Mal Warwick | Donordigital Announces Leadership Transition: Mwosi Swenson named CEO

Mwosi Swenson, President and CEO

Mwosi Swenson, President and CEO

Washington, DC and Berkeley, CA — September 21, 2015

Mal Warwick | Donordigital, a leader in integrated fundraising, advocacy, and marketing for the nonprofit sector, announced today the appointment of Mwosi Swenson as President and CEO.

After over a decade of leadership, current President and CEO Dan Doyle leaves the agency in the strongest position it has ever been. He will provide ongoing transition counsel through the end of the year.

Mwosi, most recently Senior Vice President of Mal Warwick | Donordigital, began at the agency 21 years ago. In her long career with the company, she has rapidly moved up the ladder, meeting every new challenge with great skill. Mwosi has provided expert fundraising strategy and oversight for some of the nation’s most respected environmental, advocacy, and political organizations. A decade ago she launched the agency’s digital fundraising division and in 2008 took the helm of Donordigital, the online fundraising firm acquired to support the agency’s move into integrated fundraising. Under her leadership, the agency now provides premier integrated fundraising services for the majority of our clients. Mwosi is widely recognized for her leadership in integrated fundraising and her strategic thinking, and is often called upon to speak at industry conferences.

Dan Doyle noted, “I have every confidence Mwosi will build on all that we have accomplished together. My years with the agency have been incredibly exciting, and now that our Board of Directors is willing to make the transition to new leadership, I am in a great position to leave. I’m proud of our many achievements, and Mwosi and the agency are perfectly poised to rise to even greater heights.”

Founder and Board Chair Mal Warwick added, “This is an exciting time for our agency. Dan has done a brilliant job introducing professional management procedures, building the best fundraising team in the industry, leading our merger with Donordigital, expanding the business to Washington, DC, and attracting more and bigger clients, including some of the most notable organizations in the nonprofit world. For some time now Dan has been assigning key responsibility to other members of the team so that this transition can take place smoothly. He leaves the company in the most capable hands with Mwosi.”

For more information contact:

Mwosi Swenson, President and CEO, 510-225-0403 or

Growing your sustainer program

Mal Warwick | Donordigital Senior Account Executive Wendy Marinaccio Husman joined forces with Jeanne Horne of Share Our Strength, to present a dynamic session on “Growing Your Sustainer Program” at Blackbaud’s BBCON 2015 in Austin in October.

The session covered numerous facets of growing a sustainer program with a discussion of strategies for retention, stewardship, and upgrades. Wendy and Jeanne outlined No Kid Hungry’s multichannel promotion of monthly giving, with efforts spanning email, online advertising, social, direct mail, and telemarketing. They provided exclusive examples for how to improve retention, create a communications calendar for monthly donors, and more.

Here are the presentation slides:

Google Adwords Tricks of the Trade – Part I

With year-end fundraising officially over I thought I would share some insights from the various Google Adwords campaigns I manage for my non-profit clients.

There a few things you should know upfront. First, the campaigns were run on Google’s paid advertising platform — not Google Grants.

Also, my tips are based both on my experiences and calls placed to Google Adwords. Many people don’t know this but you can call Google directly at 866-246-6457 and they will answer any questions you have with hardly any wait time.

In part one I explain things to be aware of during the set-up process in order to get optimal results. So let’s get started.

Ad Rotation
Under the advanced settings heading, make sure you choose optimize for clicks. Optimize for conversions (the second option) sounds tempting but it is only effective once your ads have been running for a while and Adwords has some historical data to work (around 15 conversions). If you choose the second option it can make your ads less competitive.


Ad scheduling
Ad scheduling allows you to specify what times of the day you prefer your ads to be seen. If you have a phone number listed in your ad for example, it probably makes sense to show that ad only during business hours. You can find this under the Ad Scheduling tab under Setup.

You can also set bid adjustments for different time blocks. Let’s say the ad in your campaign may be appropriate to show any time of day, but you suspect that people are more likely to donate at lunch time. You could increase your default bid amount by 15 percent from Noon to 2:00 which will make it more competitive. A bid of $1.00 would then increase to $1.15.


Location Preference
If you reviewed your Google Analytics account you may notice that people from certain countries are donating in greater numbers than others. You can use location preferences to target all the countries you are interested in targeting and then bid adjustments to increase your bid for those countries where people are donating from the most. The location preference can be found under the location tab under settings.


Device Preference
There’s a lot of discussion about mobile optimized websites these days. This is absolutely true but the jury is still out as to whether people are actually making donations from their mobile devices. A current client of mine received only six percent of its donations from mobile devices in December for example. Once again using bid adjustments you might want to reduce your ad expenditure on mobile devices as seen below. Of course if you were running a mobile only ad this wouldn’t make any sense but for a standard ad it probably does.


Hopefully these set-up tips will help maximize your Adwords success. In part two I’ll delve in deeper and explain the ins and outs of managing display ads, including targeting audiences and making adjustments as your data starts coming in.

photo-thumb-brett-2Brett Gerstein is Donordigital’s Director of Search Marketing. Brett works with Donordigital clients to optimize their web initiatives through search engine optimization and online paid advertising. He has over twelve years of experience providing online marketing advice to NGOs, Members of Congress, and for-profits.

