; and include only one, clear ask (which can and should be repeated
over a series of emails if there’s a matching gift or other campaign theme).
!3BLUE STATE DIGITAL
4. 2 IMAGE ADAPTED FROM ELVIS KENNEDY ON FLICKR
Double down on a good thing
We all know that some emails will outperform
others. The key is to quickly determine which emails
are the “over” performers and keep them at the
top of everyone’s inbox, while also identifying the
“under” performers and learn from them. Quickly.
We’re strong believers in what we call the over/under approach.
For one of our largest nonprofit clients, we analyzed all historical
fundraising data, and determined revenue benchmarks for each year-end
milestone. This allowed us to identify when we had an over-performing
email and apply a set of rules to that email. If the email over-performed by:
• 15% - we resent the email to non-openers 26 hours after the initial email
• 20% - we sent a follow-up email or “kicker” that afternoon
• 25% - we would do both a kicker that afternoon and a resend the next day
To be frank, the over/under approach will take some extra effort. You can
expect your analysts to monitor numbers even more frequently than usual.
You need to have “kickers” ready to send at a moment’s notice. And the
approval process needs to be rapid. You also need to consider: Will the over-
performing email take the place of an email that may have been scheduled
for that afternoon or the next day?
The strategy paid off: The sends associated with the over/under
rules accounted for 2,849 contributions and 10.9% of all year-
end revenue for this client—a significant boost.
The “over/under rules” above may not be the best fit for your organization,
but the key insight is to watch email performance, react quickly, and make the
most of your high-performing messages. Be flexible in your email calendaring.
!4BLUE STATE DIGITAL
5. 3Turn on the “off” days
Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday continue to be
key fundraising moments, in some cases beating
December 31st for revenue generation. In fact,
13.7% of our clients’ total year-end fundraising
came from these two days in 2014, and 17.2% was
donated on December 31st before the tax deadline.
But you need the revenue to come in all year long, am I right? The rest of
your calendar year should include exciting and relevant milestones that are
brought to life through creative campaigns. As you’re planning your
communications for the year, always ask yourself, “Why will the donor care?”
That question may lead you to a simple personalization of an email that
mentions a past activity they engaged in. Find ways to include
compelling reminders of why people signed up and showed
interest in the first place, and then build it into a giving day that
leverages their affiliation.
Also take advantage of other giving days, regional and global. Some
organizations collaborate on one specific day of giving around their issue or
location. Organizations in areas like North Texas, Pittsburgh, Austin,
Miami, and Baltimore have formed regional giving days, raising millions of
dollars by spreading awareness and building more local affinity. On a global
scale, think about moments like World Hunger Day or International
Women’s Day, where you can leverage increased media coverage and search
traffic to inspire people to give.
!5BLUE STATE DIGITAL
6. 4Let the shoppers shop
After some time working with Heifer International
and the US Olympic Committee, we confirmed
that their audiences very much view their gifts
through the lens of a purchase in addition to a
traditional donation, especially during the holiday
It’s important to adapt your language, approach, and landing page
accordingly. Even traditional nonprofits can take notes during a favorite e-
commerce experience and bring that sense of convenience and satisfaction
to their donors, while also emphasizing the real impact of their gift.
Attaching dollar amounts to specific services or results—essentially a catalog—
can provide donors with a sense of how their money could tangibly be spent
and the impact their donation can have. In one of its emails, the Navy-
Marine Corps Relief Society used tangible dollar handles, such as $25
providing gas for a military spouse to travel to a job interview. The result:
this email outperformed all others.
Merchandise can play an important role in increasing donation
response rate. Clearwater Marine Aquarium offered a free calendar for a
gift of $15 or more, and it turned out to be their most successful year-end
fundraising ask (beating Giving Tuesday and December 31st). That said, with
another client, a similar type of gift resulted in a drop of average donation,
so be sure to test the effectiveness and know your audience. Give incentives
a try with your list in 2015 and see what works, but don’t rely on them too
heavily—you want to cultivate long-term loyalty, not impulse buyers.
!6BLUE STATE DIGITAL
7. 5Get competitive
If you’re anything like us, you thrive on some
friendly competition (we’re professional
fundraisers, after all). We relentlessly track every
click, action, and dollar raised. We have office-
wide competitions to predict how certain
campaigns will perform. And while all this helps
channel our Type-A personalities, there are also
real lessons to be applied by injecting the
competitive spirit into your team—and among
During the 2014 year-end fundraising season, we decided to step outside
our standard operating procedure and put our competitive spirit to work for
our partner Heifer International. Fittingly named “The Hunger Games,
Heifer Style,” we launched an internal challenge whereby we selected our
top writers (including our CEO), provided them with detailed learnings
specific to this program, and asked them to draft their own version of
fundraising emails for the major giving days.
We then tested these drafts against one another with a segment of donors who
had given in the past year in the amount of one full goat (yes, a goat) or less.
Once we had statistically significant results, the winning variation was sent to
the full list. Not only did this ensure that we sent the email that drove the most
revenue and resonated the best with Heifer supporters, but it provided for some
pretty good office rivalries. And overall, Heifer had an 80% increase in
revenue this Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday compared to 2013.
