Testing one-time vs. recurring donation asks

Note: This is the first in what we hope will be a regular series on the ActBlue blog sharing our lessons learned from our email program with our larger community of practitioners.

Have you ever wondered if you’d raise more money if you asked your email list for recurring contributions instead of a one-time ask? Yeah, us too.

We’ve tested this from time to time, and usually find for ActBlue and our community members that recurring asks perform better. But we know that the email copy can influence the results, so we decided to test it again. Last Thursday we sent out nearly identical emails to our members, but with two different asks. Here’s an example:

1-time ask

The only way we can do it is if we hit our big goal of raising $75,000 for ActBlue, by the end of the quarter on Sunday. Can you contribute $5, or whatever you can afford, right now to ActBlue, and ensure we’re prepared to help thousands of candidates and organizations raise millions of dollars next fall?

Recurring ask

The only way we can do it is if we hit our big goal of 1,000 donors to ActBlue giving $3 a month, or whatever they can afford, by the end of the quarter on Sunday. Can you contribute $3 a month right now to ActBlue, and ensure we’re prepared to help thousands of candidates and organizations raise millions of dollars next fall?

Each email was sent to 100k random members. We let the test roll for 24 hours before making a call on Friday morning, but it was pretty apparent early on that we were going to have a winner.

One critical piece of important information that we had was the ability to calculate with confidence how much money the recurring contributions would bring in. Recurring donors on ActBlue pick the amount of months they’d like to make their contribution – the maximum is 24 months and we set that as the default when people land on the page through the email parameters. ActBlue Page Dashboards (which are in beta) do the math for you and display exactly how much money your members have signed up to contribute. They’re a tad hidden at the moment due to the beta status, but just add /dashboard/list before your specific page name when you are logged in to see it. For example: https://secure.actblue.com/dashboard/list/offthecharts/. Here’s how it looks for this fundraising page:

But we know that for one reason or another some people don’t complete their pledge. Their credit cards expire and they never updated them with us (even though we ask) or they simply cancel their recurring contribution. That’s why we recently analyzed our pledge completion rate. Since November 2010 the percentage of money that was pledged to ActBlue’s own PAC and received is 88.97% for all recurring contribution pledges that have completed. We did not include people who are still contributing monthly.

Across all the different committees who use ActBlue, we find a sitewide completion rate of 80%, so ActBlue is a bit higher than the average. And our completion rate has grown from where it used to be. All-time we are at a 77.78% pledge completion rate, so clearly we’ve gotten better at getting our folks to finish out their pledges.

Since we had the pledge completion rate, we could calculate how much we could reasonably expect to get in from both the one-time contribution ask and the recurring contribution ask. And here are our results after 24 hours.

One time ask : $2,557 projected
Recurring ask: $4,365.70 projected

We had more contributions on the one-time page than the recurring page, but clearly we were going to end up bringing in more money if we asked the remaining portion of our list to make a recurring contribution. Thus on Friday we sent out the recurring contribution ask to the remaining members of our list, and followed it with a kicker on Sunday, the last day of the quarter.

Our assumption is that ActBlue is viewed by our members as long-term infrastructure that should be supported as such. We’re not a candidate that’s trying to post a great end-of-quarter number, and we’re not trying to raise funds for a specific project like other non-profits. So while our members dig the recurring contributions, your members may not. So test it and find out!

We know people often make different assumptions about recurring revenue, but as you see with this test, the recurring ask is worth significantly more even though fewer people participate. Plus, at this point – 18 months from election day – you’re building a recurring pool so that you’ll have all sorts of money coming in via recurring. That adds up! And it’s a chance to create a long-term bond with your contributors.

We’ll likely run this test again in the not too distant future to ensure that a) our member’s interests/behavior hasn’t changed b) the results were not due to the specific email copy being more suited for a recurring ask. But until then, you’re likely to just be getting recurring contribution asks from ActBlue.

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