Donordigital Heads to #15NTC

ntc-logo-1Many of our staff will be traveling to Austin on March 4-6, for this year’s Nonprofit Technology Conference which is organized each year by NTEN, the Nonprofit Technology Network. With over 100 sessions about the latest trends in nonprofit technology, we’re excited to dive into this annual festival of educational experiences, networking, and the legendary parties.

Several of our staff will be participation in breakout sessions:

Wednesday, March 4 at 10:30 am
Play it again, Sam: Monthly Giving Programs for Sustaining Donations ‘As Time Goes By’
Wendy Marinaccio Husman, Senior Account Executive, Donordigital
will be presenting with Jeanne Horne, Senior Manager, Digital Communications, Share Our Strength.
This is a must-attend session to gather ideas for growing your monthly giving program as well as strategies for retention, stewardship, and upgrades once your sustainer file is built.

Friday, March 6 at 10:30 am
What Has Your Donation Page Done for You Lately? Testing, Optimization & Best Practices
With Mwosi Swenson, Vice President, Donordigital
We’ll do a review of the tools, technology and methodology needed for effective testing and then dive into best practices and real testing results – things you’d expect, things that you need to know, and things that surprised us all!

bar96-logoThursday Night Progressive Party: Party Like It’s 1996
And speaking of parties, we’ll be hosting one of the Thursday night Progressive Parties and you’re invited to join us to “Party Like It’s 1996”. In 1996, we literally wrote the book on online fundraising … since then, online engagement has certainly evolved! But, for one night only, join the fundraising team from Donordigital for a ‘90s throwback, from 8pm to midnight at Bar 96 (96 Rainey Street). Come meet, socialize, and reminisce about the founding days of fundraising on the Internet with your fellow NTC techies. Don’t forget your NTC Badge for street tacos and drinks, including a taste of our signature e-Martini. Learn more about the #15NTC Progressive Parties.

Is your Donation Page letting you down? Try this 7-step formula for building a high converting page

People reach your landing pages by clicking on a link in an email or a paid search ad, via a button on your homepage, or myriad other ways. Regardless of how they get there, the language they saw upstream made some sort of promise about the content a visitor would find if they clicked through to a landing page.

Persuading someone to take action on a landing page requires keeping that promise. In other words, a visitor will take action if the offer is consistent with what she was expecting—i.e. there are no surprises, and the perceived benefits of taking action outweigh the costs.

Brian Massey’s excellent book Your Customer Creation Equation: Unexpected Website Formulas of The Conversion Scientist™ defines a simple litmus test to ensure that your landing pages keep their promises—and move visitors closer to your conversion goal. The test is to evaluate each element on your donation page with one criterion:

Does it facilitate the donor’s decision-making process?

If the answer is yes, keep it on the page. If the answer is no, remove the element, as it’s probably harming your conversion rate. We know there are stakeholders in your organization that may argue to keep numerous elements on landing pages. This article makes the case to remove as much as you possible can.

I like to think of this test as a fool-proof tool for designing high converting landing pages. To illustrate how it works, let’s apply the test to elements commonly found on web donation pages:

  1. Primary navigation

    Primary navigation typically appears on every page of a web site out of habit. But on a donation page, navigation provides an easy way to detour off the path to giving, and access to content that isn’t relevant to making a donation decision (Programs, About Us, Get Involved, etc.).

    In my survey of 53 different year-end donation pages last month (mostly large, national organizations), navigation appeared at the top of the page on 19% of them. Thankfully this is down from 2013.

  2. Secondary calls to action (e.g. follow us on social media, sign up for our email list)

    These kinds of actions commonly appear in the page shell of a donation page. Again, they distract the visitor, compete with your donation ask, clutter up the page, and tempt visitors to leave your site. (Seriously, there could be kitten photos in my Facebook feed!)

    To my surprise, social media icons were displayed on 23% of the year-end donation pages I surveyed. Do you really want to send your high value donation page traffic to Mark Zuckerberg?

Now, let’s look at the 7-step formula for building a high converting donation page, adapted from Massey’s advice for constructing effective landing pages.

  1. Define Your Call to Action

    A call to action (CTA) is the simplest expression of what you want the visitor to do on your landing page.

    Appropriate CTA language for your donation page depends on how you frame financial support for your organization generally. The way it’s expressed on your donation page should be consistent with what you say elsewhere—not only on your website but also in other marketing channels.

    When defining the call to action, make sure it’s specific and in the active voice. Some examples include:

    • Make a Donation
    • Become a Member
    • Join [your organization name]
    • Give a gift

    Because urgency is a well-established technique for increasing conversion, pairing your CTA with words like “today” or “now” can also lift response. (Please avoid ending CTAs with exclamation points and resist the urge to write in all caps because that’s interpreted on the web as yelling)

  2. Fulfill Your Promise

    Fulfilling your promise to visitors on a donation page means being consistent with the copy the web user saw upstream. Repeat the exact keywords words or phrase the visitor clicked to get here—don’t bait and switch on a donation page. Repetition provides positive reinforcement to the web user that you’re going to keep your promises.

    The page headline (every donation page needs one!) and subhead (if you choose to include one) are the primary vehicles for orienting visitors and grabbing their attention. Make it clear and obvious in your headline what the visitor can do on this page. Be specific—and make certain that you also address visitors’ burning question: What’s in it for me? (Why should I take this action?)

