5 Steps to Flip the Ladder Sideways and Grow Your Grassroots Donors

This is a guest post written by Janice Chan, who often writes for our friends at Wethos over at The Nonprofit Revolution. In over a decade in the nonprofit sector, Janice has written fundraising appeals and grant proposals, led social media outreach, managed volunteers, executed rollout plans, managed donor and program databases, and learned the hard way that changing to a new website host means you’d better make sure that donation form still works!

Wethos 1

Ever played that team building game, “All Aboard”? You’re in a group and you are given say, a hand towel or a telephone book (showing my age here, I know), and the goal is to get everybody on board without anyone having a foot touching the ground. Depending on the variation or the prop used, the boat may get smaller (e.g. towel is folded in half) or your group may get bigger — and still you need to get everyone on board without any feet touching the ground.

Often, working at a nonprofit organization can feel that way. You’re trying to serve the same number of people with fewer resources, or serve more people with the same amount of resources. This metaphor is not only apropos to programming, but to fundraising as well. You’re trying to raise funds from more supporters (get more people on board) with the same number of staff or resources. And yet, the more you raise, the more people (donors and clients) you can get on board.

It does not need to be an endless game of chicken, egg, chicken, egg.

That’s why you focus on major gifts and/or grants, right? We know it’s important to respect donors at all levels, but in terms of where we spend our fundraising resources (time, budget, attention), it is clear that we prioritize funders who can give large gifts. But it’s easy to take those smaller dollar annual gifts for granted — just send or share it out to enough people and build our lists and followers because it is a small percentage of volume, volume, volume.

Or is it?

We tend to believe, particularly if we are smaller organizations, in the myth of scarcity. That if we spent time focusing on small-dollar donors, it would take away from the time we spend on major gifts and grants, and that would cause much bigger problems if we didn’t have those. We act as if this were a game of musical chairs instead. And so we close ourselves off to the people who could help us.

Worse, we leave people feeling like their contributions won’t matter unless they can write a check with more than two digits in front of the decimal point.

The trick to playing “All Aboard” is that when you have more people, you can use each other to hold all of you up. The more people you have, the more people you can get on board. This is not musical chairs. But you have to involve every person on board.

One, value small-dollar donors.

Valuing small-dollar donors isn’t simply the right thing to do; it’s a key part of any smart fundraising strategy. Small-dollar donors provide increased revenue, can be more vocal supporters and ambassadors for your organization once they’ve invested in your work, and can donate multiple times.

Valuing donors is not about what we say but whether our donors feel like they matter to us. You know how we rush to address whatever it is that a major donor, funder, or board member raised as an issue, no matter how small? Or how we otherwise pay attention to all aspects of their donor experience? Sometimes it’s because they are important details; sometimes the details are simply important to them. Donor experience is key at all levels. What if we took the same care and put the same level of thought into how all of our donors experience supporting our organization?

Note that I said thought, not necessarily time. Often, we know more than we give ourselves credit for knowing. Like the fact that increasing numbers of donors give via mobile devices. Or that A/B testing is an effective way to experiment and see what works best for your particular donors.

But getting there seems overwhelming and, as a small or medium nonprofit, like it’s out of our league. However, technology advances all the time but so do the services available. Customizable, data-driven online fundraising platforms are no longer as out of reach as you think — not in cost or in staff capacity to manage and maximize.

Two, create a plan to grow the number of small-dollar donors.

Giving Tuesday doesn’t just magically happen as some type of positive penance amid the Cyber Monday hangover (Cyber Monday also not being a natural consequence of Black Friday).

Grassroots fundraising can change the game if you’re intentional about it. What does intentional look like? There is a strategy, there are planned efforts to grow the number of small-dollar donors, and these efforts are tracked, measured, and evaluated to inform future efforts. These strategies don’t have to break the bank, and the right expertise is also not as out of reach as you think! (Not entirely sure what you need? Platforms like Wethos offer free consultations that can help you define your project prior to hiring a freelancer.)

