This Fundraising Test Is Not Transferable
"You can't let other people get your kicks for you."
— Bob Dylan
One of the many useful takeaways from last week's Bridge Conference is that careful, targeted testing is absolutely vital to a robust fundraising program.
Another is that you can't let other people do your tests for you.
I went to a couple of sessions that featured tests organizations and their agencies had conducted in the mail and online. Both were full of very cool ideas. But both also served as reminders that what's good for Goose.org isn't necessarily good for Gander.org.
For example, in one instance, a group tried to improve on what has become the traditional layout for emails: headline, photo to the right of the screen with a donate button under it, body copy on the left that wraps around the photo, etc.
Against it, this group tested a more dramatic design in which the graphic took up the entire top section of the email. The right portion was a large photo of a face making direct eye contact with the reader. The headline to its left was reversed out of the richly colored background, and the body copy was beneath the graphic. As a kicker, the entire graphic — not just a button or phrase — was a link to the donation page.
It looked slick and professional — more like a well-designed print ad than a nonprofit email — and it handily beat the more traditional-looking design.
In another session later the same day, another organization and another agency tried exactly the same test: traditional layout vs. big, bold top graphic (they didn't mention whether or not the whole image linked to the donation page).
Guess what? In this case, the big design got trounced by the traditional one. In each case, the presenters had good rationales about the results. The first thought the bolder art got attention and had more emotional impact. The second theorized that the test design was too slick and commercial-looking for nonprofit donors.
They used the same logic to draw (or support) opposite conclusions.
The point is that you can certainly learn, and glean some great ideas, from what your colleagues are trying, but you can't assume that what worked for them will work for you.
Your organization, its brand and its message are unique. That's something to be treasured. But it also means that there are rarely any simple, cookie-cutter solutions to improving results. Pick up great ideas wherever you can, but at the end of the day, everything you say and do must be true to who you are.
Willis Turner believes great writing has the power to change minds, save lives, and make people want to dance and sing. Willis is the creative director at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He worked as a lead writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 15 years before making the switch to fundraising 20 years ago. In his work with nonprofit organizations and associations, he has written thousands of appeals, renewals and acquisition communications for every medium. He creates direct-response campaigns, and collateral communications materials that get attention, tell powerful stories and persuade people to take action or make a donation.