Case Study: Building a Donor Base Through E-mail, Part 1
[Editor's note: This is part 1 of a two-part series.]
In the fall of 2010, the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview — a ministry of BreakPoint, the worldview ministry associated with Prison Fellowship Ministries — created its own entity and was looking to build a brand-new donor base.
So the organization, whose mission is to seek the transformation of believers as they apply biblical thinking to all of life, went to KMA, the branch of full-service fundraising agency Pursuant Group that handles Christian ministries and conservative advocacy groups, with a list of e-mail subscribers — but no actual donors — in hopes of cultivating a donor base.
"[The Colson Center] had an initial list of some e-mail names … and said, 'Here's what we have: we have a list, we have this new cool brand and this really exciting, strategic focus. What should we do?'" says Tim Kachuriak, senior vice president of innovation and optimization at Pursuant. "… We talked about a membership-based program. We said becoming a part of the Colson Center is in essence joining a movement, and if we think about how we want to communicate that, what actually has a greater sense of value — is it donating to something to support a cause, or is it becoming a member of something, becoming part of a larger movement of people who are focused on taking this Christian worldview and applying it to their lives?"
The Colson Center agreed on the membership route, and with KMA, a comprehensive e-mail program was designed to do three things:
- acquire new names for the organization;
- convert subscribers and ministry friends into donors and members; and
- inspire donors to give to multiple opportunities.
One thing KMA and Pursuant learned through past experiences with other clients is that short-form e-mail content that focuses on getting recipients to click in the e-mail and then get the full value proposition on the landing page typically seems to work best.
"For almost every single one of our clients where we tested that, we'd get such a larger amount of clicks coming through to the website that would lead to more members or donors once they came through the conversion funnel on the landing page," Kachuriak says.
So KMA tested that with the Colson Center, a short-form e-mail, against its control, a long-form e-mail that laid out the value proposition — why you should become a member — in the e-mail itself, then went to a landing page. The same message was communicated in both e-mails, but that the short-form one had more information on the landing page, while the long-form one had most of the information in the e-mail.
What KMA found was that the short-form e-mail, as expected, had a staggering 1,209 percent increase in the clickthrough rate than the long-form control. However, when KDM looked at the donation, there was a 3.5 percent decrease in donations with the short-form e-mail compared to the long-form e-mail.
"We got many more people to the website [with the short-form e-mail], literally thousands more people, but we were converting less than the long-form," Kachuriak says. "So we said, 'OK, we haven't met our required sample size to validate that results for the donations, so let's keep testing.'"
That's exactly what KMA did, running a similar experiment on the next e-mail blast. Again, the short-form e-mail had a significantly higher clickthrough rate, 117 percent greater than the long-form e-mail, but again, the donations were 30.7 percent less than the long-form e-mail.
"We validated the results, so what we found in this case, with this organization, with this file, the long-form worked better," Kachuriak says.
As a result, Kachuriak shares three keys KMA and the Colson Center took away from those tests:
- Best practices aren't enough. "Even though we had established this new best practice where we really focus on the click and get them to the landing page and then on the landing page we give them the strong representation of the value proposition and move them into the ask, that doesn't work for every organization. Each relationship with each donor is unique, just as each organization is unique," Kachuriak says.
- You must validate results for the correct metrics. "If we were just measuring clickthrough rates, which many organization do, [the Colson Center] would have missed out on a ton of donors and members and opportunities to have greater impact because of the dollars represented by those donors and members," Kachuriak says. "The key is you have to measure the right metrics, and you also have to validate those results to make sure you have a statistically significant result."
- The learning is more valuable than the lift. "What did we learn? The biggest thing we learned is that the messenger in many cases is more important than the message," Kachuriak says. "… If you look at the e-mail and the creative, the e-mail content itself is signed by [founder] Chuck Colson; the landing page is signed by nobody. … the more that Chuck says, the more weight it carries for people to take action, the more motivating it is, the more predisposed they are to actually complete whatever action Chuck tells them to take once they get to the landing page."
Check back next week for part 2 to learn about a monthly giving program that KMA and the Colson Center established, as well as results of the partnership.