And remember how we talked about involving every person on board? Traditionally, fundraising has been about moving donors up the ladder of engagement over time, from smaller annual gifts to larger major gifts. But that’s ignoring a subset of donors who, for various reasons, wish to give lower amounts, or who perhaps would rather give smaller amounts more often, a.k.a. recurring gifts.

Flip the ladder of engagement sideways, like a platform you can build on. Challenges and matches can be a successful strategy for getting people on board, while giving your major donors a new way in which to support your organization and grow your capacity.

Three, set a goal to encourage recurring gifts from small-dollar donors.

Yes, we can ask small-dollar donors for recurring gifts, and yes, we can receive them. Even if the amount per donation is lower, the recurring nature means that a donor will likely give more than if you had asked them for a one-time gift. For example, you might only get $25 as a one-time gift but the same donor might be willing to pledge $5/month for 12 months (and $5 x 12 = $60).

You know what else? It is also a sign that this donor is more connected to your cause and your organization, which means they will probably be more likely to respond to your other calls to action. It’s also easier to ask friends to give when, hey, you support this organization every month.

Want recurring gifts? As with all fundraising, you won’t get what you don’t ask for. Build this into your strategy and your online giving forms. (Or take the time-saving approach and choose a platform like AB Charities where recurring gifts and management of them is already built in.)

Four, for any goals, figure out how you’ll evaluate your progress.

A big benefit of grassroots fundraising? Sample size. This makes it much faster to figure out what’s working and what isn’t. And whereas some donors may be fairly forthright about why they did or didn’t give to you, raising money online also gives you the benefits of tracking things like how many people visit your online donation page without clicking through — and where they dropped off in the process.

Five, apply what you’ve learned to value your grassroots donors.

And like that Brian McKnight song, we are back at one.

Best practices are not without merit, but they are not based on your particular organization or your supporters. Use what you learn to continue to figure out how to make all your donors feel valued, respected, and like their contribution matters. This will change over time. Good thing is that so do the tools and resources available to us.

You do what you do because your organization believes in our capacity to be better, in our capacity to make the world better. Believe in the capacity of your grassroots donors.

All aboard!

This post was written for AB Charities in partnership with Wethos and also appears on their blog, The Nonprofit Revolution.

Getting the most out of #GivingTuesday

The end of 2017 is rapidly approaching, and with that comes holidays, shopping, and something that’s likely on a lot of fundraisers’ minds right now: giving season. Giving Tuesday (November 28th), the official kickoff to giving season, has become a prominent, global day of generosity, falling immediately after big shopping days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It’s the start to an end-of-year period when people are driven to give back. In 2016 on Giving Tuesday alone, nonprofits raised over $168 million globally, up a whopping 44% from 2015. And the giving won’t stop there — 30% (!!) of all nonprofit giving happens from Giving Tuesday through the end of the year. That adds up to a whole lot of groups making appeals for support on the same day, and a crowded marketplace as you work to hit your fundraising goals.

Folks tend to be feeling generous as the year comes to a close, and some have likely even planned ahead to make charitable contributions in the last month of the year. That’s why nonprofit fundraising teams should plan ahead as well, so you can have a strategy in place to reach those excited supporters multiple times during giving season, when they’re already inclined to chip in.

The more prepared your organization is, the better. If you’re a nonprofit fundraiser, you’ll find our top tips below for preparing your giving season fundraising campaign. As you make progress on your plans, we’re available to answer questions or talk strategy at AB Charities, so let us know how we can help. And if you’re not set up to use our tools yet, there’s still time — most organizations can get set up within a day or two!

  • Decide on a goal and make your donors feel like they’re invested in helping you hit it. You should focus on a measurable, realistic goal that you know your supporters can help you reach — and you should let your donors know about it! When there’s a tangible goal in mind, donors feel more motivated to give and help you succeed.

