The Do’s, Don’ts, and DIYs of Express Lane

This week we officially announced Express Lane, and I’m guessing the fact that it can more than triple your money caught your eye. It can, and the way to raise more money is to learn Express Lane best practices and do your own optimization. We’re here to help you with both.

We’ve done a significant amount of Express Lane testing in our email blasts over the past few months to help you get started on what works– and what doesn’t– with Express Lane. Each email list, of course, is different, so you should probably test and expand upon the the takeaways below with your own list. And definitely let us know the results; we’d love to hear about them. It’d be especially great if you wanted to share your results here on the blog– just like the fantastic folks at CREDO Action were happy to do for this post– so that others can learn from your test results.

Here’s a little bit of background: our own email list consists entirely of donors, therefore it’s a pretty diverse group of folks. Also, we always fundraise to support our own infrastructure, not specific issues or candidates. Further, we spend most of our time optimizing for recurring donations because we’ve found them to be best for our organization, but much of what we say here also applies to one-time donation asks. We are, by the way, totally interested in collaborating with you on testing and optimization efforts– just give us a shout.

For this post, we’re going to discuss the gains you can expect from using Express Lane, results from some of the tests we’ve run on our Express Lane askblocks, and touch on stylistic concerns. Then, we’ll finish up with a summary of our recommendations and where you can go from here.

What to Expect

So, you probably expect to raise a lot more money using Express Lane, but what’s a typical increase? We’ve tested Express Lane vs. non-Express Lane on both recurring and one-time asks among randomly sampled Express users and seen Express Lane bring in more than triple the money for one-time1 asks, and 37.7% more for recurring asks (measured by money donated plus pledged recurring).

That’s quite a big boost, but other partners have seen significant gains, too. For example, here’s a test that was run by our friends at CREDO Action, some of our most sophisticated users. They tested a $5 control ask against a $5, $10, $25 Express Lane askblock. Their Express Lane version brought in 37.4% more donations than the control version. If you don’t see a noticeable increase in your testing, you should definitely reach out.

exp_lane_test_graph

Results from ActBlue’s April 2013 Express Lane test

Askblock Structure

We have an awesome Express Lane Link Creator tool for you, which you can find by clicking the “Express Lane” tab of your fundraising page. It’s really important that you use the language we provide there so that donors know that they’ll be charged instantly and why that’s possible– if you want to deviate from this, you’ll have to get our approval first. We do think, though, that you should stick with this language since it’s clear and concise.

But, how many Express Lane links should you include in the body of your email, and for what amounts? Should the intervals between amounts be equal? The answer to such questions will depend on your email list members but here are some suggestions, based on tests we’ve run, that should help get you on your way to optimizing your own Express Lane askblock structures!

One approach we’ve seen used by organizations in different contexts is what we refer to as a jump structure. The basic idea is that you set a large interval between the lowest link amount (which should be a low amount relative to your list’s average donation amount) and second-lowest link amount. Here’s an example we’ve used:

jump_example_image

Example jump structure

This relatively low-dollar link could encourage a much higher number of donations (if your jump structure amount is, for example, $4 instead of the $5 you’d usually use). This is because it’s a lower absolute dollar amount, but also a lower amount relative to the rest of the structure. Basically, the large jump between the lowest amount and the second-lowest amount makes the first one look small.

We’ve found that in general, this type of jump structure does indeed lead to a higher number of donations, but a lower overall amount of money, than the common structures which we used as controls. While it led to more donations, we didn’t see enough extra donations to outweigh the “cost” of the lower dollar amount and bring in more overall money. If you’re looking to bring in more low-dollar donations in the hopes of larger-dollar donations in the future, however, this might be a good strategy to try.

We’ve also looked at the effect of changing the lowest dollar amount in your ask block. In July, we tested the the following three askblock structures against each other:

Structure "A"

Structure “A”

Structure "B"

Structure “B”

Structure "C"

Structure “C”

Obviously, we were trying to see whether we could increase the total money we raised by increasing the amount of the bottom link2. The risk of this approach is that you might lose a certain number of donations by setting the lowest ask amount to be a little bit higher3.

We found that the by number of donations, A>B>C, but by overall money raised, C>B>A. The askblock labelled “C”, in fact, raised 21.1% more money than “A” (“B” raised 12.1% more than “A”), even though “A” brought in 15.3% more donations than “C”!

structure_test_graph

The “other amount” Link

A great thing about Express Lane is that users’ donations are processed once they click the link in your email body. However, as much as we try to structure our links perfectly, some donors are always going to want to do their own thing, and that’s okay. Enter the “other amount” link.