    Below are some donation page headlines that do an excellent job of expressing the CTA and the benefit(s) of giving:

    CTA plus benefit headlines

  3. Give the Visitor Something To Do (but not too much!)

    What a donation page visitor must do to successfully convert is complete a form. Testing consistently shows that each additional field you include in the form area will reduce your conversion rate.

    Long forms often intimidate prospective donors; all but the most highly motivated folks will abandon them. Use a simple, streamlined form that asks only for information needed to complete a transaction. As I noted in a previous blog article, defer nonessential questions and steps that lengthen the process until after the transaction is completed.

    There is no right or wrong way to display form steps—some find that a single page converts best, while others break up a form into multiple, short steps displayed over several pages. You must test to find out what works best with your audience.

    The short form used by is a great example of focus and simplicity:

    Democrats_tight form

  4. Sell the Offer

    Never assume that because someone navigates to your donation page they’ve already decided to give. With donation page abandonment rates often 90%+, the vast majority of visitors to your donation page are just kicking the tires—and need a compelling reason to pull the trigger.

    “Selling the offer” means answering a visitor’s top question: What’s in it for me?

    In charitable giving this means figuring out what motivates your donors to give. Even for one organization there are many possible reasons—and they may vary due to external factors, e.g. on December 31, tax-deductions are big motivator for many donors, whereas at other times of year the mission-related benefits of your work will prove to be much more inspiring.

    On a donation page there are three especially important vehicles for selling your offer:

    • Copy (headline & body text)
    • Photos & video
    • CTA Button

    Persuasive copywriting is critical to selling your offer. It must give the visitor a compelling reason to donate to you (instead of another organization doing similar work). You want to entrust this responsibility to talented copywriters with a strong track record in direct response. Do not ask your IT team to write copy—and please never write donation page copy by committee.

    Use specifics in your headline and body copy that emphasize the benefits of giving, how you’re effective, unique, and get things done. Focus donation page copy on what your donors care about—not what you care about.

    Photos and video are also important tools for selling your offer—because they can trigger powerful emotions that copy alone cannot. (More on this below in item #6.)

    Button text is the final key element on a donation page that helps to sell your offer. It should reiterate the action a prospective donor is about to take. Be as specific as possible! Vague or neutral words like “submit” or “process” are poor choices—because they’re not clear about what happens next. And they don’t reinforce why anyone would want to take action.

    Below are some examples of motivational button text:


    Audience research and testing are essential to uncovering which “selling points” are most motivational for your donors. Once you’ve identified the most powerful and persuasive arguments, segmentation of donation page traffic can provide additional opportunities to personalize your offer and increase conversion.

  5. Overcome Resistance

    Anyone being asked to enter their credit card number online will have some fear about doing it. This is what’s known in conversion science as “friction.” On a donation page, friction can be remedied with strategically placed trust elements.

    Trust elements that we’ve found can positively impact donation page conversion rates are:

    • Facts that back up claims and establish your credibility, e.g. Specifics on what you’ve accomplished, the size of your membership, the length of time you’ve been around, etc.
    • Independent ratings, e.g. Charity Navigator, Better Business Bureau Accredited Charity seals.

      Independent ratings

    • Security seals, e.g. Norton Verisign, McAfee & TRUSTe are the best known and most influential seals when placed in close proximity to payment fields.

      security seals

    • Social proof such as testimonials by a prominent supporter or positive media mentions about your organization’s work. Below is an example from Donors Choose:


    Finally, remember that your brand logo is the most basic trust element on a donation page—or any landing page for that matter. Don’t forget to include it in the upper left corner of the page.

  6. Showcase the “Product”

    In charitable giving, “showcasing the product” can be thought of as a subset of “selling the offer.” Photos that illustrate a problem you’re trying to solve, show beneficiaries of your work (especially people or animals), or your team in action, help prospects visualize how their gift can make a difference.

    A well-produced video can do even more to tell your story and help to foster an emotional connection with donor prospects—but remember that not every visitor to a donation page will automatically want to watch video (they could be at work or in a public place) so it’s best not to configure them to autoplay.

    Be sure that the images and video you use are authentic and of high production quality—or they can backfire. Photos and video are especially important elements to test to validate their impact on the conversion rate.

  7. Use a Visual Hierarchy

    Every high performing landing page uses a visual hierarchy that reinforces the main conversion goal. This simply means that your page design emphasizes those elements that are most critical to making a decision.

    Good visual hierarchy on a donation page means:

    • A headline displays prominently at the top
    • The main purpose of the page is immediately obvious
    • Steps to make a gift are clear and follow a logical eye path
    • Copy is brief and easy to scan – Trust elements are present but not visually dominant
    • A call-to-action button (there should be only one) is big enough to be easily noticed and contrasts with other elements on the page
    • Color is used sparingly—to focus visitors’ attention on mission-critical elements


If you follow these 7 steps to building a high converting donation page, I’m confident that you will reap the rewards. That said, it’s essential that you validate donation page changes through testing to ensure that they’re actually positive for conversion. Every audience is different and you should be prepared to accept whatever results you see with your own users.

photo-dawnDawn Stoner is Donordigital’s Director of Analytics & Testing and works with clients to help them increase online revenues with web usability best practices and landing page testing. Dawn speaks regularly about testing and optimization at industry conferences and publishes papers highlighting what’s working and not working with our testing clients.