  • Outline, write, and prepare your content ahead of time. You’ll want to be prepared for both Giving Tuesday and the larger end-of-year push that comes afterwards. Having one or two emails prepared likely won’t be enough content to help you hit your goal. Take some time to brainstorm with your team and think through the different stories you want to tell and what fundraising emails, graphics, social media content, or blog posts you’ll need to get those messages across. And remember that above all, you want to tell a compelling story and incorporate urgency and emotion. Let your donors know why they should care about your work right now, why you need their contribution, and what you’ll be able to do with their donation if they give. You can also prepare thank-you text to send out to donors. AB Charities will send out a receipt automatically when people donate, but you can easily customize that language to thank your donors and add it to your fundraising page ahead of time, so every time a donor contributes they’ll receive your note.

  • Brand your contribution forms for Giving Tuesday. Giving Tuesday has become a way for supporters to feel like they’re a part of an incredibly large, global movement for positive change. When you brand your contribution forms to show donors that you’re asking for their support as a part of your Giving Tuesday campaign, it can help donors feel even more motivated to make a contribution that will help you reach your goals. Using AB Charities, it’s quick and easy to add a branding to your forms that fits in with the look and feel of your Giving Tuesday campaign. If you have questions about creating a branding find more info here or contact Kiersten from our advocacy team at arnoni [at] actblue [dot] com.

  • Connect with folks in your organization’s community ahead of time and invite them to participate in peer-to-peer fundraising. If you have supporters who are willing to put in a little work for your cause, you can make them an AB Charities contribution form and encourage them to organize their networks by emailing or posting on social media to help broaden your reach. Those folks who are already engaged in your organization’s work can offer compelling appeals for support by telling their personal stories or offering unique perspectives as to why your organization needs their donation. You can also get board members involved and make them their own fundraising pages, so they can keep track of fundraising goals and help you hit them. Your organization’s staffers can log in and check on the progress of the peer-to-peer and board fundraising pages, saving your team a ton of time!

  • Include a pop-up donation ask on your website. With so many donors planning on giving and researching causes they want to support, it’s common for charitable groups to experience high traffic on their websites from Giving Tuesday through the end of the year. Building a pop-up ask into your giving season campaign is a great way to meet your donors where they already are. Using AB Charities, ActBlue Express users can give easily with a single click on your pop-up. This will make it especially simple for donors who access your website via their phone or tablet — no typing in their credit card number to complete a donation.

  • Make a recurring ask to seize the momentum of Giving Tuesday and keep supporters engaged long-term. Many groups focus on bringing in one-time contributions to hit their goals, but we recommend asking for weekly or monthly recurring contributions. Recurring contributions are a great way to capture the excitement of giving season and turn it into long-term success. When you know you have a certain amount of money coming in each week or month from recurring donations, you can budget and plan ahead for the future. With AB Charities, you can set a deadline at the end of the year so donors can contribute a small amount each week from Giving Tuesday on, or you can set recurring contributions to run indefinitely every month, so you can keep the momentum going into the new year. Donors will feel invested in your work and you’ll be able to rely on a steady stream of donations even as giving season comes to a close.

Taking the steps above will help you have a solid plan in place and will set you and your team up for success. AB Charities allows you to track the performance of your contribution forms and how donors are responding to different content, social media asks, or email pitches in real time.

If you’re interested in learning more about our tools, have questions about preparing for Giving Tuesday, or want to run a test between AB Charities and your current platform, just let us know. You can drop Kiersten a line at arnoni [at] actblue [dot] com. We wish you good luck during giving season, and can’t wait to see your fundraising campaigns in action!

Finding your active recurring donors just became really easy

Recurring fundraising programs are important because they allow groups using ActBlue to budget, plan, and build for the future, so they can do more (and better!) organizing work.

Recurring fundraising benefits donors, as well, because they can commit to supporting your work for the long haul and really feel like they’re investing in the movements and causes they care about.

To make the most of a recurring program, campaigns and organizations need to be able to figure out how much recurring money is slated to come in. And a part of that process is being able to answer the question, “who are my recurring donors?” That’s why we now have a CSV available to every group using ActBlue that provides them with the data they’ll need.