An “other amount” link doesn’t process the donation right away, it’s simply a normal ActBlue link that takes the user to your contribution page and allows them to choose a custom donation amount and/or recurring length. This is included as a default in our Express Lane Link Creator tool.

We at ActBlue focus on recurring donation asks because over the long run– and our goal is to be the best technology both today and years into the future– they bring in more money than one-time donation asks, even taking into account imperfect pledge completion rates. So, we worried at first that adding an “other amount” link might draw too many people toward giving one-time donations instead of more valuable recurring donations. But, we also know that it’s important to give people the option to choose their own donation amount, lest they not donate at all. This is why every ActBlue contribution page allows people to easily choose between a one-time donation and a recurring donation.

So we decided to test two things. First, we wanted to know whether the presence of an “other amount” link in our email body would lead to more/fewer donations. Actually, we were almost positive that getting rid of the “other amount” link would be a big loss, but we wanted to run the test anyway. That way, we could confirm this and make sure no one else has to lose money on the test. The result: don’t try this at home. The version which included the “other amount” link brought in 88.3% more money (90.6% more donations) than the version which did not. We’ll accept your thanks in the form of chocolate or wine. Just kidding! Our lawyers won’t allow that.

Second, we’ve performed several tests (and several variations thereof) of whether an “other amount” link which indicated that users could instead give a one-time donation would lead to more/fewer donations than an “other amount” link that made no mention of one-time donations. This matters to us because, as we mentioned, we focus mostly on recurring donation asks, and wanted to see whether we could retain people who would give a one-time donation, but might not know that it was possible.

Typically, an “other amount” link which mentions one-time contributions leads to a statistically significantly higher number of donations, but less overall money raised. While this setup might draw in some people who otherwise wouldn’t have given, it also pulls some would-be recurring donors into giving one-time donations, which bring in less money. This doesn’t mean that such language is a bad thing, but you should consider your fundraiser’s goals and organizational priorities while choosing your link language. If, for example your goal is to increase participation rather than raise as much money as possible, then mentioning one-time donations in your “other link” might be a good idea during a fundraiser focused on recurring donations.

No mention of one-time donations

No mention of one-time donations

With mention of one-time donations

With mention of one-time donations

Style

Stylistic elements of an email can often have a huge impact on your ask, and since Express Lane links are new, the presentation of them hasn’t yet been set in stone. We started sending emails with our Express Lane askblock simply as an HTML <blockquote> element. We wanted the Express Lane askblock to stand out and to be easily identified, though, so we devised a simple design to make it pop. We put our Express Lane askblock in a gray box and center-aligned the text4. It looked like this:

We tested this against our original structure among several different link structures, and the results were pretty interesting. Among link structures with 4 or 5 links (including “other amount”), the gray box boosted the amount of money raised by up to 37.7%.

Subtle Express Lane askblock styling

Subtle Express Lane askblock styling

The obvious concern is that some stylistic elements are really subject to novelty effects, and the initial boost in action rate will decline or disappear altogether in time. We think the gray box may be an exception, though. First, the gray box is pretty subtle, almost to the point of being too dull, so I doubt that it caused the fervor of a “Hey” subject line or manic yellow highlighting. Second, the box serves a legitimate function, i.e., to identify this new set of links that’s now appearing in emails as a single entity that stands out from the email content.

Where to go from here

You’ve seen how some slight changes– the link amounts, the intervals between them, the number of links, etc.– can seriously affect the performance of your Express Lane email ask. Hopefully, you’ve picked up some tips about how to structure your asks, as well as picked up a few ideas for testing that might prove fruitful for your own organization.

As progressive organizers, we all know how important participation and collaboration are. In this light, I encourage you to get in touch with us if you’d like to work together on running a test. Moreover, if you run a test with interesting results, we would love to hear from you so that we can share them with the larger ActBlue community.

Footnotes:

1N.B.: some of this money came from people giving recurring donations from the “other amount” link in our one-time ask.

2There could be an additional effect from having one fewer link in “C”, but our other testing indicates that this isn’t a particularly important factor.

3Think about it as if it’s a variation of the classic revenue maximizing problem, where Revenue = Quantity * Donation Amount. Of course, donors can still choose their amount by clicking the “other” link, but the suggested amounts do indeed impact behavior.

4style="background-color:#ECEDF0; padding:1.0em 1.5em; text-align:center;"

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