6 things nonprofits can learn from e-commerce checkout pages (and apply to their Donation Pages)

Working to optimize web content with nonprofit organizations, I’m regularly asked to help improve donation page conversion rates. Clients usually want to know … What are the best practices? Do you have case studies on what converts well?

Even though nonprofits do a lot more testing than in years past, published research on what “works” to lift donation page conversion rates is still fairly hard to find. That said, there’s plenty that charities can learn from optimization efforts on e-commerce checkout pages when it comes to improving the user experience for donors.

Image1_C+B_Checkout_1_smallThere are a large number of commercial marketers who test everything—in order to maximize conversion on their websites. These companies (and the experts they hire) have identified common “conversion killers” on checkout pages via live testing and usability research.

As a fundraiser, the key question you’re going to have while reading this is… How do I get more people through my online giving process to complete a donation?

Let’s take a look at 6 tactics commercial marketers have identified from extensive testing on their checkout pages that improve conversion. These techniques are all easy to apply on web donation pages. (Insights described here are adapted from research conducted by the Baymard Institute).

#1: Remove seemingly unnecessary steps

Oftentimes, staff with no training in web usability gets involved in decisions about what to include on a donation page. For example, your development director may want to collect a lot of information about online donors during the giving process to put to use at a later time.

The result is often “form field creep,” i.e. you get greedy and ask for too much information up front. Unnecessary steps and questions lengthen the giving process and irritate a portion of your potential donors, causing them to abandon the page without giving and lowering conversion.

Below are examples of unnecessary steps I see required on many donation pages (along with the reason each can harm conversion):

  • Telephone number. People fear marketing calls, so it’s a deal breaker for some if their phone number is required.
  • Program designation. This assumes the donor is already familiar enough with your programs to easily make a choice, which isn’t true. The question unintentionally introduces difficulty into the giving process—and encourages the visitor to leave the page to figure out which program to select.
  • How did you hear about us? It requires the donor to stop and think (something you absolutely want to avoid on a donation page). Your aim is to make the process ridiculously easy and painless.
  • Comments. The user has no idea what you’re fishing for, but people feel compelled to enter something into a blank field—and may get hung up trying to figure out what to enter.
  • Tribute/honor gift fields displayed by default. At first glance few will notice that these fields are optional (because web users skim pages, they don’t read every word). As a result, lots of fields create the perception of a longer form and a more difficult process.
  • CAPTCHA puzzle. These are pure pain for the web user. Even thinking, breathing humans stumble when attempting to decipher those distorted number and letter combinations. If spam is a major problem on your website, find a skilled developer who can help you implement a solution that does not require your donors to perform difficult tasks. This article describes five front and back-end alternatives to CAPTCHA.
  • Multiple email list opt-ins. They require the donor to expend cognitive energy in studying and choosing between offers (another type of difficulty), and distract from the priority conversion goal of the page—giving.

Is your organization guilty of asking for too much? If any of the items above are included on your donation pages, stop and ask yourself if the information is valuable enough to sacrifice donations in order to get it.

#2: Ask for name and billing address first, payment information last

When arranging fields on a form, always put the easy stuff first. Based on Robert Cialdini’s behavioral psychology research and the six principles of influence, the principle of commitment and consistency means people are more likely to finish something once they’ve gotten started. For example, it’s much harder to abandon a book when you’ve already read 90% of it than when you’ve only read a few pages.

Similarly, people are more likely to complete a form after they’re more than half-way through it—because they get invested in the activity. As such, it’s best to put the easy steps first, i.e. those that encounter little psychological resistance like name and address fields.

Anxiety and fear are at their peak when donors enter sensitive information like their credit card number—so it’s best to put payment fields at the end, where they’re less likely to disrupt a donor’s progress.

#3: Don’t ask for the same information twice

Web users are very good at remembering if they’ve been asked to enter the same information multiple times—and get irritated when they must work harder than they feel they should.

Because this happens most often on multi-step forms, it’s well worth examining your conversion funnel to eliminate any instances where you ask the donor to enter the same information more than once (e.g. gift amount, email address, contact/billing fields). Instead of creating extra work for the donor, auto-populate their initial entry in subsequent steps requiring that same piece of data.

With respect to mobile, this can be especially frustrating given the difficulty most have filling out forms on small screens. On a mobile device the UX can be greatly enhanced by changing the order in which information is collected. Consider asking mobile users for their zip code prior to their street address, so that fields like city, state and country can auto-populate based on the zip code, thereby eliminating the need for users to make those entries.

Image2_Mobile form_zip code first

Keep in mind that if you decide to automate—it’s best to allow the user the option to override the output data, since there’s the chance that their zip code may not yield the correct information in all cases.

#4: Avoid in-line form field labels Web designers (and some marketers) love in line labels because they make forms look so clean and polished.

Image3_in-line FF exampleHowever, when form field labels appear inside the field itself they cause a lot of usability problems. This is because instructions disappear as soon as the user begins typing in the field. If the donor gets distracted for any reason (or merely loses their train of thought) they cannot recover the instructions without deleting their entry entirely and clicking outside of the field.

The Baymard Institute has found that in-line labels contribute to a lot of form validation errors because even after the form is submitted the in-line labels still don’t get restored to help the user understand how to fix a problem. If error guidance is not highly targeted and specific, users get frustrated and typically abandon the transaction process right there.