How to download a CSV of active recurring contributions:

Navigate to the Recurring tab of your Dashboard menu, where you’ll see an option to “Download active recurring contributions CSV report.”

download-csv

Our system will generate a CSV with a detailed look at your currently active recurring contributions, including info like the date of the initial contribution, the date of the most recent recurrence, and the amount. Please note that for most groups, we expect the spreadsheet will download quickly, but if a group has a lot of active recurring contributions, it could take a few minutes to download (and it could take ~30 minutes for an especially large recurring program).

There are a lot of potential use cases for the data you’ll find in this CSV. You can use the CSV to help target future fundraising asks, like excluding donors who already have recurring contributions running. You can also use the CSV to keep track of your active recurring contributions over time to help make projections and plan ahead. Or, you can use the list of email addresses to send recurring donors updates, keeping them engaged and excited about the work they’re helping you do.

We’d love to hear about how you’re using the active recurring CSV to better your fundraising program, and as always, we’re happy to answer any questions that come up. You can reach out to a member of our team at info@actblue.com.


 

Double Down season is back

Today marks just fifteen days (!!) until Election Day. Democrats up and down the ballot are doubling down on their efforts, and now that we’re bringing our Double Down feature back around, your supporters can do the same.

When you set up Double Down, your donors will be asked to double the amount of their contribution after their initial donation processes.

Double down is similar to weekly recurring in that both are available for a limited time in the run-up to the election. But in the final stretch, weekly recurring can be less useful than a one-time contribution. You can set up Double Down as a part of creating your contribution forms — a quick and easy way to make more money in this short amount of time.

To turn on Double Down, just head to the Edit tab of your contribution form. Scroll down and click “Double Down Your Donation” Options.

double down

Check the box to enable the feature and write a sentence or two letting your donors know why they should double their contribution.

You can also add an image or a GIF to persuade your donors to double their donation, by clicking on the image icon (shown below) and inserting a URL that points to the graphic you’ve chosen.

 
double down
 

This is your chance to convey a sense of urgency to your donors, which is why we recommend using some short and compelling content for your ask blurb.

The pop-up your donors will see after their initial contribution will look something like this:

double down
 

Please note that for compliance purposes, doubled donations will show up as two separate line items.

One other point to note: If a donor makes a recurring contribution and then decides to double down on that contribution, only the original amount pledged will recur monthly or weekly.

We’re always working to make sure ActBlue’s tools suit your needs during the times when you need to be raising money the most. We hope Double Down will help power your campaign or organization through those big moments.

If you have any questions or ideas for future features that would be especially helpful during crunch times like this one, you can alway drop us a line at info@actblue.com.

More funds, no extra heavy lifting

We’re rolling out a brand new remarketing feature to help you follow up with donors who started to contribute but didn’t finish. Now you can send your donors a quick, friendly email to remind them why they wanted to give and ask them to complete their contribution.

If you’ve ever placed something in your cart while shopping online, clicked away, and received an email politely nudging you to finish up your purchase, you’ve gotten a remarketing email.

Here’s how it works: Once you’ve turned on the feature and customized your email with your own text and branding, donors who abandon your form before completing it will automatically receive an email thirty minutes following their incomplete donation.

This is what ours looks like:

 

remarketing

What counts as an incomplete donation? A donor selects a contribution amount and fills in their email address, but leaves the page before going on to fill in their credit card info. In that case, we’ll make sure they get a reminder with a link to your form asking them to complete their contribution.

This is available to campaigns, committees, and organizations across the board, but you must enable it on a form-by-form basis, as the feature is turned off by default.

If you’d like to enable the feature just head over to the Edit tab of your contribution form. Scroll down and toggle the “Remarketing Options” drop-down menu.

Check off the “Enable Remarketing” box.

Next you’ll need to write up some custom text. We have an automated response (which you can see in the sample above) set up to accompany the link your donors will receive, but we highly recommend filling it out with text specific to your cause or campaign.

You should view this as your chance to make the case to donors for why it’s so important that they finish the form and complete their donation. See below for an example of how to customize your text to get that message across to donors.

 

remarketing

 

If you have branded receipts enabled, that branding will be included on this email. The example email in this post include’s ActBlue’s branding. An unbranded email won’t include any logo.