While challenging your team can be inspiring and result in identifying the
best of the best, you can also adapt this idea to motivate your supporters to
get in on the action. Create a time-sensitive, public-fundraising
challenge that is focused on activating your donors and and their
network. You’ll want to establish goals (overall and for each individual); set a
specific timeframe (ideally something manageable like a month or two);
choose a platform that willenableyoutoofferapersonalized,branded
experience;andcreateachallenge kit that will help supporters run their own
personal fundraising campaigns.
!7BLUE STATE DIGITAL
8. 6Be mobile conscious (and ready)
Our strategy clients focused on ensuring that the
donation journey from beginning to end is
optimized for mobile, and it paid off. Literally.
Mobile revenue accounted for 12.3% of EOY
fundraising, an increase of 16% compared to 2013.
If your emails and donation forms are not
optimized for mobile visitors, you are leaving
money on the table.
First, have you checked what your emails and donation forms look like on
mobile? Are they responsive? This is a first, and essential, place to start.
From there, start to audit and analyze what the donor journey is; can they
share easily or take the subsequent action in the “daisy chain” as easily on a
tablet or phone?
Mobile is quickly becoming a non-negotiable for your digital
channels and interactions with donors. Make it a key goal for 2015 to
ensure that you’re optimized across all platforms.
!8BLUE STATE DIGITAL
9. 7Surprise and delight your supporters
Every relationship needs some surprise and
delight to keep the magic alive. While we eat,
breathe, and live fundraising—especially in the
last few months of the year—it’s only fair that you
also give your list a break from the hard asks.
For Partners in Health, we developed a long-scroll graphic that featured
Paul Farmer, the founder, with an inspirational quote about why their work
matters. It was far from your standard appeal, but it raised $68,780, an
increase of 24.5% compared to the average email during EOY.
Give your list some love—they deserve it—especially in the midst
of consistent hard asks. While it may not generate immediate revenue
results, it’ll provide solid engagement opportunities as well as an important
reminder of why your supporters care about your cause and organization in
the first place.
!9BLUE STATE DIGITAL
10. 8You can’t thank them enough
This isn’t anything new or groundbreaking, but it’s
important and sometimes overlooked, so we had
to include it: Say thank you. Keep the message
simple and eliminate the donation ask all
together. Make it about the impact your
supporters are making.
Your supporters want to see themselves as part of your success.
Share your stories—through blog content, videos, and images—to
show progress and make them feel their impact. Don’t overwhelm
your supporters if you don’t have anything to share, but make a point to
collect the data and stories and spread them out over the year—trust us,
they’ll want to know what impact you’re collectively making together. This
helps to keep your supporters connected after they give, and can even
inspire repeat giving throughout the year.
Don’t limit these types of stories and thank you’s to email because your
supporters are actively following you on your social media channels and
want to be reminded of their affiliation. Different types of content perform
better on specific channels, so make sure to align (and analyze) what works
best for your audiences. Facebook is a great channel for videos, Instagram is
the place for images, and Twitter is key for sharing bite-sized pieces of larger
stories that live on your website or blog.
!10BLUE STATE DIGITAL
11. In conclusion!
Your donors deserve the best treatment from you,
and through relentless testing, analysis, creative
brainstorming, and care of the list, you’ll be able
to respond quickly and brilliantly to their needs
Testing is listening through numbers; while you
may have a gut sense of what will work for your
supporter base, the data will show what your
audience really wants to hear (and yes, your ego
may be bruised by the process).
Take a look at our Anatomy Of a Winning Email
and Donation Form recommendations for
insights on what you should be testing and where
you can optimize your program even further.
!11BLUE STATE DIGITAL
We’re Blue State Digital.
And we’re here to help
you do great things.!
We believe that when people come together around
their shared passions, they can do nearly anything.
Spark a movement. Raise millions of dollars. Rally
an army of advocates. Reinvent an organization.
Even transform a marketplace.
Looking to build a donor-centric fundraising
strategy in 2015? We’re here to help.
Did you find the report helpful? Spread the
word and share the report with your network:
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12. 2014 Year-End Results
Let’s end with some more numbers, shall we? 2014 was a banner year for BSD’s strategy clients and
BSD Tools customers, with more money raised from more donors than years past. Here’s an overview of
performance of BSD Tools clients who processed donations from November 1 - December 31, 2014:
252 nonprofit BSD Tools clients!
an increase of 14.7% for clients who were also on !
the BSD Tools in 2013!
an increase of 30% from 2013!
653,216 unique client donors!
an increase of 9.9% from 2013!
Average gift declined by 11.9% !
9.9% more donors !
14.7% more money raised !
192,805 constituents signed up !
between 12/1/2014 and 12/31/2014; these constituents
contributed $15,066,240 with an average gift of $63, an
increase of 21.2% compared to the overall 2014 average!
14% average email open rate!
1.12% average email click rate!
12.3% of revenue came from mobile!
for BSD strategy clients, an increase of 16.0% compared