#5: Make entry errors easy to fix

It’s incredibly frustrating when making a purchase or donation online to submit form and trigger a validation error with little or no guidance on how to fix it.

We’ve all seen opaque (or even hostile) error messages displayed at the top of a form that give us no idea what exactly we did wrong:

Image4_Bad_form error messagesThe unfortunate donor who receives this type of message is now thinking… Uggh, what did I do wrong?

Good error language is both courteous and precise about which field is cause a problem—and requires a correction. Below are three best practices when designing error messages:

  1. Be nice. Avoid negative and critical words like “problem” or “failed.” No one wants to be scolded for making an error.
  2. Be helpful—and clear. Provide specific guidance to the user on how to resolve the problem, e.g. This entry cannot contain dashes or spaces. And always use plain language—not “developer speak.” This language is a form of customer service, so be sure that someone with good communication skills is in charge of writing it!
  3. Place the error message in close proximity to the field that triggered it, not at the top of the page. Encapsulation of the problem field in red can help it stand out better:

Image5_Field label error_encapsulation

And while it’s not mandatory, you should consider offering phone support for especially high value conversions (like monthly giving) to ensure that problems can be remedied by human intervention as a last resort.

#6: Make the page look secure

Many web users are acutely concerned about the risk of credit card theft online. Because most web users have little familiarity with “https”, simply having a secure page is not enough to alleviate their concerns.

While donor anxiety about page security cannot be eliminated entirely, you can lessen its impact with targeted and timely reassurances.

The best remedy is a visible indication that your site is secure, i.e. a recognized security seal located in close proximity to anxiety-producing steps (payment information fields). Security seals have far less benefit if they’re not easily noticed by web users while they’re completing payment fields.

Besides locating the seal near to where donors enter sensitive information, encapsulation of payment fields (i.e. boxing them off with a distinct background color) is another technique that visually reinforces to the donor that their information will be secure:

Image6_encapsulate_payment fields

Finally, there’s some evidence that widely recognized seals like Norton-VeriSign, McFee, and TRUSTe appear to confer a greater benefit than lesser known providers. Brand awareness likely increases web users’ trust in these particular seals.

Image7_Trust_seals_consumer confidence


These six techniques test-driven on e-commerce checkout pages are well worth trying to improve conversions on your web donation pages. How you apply them will depend in part on your current practice—as well as how flexible and customizable your donation forms are.

Regardless of which techniques you use, remember that optimizing donation pages (or any other web page) for conversion is not a “one-off” exercise, it’s an ongoing process of testing, learning and application. Web conventions, user expectations, and visitor needs are constantly evolving, and your important landing pages need to be, too.

photo-thumbnail-dawnDawn Stoner is Mal Warwick | Donordigital’s Director of Analytics & Testing and works with clients to help them increase online revenues with web usability best practices and landing page testing. Dawn speaks regularly about testing and optimization at industry conferences and publishes papers highlighting what’s working and not working with our testing clients.

No Kid Hungry wins Blackbaud 2014 Impact Award for its #SaveSummer campaign

summer-meals-2014-1We’re thrilled to celebrate the news that our client No Kid Hungry has won a Blackbaud 2014 Impact Award for Best Multi-Channel Marketing for their Summer Meals Campaign — which our agency had the honor to work on.

No Kid Hungry conducts an annual campaign that spreads awareness about childhood hunger, helps connect kids with food, and raises needed funds during summer months when kids are more likely to be hungry.

Many families donʼt know that free meals are available to kids and teens at thousands of sites nationwide — in fact, only 3 million children are participating in these programs.

To help increase this number, No Kid Hungry created a SMS program where people can text FOOD to 877-877 to find summer meals sites near them. They have also created an Action Center where people are directed to action they can take, both online and in-person, to promote awareness of and support for summer meals.

blackbaud-impact-awardNo Kid Hungry launched an integrated multi-channel campaign to #SaveSummer for kids that lasted from mid-May through the end of July 2013. The campaign included 13 email messages, one direct mail package, an mobile phone texting campaign, numerous social media posts, a coordinated web presence, a lightbox asking single gift donors to “make it monthly,” and a video.

No Kid Hungry took advantage of several opportunities to make this program a huge success. The Arby’s Foundation has been a crucial partner in No Kid Hungry’s work over the years, and provided matching funds up to $100,000 to encourage increased donations. National spokesperson Jeff Bridges has used his platform to help us raise funds, build relationships, and increase awareness of the need for, and the existence of, free summer meals for children.

The campaign was a huge success. We surpassed our matching gift goal by over 50%, acquired over 800 new donors, and enrolled over 150 new monthly donors. Over 40,000 letters were sent to Congress asking members to visit a summer meals site, and almost 50,000 individuals used our mobile texting service to locate a summer meals site (100% increase over prior year).

photo-thumbnail-wendyWendy Marinaccio Husman is a Senior Account Executive at Donordigital, the online fundraising, marketing and advertising company.

Paths to year-end fundraising success in a multichannel world

AMC_YE2013-Lbox3-Calendar_FINAL-copyDirect response fundraising should be multichannel. I say this all the time and while direct causation is sometimes difficult to track, I stand by the principle that truly donor-centric communications allow donors to access information in the channel they choose. We also have the data analysis to prove that multichannel donors are the most valuable donors for an organization to have over the long term.