If your campaign or organization is using default forms and you would like to enable remarketing for all of those contribution forms, simply follow the steps listed above for your default form (found at the top of your list of forms within your Dashboard’s Form Management tab).

In the short time since this feature was released, we’ve already seen it increase conversion rates and bring in more dollars for campaigns and organizations using it. It’s a great way to generate more funds from your asks without any extra heavy lifting.

As always, if you’ve got any questions or comments about this new feature just drop us a line at info@actblue.com.

Custom Facebook and Twitter share content

Our tech team is on a roll. Now you can enter custom content for both Facebook and Twitter shares on your contribution forms.

If you’re in the edit tab on a form you’ll see a new section:

social share

Here’s what a Facebook share would look like:

facebook share

Custom text and images should help increase conversions, so we encourage you to spend the extra couple minutes filling this in when you’re creating a new form. But at the same time, don’t expect social donations to be a magic bullet.

The vast majority of contributions come in from email, with Facebook coming in far behind, followed by Twitter. Custom share content won’t change that, but it will help on the margins, especially when your campaign is in a rapid response situation.

Enjoy this new feature and don’t forget to go back and edit your default donation form you link to on your website. As always, just drop us an email at info@actblue.com if you have any questions.

One-stop shop: Visualize your data and create targeted lists

At ActBlue we’re committed to dreaming up new ways for you to visualize all of your data. In that spirit, our tech team just rolled out a new way for campaigns and organizations to analyze contributor data by tracking HPCs (highest previous contributions) and total contribution amounts by individual donors.

This new visualization provides amazing insight not just for technically skilled data people, but also for smaller campaigns and organizations. The chart allows users to select groups of donors based on their donation history and download their email address and contributor information. That means teams that don’t currently have the ability to segment and target donors can now instantaneously create a segmented email list!

Here’s how it works:

If you navigate to the “Donors” tab of your Dashboard (previously called the “Uniques” tab), you’ll see a graph that looks something like this:

You can also select “Total Contribution Amount” in the “Show your donors by” menu to see this:

You can toggle between the HPC and total contribution views of the graphed data at the top. This chart has a log scale for both its x and y axis. A log scale increases by an order of magnitude, rather than a fixed amount, which allows us to present a clearer picture of your data. What does that mean? If you look at the x-scale, you’ll see there’s more space between 1 contribution and 2 contributions than there is between 8 and 9.  There are far more people who gave just 1 contribution, but on a regular graph all those dots would be stacked on top of each other. So, by choosing a log scale, we’re able to show you more of your actual data.  

The x-axis shows the total number of contributions a donor has made to your campaign or organization in their lifetime on ActBlue. The y-axis shows the donor’s highest previous contribution, or the total amount that they’ve donated, depending on which view of the chart you are looking at.

Values on the y-axis are rounded. For values from $1 to $5, amounts are rounded to the nearest dollar. For $5 to $25, they are rounded to the nearest $5, and from there on, tens are rounded to tens, hundreds to hundreds, and so on.*

For values on the x-axis, contribution numbers above ten are rounded to the nearest ten. It’s unlikely that you have contributions ranging in the hundreds, but in that case they are rounded to the nearest hundred.

The graph itself gives an insight to highest previous contributions for your entire donor base, along with information on how many donations people have made. But it doesn’t end there. Click a dollar value or a number of donations to highlight a row or column. You can switch to the other visualization to see how their total volume corresponds.

More importantly, you can download a CSV of the email addresses and the corresponding contribution data from a column, row, or selected range of the graph. To select a column or row, just click on the corresponding value and click “Download selected” in the upper right hand corner. 

To select a custom set of data, you can drag your mouse to draw a box around your desired values and then download the data.

This allows you to do some pretty sophisticated targeting without needing to do the backend work. You can easily target donors based on their highest previous contribution and frequency of donating without knowing a line of SQL.

For example, we’ve seen a lot of success in our program by targeting donors based on their HPC. For low-dollar donors, we’ll ask them for $5, while higher-dollar donors are asked for $10 or $15. With this chart, you could download a list of $3 and $5 donors and then send a personalized ask to that group. If you have a big enough email list, you could try sending a $5 ask and a $7 ask, to see if donors would be willing to give just a bit more.

You can also toggle the graph to show outliers (people who fall outside the scale of the graph), if you’re interested in targeting those donors.

We hope that this new tool will allow you to get to know your donors in a more nuanced way and run an even better email program.

If you have questions about applications or how to read the graph, we’re happy to answer them. Just drop us a line at info@actblue.com


*We chose this rounding scheme to simultaneously maximize the granularity of useful information and minimize unimportant visual clutter.

It’s crunch time so optimize those weekly recurring asks!

We’re fewer than six weeks from the election. That means, among other things, that optimal fundraising strategies become even more important than usual. Here at ActBlue, we’ve been running tests on a nearly daily basis on all kinds of Express Lane strategies.

Typically, we see the largest (statistically significant) improvements when optimizing factors related to the Express Lane askblock structure like amounts, number of links, and intervals between the links. For our own list, we find that, statistically speaking, the flashier aspects you see in some fundraising emails — emojis in subject lines, e.g. — do not do much (if anything) to improve donation outcomes. Here’s a tactic we recently tested, though, that’s a bit more on the fun side of things and definitely brought in a lot more money.

A little while ago, we started using our weekly recurring feature to great success. (By the way, if you haven’t tried this feature yet, shoot us an email at info [at] actblue [dot] com and we’ll turn it on for you.) After testing which amounts brought in the most money, we landed on this1:

We wanted to see if we could raise more money by asking for “$7 because there are 7 weeks until the election!” Gimmicky? Sure, but we had a hunch that it would perform well.2 Here’s what it looked like:

So what happened? The segment with the ‘7 for 7’ ask performed much better than the control; it brought in 87.6% more money, a statistically and practically significant improvement.3 Cool!

What’ll be interesting to me is to see when this tactic will lose its optimality. The key factor is that $7 (with gimmick) performed better than $10 (the control and previously optimal ask amount) despite it being a lower dollar amount. Though, at some point, a too-low number-of-weeks-to-election-dollar-ask-amount combination will negate the positive c.p. effect of the gimmick. Based on other testing we’ve done, my guess is that that will be at 4-weeks-$4. We’re doing follow-up testing on this “n weeks until the election!” tactic, so we’ll see!

If you decide to test something similar, send me an email and we can chat! Emails to info [at] actblue [dot] com with my name in the subject line will be directed to me.

P.S. Doing a lot of testing in the election run-up? Want a tool to help you manage your test groups? I wrote something in R for you! I’ll post something on the blog about it soon, but if you want it in the meantime, shoot me a note (emails to info [at] actblue [dot] com with my name in the subject line will be directed to me).

FOOTNOTES:

1 Actually, we built a model that predicts how a given Express user will respond to different types of donation requests based on previous donation information. Using those predicted values, we decide what type of donation ask they receive (of one-time, weekly recurring, monthly recurring) and for how much money they are asked. Math! The point: this is what we landed on for a certain subset of our list.

2 Of course, all else equal, it’s tough to distinguish whether any difference was due to the gimmick or because $7 is lower than $10. The theory would be that with a lower amount, more people would give, and even though the mean donation amount would likely be lower, the increase in number of donors would outweigh the decrease in mean donation size. This is definitely possible, but so is the opposite; it’s all about finding the optimal point.

In fact, we included a segment in the test which received an askblock starting with a lower amount and saw this dynamic in action, though the overall treatment effect was not statistically significantly different from the control. This lends support for interpreting the effect from the gimmick segment as the gimmick per se, but a detailed discussion is excluded from the body of the post for the sake of brevity. More rigorous follow-up testing on this “n weeks until the election!” tactic is already in the field— shoot us an email to chat!

3Pr(>|t|) < .01, controlling for other significant factors, including previous donation history.

Making your A/B test go off without a hitch

This post is the fourth in our blog series on testing for digital organizers. Today I’ll be talking about implementing your A/B test. This post will be full of helpful, quick tips.