It’s our responsibility to ensure that the messaging is cohesive and coordinated.

In the real world of people opening their mail, answering their phones, and checking their inboxes, a multichannel donor is a person who knows what matters to them, consumes information in a number of ways, and dedicates some time and their dollars to the cause that moves them.

Maybe it was the person that asked them to make a donation, or the photo on that envelope or at the top of that email, or a headline in large font, or simply the timing of an email that was formatted nicely on their iPhone6 while they were waiting on a train platform – whatever the trigger, later that night they remembered to go on your organization’s website and make a donation.

The most important thing about a multichannel donor is that they decide to give and give in a channel different than their first gift. That change and movement to being “channel agnostic” means that they are more likely to give again to your organization and to give a larger amount.

So, how do you embrace multichannel messaging when planning for year-end? The reality is that every detail matters when it comes to achieving year-round fundraising success in a multichannel world. Year-end fundraising is a unique challenge because of the competition for dollars among organizations and a limited number of donors. The sheer volume of fundraising appeals by nonprofit organizations is enough to overwhelm any person who opens their mailbox or their in-box.

As a direct response agency, we’ve learned to adapt and innovate in the unique environment of year-end fundraising. Below is a quick overview to how we approach year-end fundraising success in a multichannel world.

  1. Create a communications matrix that honors the donors’ perspective. Align your channels by reviewing your year-end calendar for mail, email, website promotion and telephone solicitations. Consider how your donor and non-donors audiences will react to getting multiple appeals for funds in different channels. Adopt a donor-centric approach and make sure your appeal calendar is driven by their needs. Honor and accept those things that won’t cross channels (not everything can be integrated!).
  2. Scour your organization for other opportunities to coordinate messaging. These might include newsletters or magazines, direct mail acknowledgment buckslips, welcome kits and welcome series, videos or other online resources.
  3. Segment your audiences carefully and integrate those segments into the communications matrix. Think about the best way to approach each with the correct ask or cultivation. For example, what about those folks that are getting direct mail during the year-end email series? What about those who aren’t? Also plan for coordination in gift asks – although donors will often give higher gifts online, it’s important to keep gift strings similar across the channels.
  4. Fundraising techniques aside, it’s the content and messaging that you create that will drive your supporter’s attention span and engagement. Donors want to be asked and inspired to make a year-end gift. Take the lead-time you need to produce engaging content that can span across direct mail appeals, emails, videos, year-in-review annual reports, holiday cards, infographics and more. Remember, donors have short attention spans (especially online donors), so highlighting key points are important whatever the channel – direct mail letter P.S. content, reply devices, and email masthead and sidebars, to be exact.
  5. Carefully consider your email calendar in December so you can create the right cadence for your supporters. One message per week and then an increasing number the last few days is the new normal, so jump on board and craft an authentic email series that inspires your supports to give. Consider the dates that your mail will reach donors in-home and if the content is complementary.
  6. Acknowledge the multichannel touches – we often reference or show a visual of a direct mail package that the donor is receiving in an email message. And we’re careful to strategically include dedicated URLs in direct mail packages if donors want to make their gift “immediately online.”
  7. On your website, be sure to use your homepage carousel or above-the-fold content areas to highlight the theme of your year-end campaign online and offline. It’s common for supporters getting your mail to visit your website to make their year-end gift. Deploy a lightbox on your website to catch the attention span of your visitors.
  8. Use paid advertising channels at year-end to reach your supporters wherever they might be. Search engine marketing, Facebook ads to custom audiences, and remarketing to visitors of your website or your donation pages can play a vital role in creating visibility for your year-end campaigns, and increase year-end giving across all of your channels.
  9. Make it social! Using online social networks at year-end is vitally important to connect with the attention span of your supporters. Dedicate staff time to posting year-end content on social media channels, and schedule coordinated tweets and posts on all channels. In your emails and on your Web pages make it easy for your supporters to spread the word about your year-end campaigns.
  10. Keep testing and trying new things. Every audience is different which means it’s vitally important to test to see how your audience responds to multichannel tactics.
  11. Don’t neglect January as an important time to thank donors—across all channels—for their year-end support.

Multichannel fundraising does require more effort and resources. But the end results is cohesive messaging and a larger group of dedicated donors.

photo-thumbnail-mwosi-2Mwosi Swenson is a Vice President at Mal Warwick | Donordigital. She has worked in direct response fundraising for the past 20 years and has managed the direct mail, telemarketing and online programs for some of the nation’s most respected environmental, advocacy, and political organizations.

How to convert more mobile donors

person-tapping-smart-phone-2For most nonprofits, there’s been a steady growth in the use of smart phones and tablets by visitors to their websites. This has led to a lot of consternation as organizations wrestle with the challenge of providing a better user experience for site visitors on smaller screens.