So, we’ve discussed some things you might want to test, and some other things you might not want to test. Then, we walked through a simple way to figure out the number of people you’ll need in each of your test groups, which number depends on the smallest difference you’d like to reliably detect.1 Now what?

Well, the short answer is “run the test”, but of course it’s never that simple. Your next specific steps depend on what you’re testing, as well as which platform you’re using to run the test. There are too many possibilities for me to go through each one, but I can provide a few quick tips that should apply to you regardless of your specific situation.

First, make sure you have a reliable method of tracking your variations’ performance (like reference codes or an A/B testing tool (here are instructions for using ours)), and make sure you actually implement that method. This may sound like a no-brainer, but we’ve seen plenty of people start what would otherwise be an excellently set-up test with nothing to measure the variations’ relative performance! Is there a joke here about the “results” of the test?

Groaners aside, pointing out that error isn’t at all to make fun of the people who have committed it. Rather, we’re all busy, and things can get hectic. Having this on your pre-send checklist2 will save you from the realization that a lot of time spent thinking up a test, creating the content, and so on ad nauseam was all for naught.

What’s an example? Well, say you’re testing email content for donations. And of course, you want to use the best online fundraising software in the whole wide world, so you’re using ActBlue. Well, we have a handy feature that allows you to generate reference codes to track donations. We have a full instruction guide for using reference codes on our tutorial, found here. If you’re testing two different versions of your email, you could attach the URL param3 refcode=variation_a to the links in your first email and refcode=variation_b to those in your second email. Then, when you go to https://actblue.com/pages/[YOUR_PAGE_NAME]/statistics, you can measure the performance of each email. The information will also appear in a .csv download of your contribution form donations.

We also allow a handy refcode2 URL param if you want to conveniently subdivide your tracking. Conceptually, it’s the exact same thing as refcode; it’s value lies in the fact that it’s an extra place to store information. Think of a backpack with an extra divider on the inside for sorting your stuff. This is the internet version of that. For example, we use this for tracking link placement in the email. The need for refcode2, however, indicates that your test might be a bit complicated (i.e., there are more than just two variations, so setup and evaluation of the test is a bit outside the scope of the tips in this testing series.) That’s no problem, but you might want to shoot us an email at digital [at] actblue [dot] com to have a chat about test setup and design.

My second tip is related to groups. Taking your list—or some subset of your list—and dividing it up into smaller, randomized groups is a step that you’ll likely do in your CRM or email tool. Unfortunately, I can’t provide detailed instructions for each one. Chances are, though, that your CRM has an instruction page on how to do this within their software.4 In any case, this step is critical: without at least randomizing before conducting your trial, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Here’s an example of how to do it wrong: let’s say you’re testing two emails, and even though you’re not sure which one is better, you have a hunch that email B is better than email A. So, not wanting to lose out on money, you decide to assign 20,000 people with the highest previous donations to group B and 20,000 people with the lowest previous donations to group A. That way, you can conduct the test to find out which email is definitely better, but not have to lose too much money along the way, right? Well, that’d be great, but unfortunately it’s all wrong. Assigning your groups that way would all but ensure you draw false conclusions about your test–email B is all but certain to bring in more donations, but it’s because it was assigned high-propensity donors, not necessarily because it’s the better email. Make sure you’re at least randomizing (with a proper algorithm, q.v. footnote 4) before splitting your groups and implementing your test.

My third tip is short and sweet. After you do all of this legwork, how do you know that the right variations were sent to the right number of people? What if you’re working with eight groups instead of just two? Well, the answer is that you don’t really. But, that can (and should!) be remedied. Place your own email address in each of the test groups. This won’t significantly affect the results of the test, but it will allow you to be sure that the right variations were sent. “But, I only have one email address, how can I put myself in multiple test groups without the hassle of creating new emails?”, you ask. Use the old email-campaigner’s trick of adding a “+” to your email address if you have a Gmail-based address. For example, if your email address is janesmith@actblue.com, you can add janesmith+test_email_a@actblue.com to group A and janesmith+test_email_b@actblue.com to group B; they’ll both be delivered to your inbox, and you’ll be able to perfectly spot whether the variations were sent correctly.

My fourth and last tip of the day is the most important one of all. Remember going through the process of determining your required sample size? Well, we did that for a (lengthily explained) reason. Don’t deviate from that now. What the hell am I talking about? I’m talking about peaking at the results too early (viz., before you reach your necessary sample size.)

I get it. You spent a lot of time setting up a test for these awesome variations of, say, a contribution form, and even though you know you need to wait until 15,000 people land on the form to see results, you want to check what’s happening? Has either taken an early lead? etc., etc., etc.

You can check what’s happening along the way, but you should definitely not stop the test early because it looks like one variation is performing better.5 This is a really common mistake, but a deadly one. I can’t stress this enough. The more times you test two variations for significance (which we’ll talk about in a future post) before the required sample size is hit, the more likely you are to detect a false positive. In fact, you can pretty quickly render your test effectively useless. So, if you just have to see what’s going on, fine, but promise yourself and statisticians everywhere that you won’t act on what you see!

Ok, that’s it for today! Next we’ll talk about evaluating your results and even more importantly, learning from them!

FOOTNOTES:
1 as well as your tolerance for the probability of getting a false positive and false negative, though using standard values can take some of the difficulty of this decision making away

2 which, if you don’t have a pre-send checklist (we prefer old-fashioned paper, big check boxes, and sharpies!), you should make one ASAP

3 A way of passing messages from the URL back to the website which it can use to customize the display or data recorded.

4 Now, this is generally the most basic possible insurance for proper group setup, as most tools will do nothing more than randomize and divide. There are other steps that should be taken for running anything more complex than a simple A/B test, which steps tend to best be done with a statistical tool such as R. If you think something more complicated is in-line for your program, don’t hesitate to shoot us an email (digital [at] actblue [dot] com)– we’d love to work with you to see if something more complicated is in order, and if so, we’d be glad to help.

5 Saying “definitely” in a conversation about statistics is— if also delightfully ironic— a bit misleading. This is actually a really complicated topic with plenty of proffered solutions, which range from minor adjustments in your calculations to an entirely different philosophical approach to statistics (I mean, who knew, right?). Those are all great discussions to have, but for now, it’s probably best to just assume you shouldn’t repeatedly evaluate your test variations before you hit your required sample size. Ok? Cool.

Express Lane links for everyone

If you looked really closely to the Express Lane emails of a number of groups and campaigns recently, you might have noticed a tiny but significant change. Rather than saying: “Because you’ve saved your payment information with ActBlue Express…” the emails now read: “If you’ve saved your payment information with ActBlue Express…”



Why? Well, it turns out that you can raise slightly more money by sending an Express Lane-structured email to your entire membership. Traditionally, list admins send two distinct emails; Express users see Express Lane links, while everyone else gets an email with “regular” links. With Express Lane to all, you can send the same Express Lane email to all of your users, saving you time and opening up the possibilities for groups with smaller lists.

There’s been a lot of testing done both by us and other committees on sending Express Lane emails to everyone. The general consensus is that Express Lane structure to non-Express users does perform slightly better than normal links. We’ve tested sending Express Lane links to non-Express users 4 different times. Consistently, we see more money (the net bump is around 6-7%), but these results aren’t statistically significant. Others are seeing similar gains.

While we’d love to see statistical significance, we think it’s still a great idea because there is a tremendous upside potential for both groups and campaigns that are already using Express Lane and those who have yet to try it out. It’s a time saver for smaller groups and also encourages your members to save their information with ActBlue and become an Express user.

Our recommendation is that groups and campaigns test this with their membership and confirm that they are getting similar results before making this a best practice. There is some reason to believe that we’re seeing a novelty effect, since the new link structure is unusual. We’ll test this again in the future to make sure that the results are still holding, and we urge others do the same.

This tactic works particularly well for groups with smaller lists. We’re confident enough in the testing to tell you that you’re likely to raise more money from sending Express Lane to your entire list, especially with the strong growth in the Express universe (994k users and counting!). However, pay attention to future posts, in case we do find that there is a novelty effect.