Almost universally, mobile conversion rates lag desktop and laptop conversion rates on e-commerce sites—and the same is true for mobile conversion rates on nonprofit sites. By “conversion” we mean any kind of goal completion, such as a site visitor signing up for your email list or making an online donation. But the distinction doesn’t stop there—smart phone users typically convert only about half as well as those on tablets, according to research by Monetate and Forrester.

monetateThe main reason why your mobile visitors convert so much worse? It’s pretty simple. The user experience for mobile visitors—to nonprofit sites in general and donation pages in particular—can be quite awful. Common problems I’ve noticed when visiting giving pages on a mobile device include:

  • Pages that load very slowly or incompletely
  • Pages with multiple columns that require sideways scrolling (mobile users especially hate this!)
  • Form fields that are so tiny they need to be stretched before text can be entered
  • Text too small to be read without enlarging
  • Call-to-action buttons that are out of sight or too small to be tapped easily
  • Overly dominant graphics or images because they adapt clumsily to small screens
  • Elements displaying contrary to the visitor’s thought sequence, i.e. content isn’t addressing basic user questions in the appropriate order

frustrated cell phone user2It can make for a very frustrating user experience—and only those who are extremely motivated will persevere to complete a transaction.

How do you know if this is an issue on your site? The answer is lurking in your web analytics. Key metrics to examine on pages with a mission-critical conversion goal are:

  • Bounce rate by device type
  • Conversion rate by device type (if you’ve configured goals)
  • Average time spent on page by device type

If you notice a wide disparity in these metrics for mobile users relative to desktop/laptop users, e.g. their bounce rate is much higher or their conversion rate is much lower—it’s a clear sign that you need to do more to optimize the mobile experience.

It’s important to note that other issues like sluggish cellular network speeds and higher latency on mobile devices also contribute to poor conversion rates—and these are largely out of your control. It explains why conversion rates for mobile users may not approach desktop/laptop conversion rates for a long time to come—if ever.

But this is no reason to throw up your hands and forget about it. There are still plenty of things you can do to optimize the user experience on a mobile device.

Where do you begin? For many, the logical place to start is to develop a responsive page design (or an entire site that uses RD), so page elements adjust to fit whatever screen size the user is on.

However, it’s still an open question whether a responsive page is better than a dedicated page for mobile users when it comes to conversion. Testing by commercial marketers is decidedly mixed on which approach converts better.

Like conversion optimization in general—no technique is guaranteed to work best for your organization. You must figure out what your mobile visitors prefer and adapt content to meet their needs.

User testing with small groups is one way to identify user experience (UX) issues with mobile, since live A/B testing can be difficult to interpret—due to the fact that mobile users are much more sensitive to speed than desktop/laptop users. They will abandon a page if it hasn’t loaded after just 3 seconds, in many instances. Consequently, if you test two user experiences and one page loads a lot slower than the other, it’s highly likely to convert worse—and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the creative itself.

Consequently, with A/B tests targeting mobile users it’s difficult to determine whether conversion rate disparities are due to differences in load times or differences in how visitors react to the content itself. This is why many organizations forego A/B testing when optimizing the UX for mobile.

If you decide to conduct user testing instead, ideally you’ll want to get feedback from people similar to your actual visitors. In this way you’ll avoid optimizing for the needs of testers—whose behavior may differ markedly from your target audience. Imagine getting feedback from a group of twenty-something male testers when your typical donor is a 55-60 year old female. It’s pretty much guaranteed that those insights will take you down the wrong path.

An alternative to user testing is to simply design mobile pages with best practices in mind. As noted above, using responsive design is the logical place to start. But there’s a case to be made for thinking beyond responsive design and re-imagining the user experience on a small screen—and then designing a dedicated mobile experience from the bottom up.

The reason a dedicated mobile approach can convert better than responsive design alone is based on the fact that people consume content differently on mobile devices (especially smart phones) as compared to desktop or laptop devices.

For instance, mobile users are typically more goal-driven and impatient than laptop/desktop users. They prefer “snack-sized” content, i.e. brief, action-oriented items that can be absorbed quickly—not long pages that require a lot of time and mental energy to consume.

To convert better, your mobile pages aimed at donors must reflect those differences in user behavior. While this may sound complicated or intimidating—it really just involves a little extra work. That said, the extra effort is likely to pay off in the form of better conversion rates with mobile visitors.

Taking these factors into account, below are some specific changes you can make to improve the UX for donors on mobile devices:

  • Render all content in a single column to eliminate the need for sideways scrolling.
  • Pare back copy so your core value proposition is expressed succinctly.
  • Cut supporting graphics and images, which don’t render as well on small screens.
  • Reduce friction by shortening the giving process, i.e. cutting out as many steps and questions as possible.
  • Break up forms into multiple short steps so that each one appears simple and effortless, instead of a long form all on one screen. Remember the Obama campaign’s enormous success with this technique!
  • Design bigger form fields that don’t need to be resized to be tapped
  • Ask donors to enter their zip code first, so that other required fields can autofill (city, state, country) based on that input, thereby reducing the total number of inputs the donor has to make.
  • Display fewer suggested gift amounts (e.g. 3 instead of 5) so that options are easier to see on a narrow screen and a decision can be made more quickly.
  • Offer alternative payment options, e.g. Amazon Payments and/or Paypal. (focus on payment methods that are most popular with your donors; don’t offer everything.)
  • Design bigger buttons that are easier to tap.
  • Left-align all call-to-action buttons so they’re always in the main eye path.

Implementing these techniques will no doubt make for a much better UX for visitors who intend to convert on a mobile device. That said, there’s new evidence to suggest that a large portion of mobile users have no intention of converting on a mobile device.

Research by SeeWhy has found that the average consumer requires five “touches” via marketing before they’ll -make a purchase. If the same holds true for transactions on nonprofit sites, this means that many donors will use multiple devices over multiple user sessions before making a gift.

Customer journey graphicTheir “journey” to donor conversion often begins as a result of an email they read on their smart phone. It may prompt them to visit your website on their mobile device, even if they don’t intend to make a donation at that moment. A significant portion may wait until they have access to a desktop or laptop before giving online, because they expect the UX to be much easier on those devices.

To put it simply—many consumers (who are also donors) don’t yet consider their smart phone a “converting device.” According to See Why’s research, by a 2:1 margin consumers are more nervous about transacting via mobile device than on a desktop or laptop. This anxiety gap will take time to overcome—and may never close entirely.

This is why your mission-critical pages need to be responsive for those donor prospects who may just be “kicking the tires” via their mobile device. Their experience is likely to have a big influence on whether or not they decide to return and donate later on.

To summarize, while there’s no one technique that’s guaranteed to increase your conversion rate with mobile donors, the techniques we’ve discussed should help get you started in thinking about the process. Regardless of how you approach the problem, one thing is certain—mobile devices will continue to gain importance as a step in the donor conversion process. No one in the nonprofit world can afford to ignore the user experience on mobile any longer.

dawnDawn Stoner is Donordigital’s Director of Analytics & Testing and works with clients to help them increase online revenues with web usability best practices and landing page testing. Dawn speaks regularly about testing and optimization at industry conferences and publishes papers highlighting what’s working and not working with our testing clients.

Making the most of your year-end fundraising campaigns

Make a year-end lifesaving gift today.

It’s September, and the Year-End season still seems a long way away. Even if you aren’t quite ready to start your holiday shopping for family and friends, you should start planning your organization’s Year-End fundraising strategy today. Nearly 30% of ALL charitable giving occurs during the last month of the year, and most of that comes within the last few days of December. So make sure you are primed and prepared to make the most of it!

Many clients ask us “when is the best time to send our Year-End fundraising appeals in the mail and online? Is October too early? Is December too late?” The short answer is that there is no cut-and-dry timetable—but it seems that organizations are starting to send their Year-End appeals earlier and earlier. Just recently, one of my colleagues received what appeared to be a holiday fundraising appeal in her mail, complete with pictures of Santa Claus and snowflakes on the outer envelope. August is probably too early for your Year-End fundraising to hit households.

Once you’ve looked at your organization-wide mailing schedule for the last 2-3 months of the year and decided on the best timing for your Year-End appeal and follow-up (yes, we recommend a follow-up!), then think about the fundraising goals you want to accomplish during this Year-End season and how you will achieve them. Are you aiming to increase your income by a certain percentage over last year? Or is it more important to increase the average gift or upgrade a specific number of donors? Likely it’s a combination! Once you know your goals, you will need to think of tactics that will help you reach them — such as incorporating a matching gift offer or including a premium.

Next, take a look at the testing you’ve conducted throughout the year in the mail and online. Any test that successfully boosted your response rate or your average gift is probably worth rolling out in Year-End to maximize your response. Like many organizations, your main goal is probably to get as much money as possible in the door before December 31. In that case, skip the hard press for monthly sustainer sign-ups and focus on one-time gifts. But, if recruiting new sustainers is a top priority for your organization right now and you don’t mind sacrificing some Year-End revenue for the sake of long-term income, then sustainer recruitment promotions on your website could be some of your best tools at Year-End.

Your Year-End appeals are a great opportunity to upgrade your current donors to higher levels of giving, since many are generous during the season of giving. Think about which donor segments you can target for upgrade asks to your mid-level giving group. Add an aspirational gift amount on the reply ask string. Or, consider offering a back-end premium for donors when they increase their commitment to your organization.

Don’t let your Year-End mailing get out the door without careful consideration for a coordinated online fundraising strategy. Your fundraising emails can mirror the message in your direct mail piece to create a cohesive campaign. For online donors who were also sent a direct mail piece, it’s a good idea to add a message at the top of the email with a note saying “we wanted to follow-up with you” or “did you get our appeal in the mail.” Put special consideration into how you select your email audience so you can target donors with email addresses on file that recently got your appeal in the mail.

For your website, there are some very simple and effective ways to drive more visitors to your donation page. Adding a Lightbox to your homepage for the month of December is a proven technique to raise money online at Year-End. On December 31 and the days leading up to it, consider redirecting all your homepage traffic to your donation page so that any visitor to the website automatically lands on your donation page. This tactic may seem a bit extreme, but if your leadership is serious about raising as much money as possible during the last days of the calendar year, then it’s worth trying, if even for just one day.

A lot of our clients ask us these days about #GivingTuesday, and whether or not it’s worth participating in as part of a Year-End strategy. 2014 will mark the third annual #GivingTuesday online event to raise awareness about charitable giving through social media and online sources. While still a young program, the money raised on #GivingTuesday has steadily increased year-over-year. Compared with your other Year-End efforts, #GivingTuesday likely won’t generate nearly as much income as your direct mail or emails. But if you don’t want to leave any stone unturned, you should consider participating. Make sure you assemble a strong group of volunteers who will be dedicated to spreading the word about your cause on #GivingTuesday.

For further reading, I recommend:

Sabrina Sutton Naylor is an Account Manager for Mal Warwick | Donordigital and is based in Washington, DC. She manages mail fundraising projects for Ocean Conservancy, and International Medical Corps.