It's All in the Ask: How Personalizing Amounts Can Increase Gifts

THE BACKGROUND

Welcome Hall Mission opened its doors in 1892 to Montrealers looking for care, guidance, and support. Today, they provide a wealth of services ranging from food banks and housing to dental care and employment training. They achieved these amazing feats only through the loyal support of their partners and donors.

As Welcome Hall Mission seeks to meet the needs of a growing community, the consistent call for growth inspires us here at Frontier, as their direct mail fundraising team. We are always looking to push the limits of what we can achieve for our clients. What makes Frontier so uniquely effective is our crew of experts that specialize in multiple areas of fundraising.

Charitable organizations generally record their donor base in some way, but not every charity can analyze what makes those donors give. That’s why we have an in-house data specialist who is passionate about crunching numbers and making improvements wherever possible.

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THE QUESTION

Thousands of donors give generously to Welcome Hall Mission every year, but why do they give the amounts they do, and would they be giving more if we asked for more? When we set ask amounts, how do we know if we’ll “over ask” and scare off potential donors or “under ask” and miss an opportunity?

It’s questions like these that lead us to hypothesize about new potential ask strategies.   

Previously, we sorted donors into segments using the recency, frequency, monetary-value algorithm (RFM). Once segments were determined, another algorithm set the ask amounts for each grouping. Our data specialist then manually adjusted those results to take into account the psychological factors that the algorithm may have overlooked.

Setting an ask amount is not an exact science. These amounts can be determined by multiple variables. We consider the following metrics:

  • the average contribution

  • the median contribution

  • the most common contribution

  • the highest previous contribution

  • the most recent contribution

  • the minimum contribution

Tweaking ask amounts often causes a seesaw effect between response rate and average donation. Asking for too much can mean fewer donations overall, but asking for too little can mean smaller gifts. Segmentation helps determine the appropriate ask for groupings of people but creates a one-size-fits-all approach per group.

THE TEST

With groupings of donors, it’s unavoidable that some recipients receive ask amounts outside of their comfort zone. There is always an open ask included, where donors can fill out an amount themselves; however, research has shown that ask amounts can either influence gift size or discourage gift giving altogether. This means that ask amounts wield the power of suggestion, which can be very useful to an NPO’s bottom line. So, is there a way to avoid playing the odds and tailor our asks to each individual donor? Enter, the test.

We concentrated on 3,000 donors from Welcome Hall Mission’s 2018 Easter appeal as a sample size. The control group, along with each of the 2 test groups contained volumes of 1,000 people.

  • The 1st test group retained the segmentation but based the ask amounts on the median contribution for each donor segment.

  • The 2nd test group removed segments entirely and provided each recipient with a set of personalized ask (or Bespoke Ask) ask amounts based on their most recent contribution.

THE RESULTS

When the results came in, we noticed a few things. Firstly, our test proved previous theories to be true: the group of median-based donors performed better on the response rate, but worse on the average gift than our control group. Secondly, we found that most grassroots donors gave more when their ask amounts were personalized to their specific donation history.

One detail stood out among the rest. Not only did the Bespoke Ask amounts achieve the highest average gift, but they also maintained a higher response rate than the control group! Our data specialist attributes a large part of this breakthrough to the psychology of suggestion, which cannot be utilized as effectively when working with fixed ask amounts or generalized segmentation across a broad donor base.

What do all these numbers mean for Welcome Hall Mission? This new strategy of customizing amounts to individual donors produced an increase of approximately 15% in revenue for the Mission! And as you know, a few dollars more from thousands of potential donors adds up to make a significant impact on the Montrealers being served.

NEXT STEPS

A hypothesis is only as good as its method. To confirm that it’s worth the time and effort to personalize each donor’s ask amounts, we need to continue our research. We’ve adjusted our approach based on other factors in each donor’s specific giving history, focusing on the most recent contribution, median contribution and minimum contribution. By tweaking the data and retesting, we are hoping to repeat and improve our results compared to last year.

Welcome Hall Mission’s 2019 Easter appeals are in the mail, testing further personalized Bespoke Asks. We are also sending out a Mother’s Day appeal with Kelowna’s Gospel Mission to test the same Bespoke Asks. We look forward to seeing how donors respond and can’t wait to report back to you with our plans for refining the strategy and implementing this method for more NPOs. Stay tuned!


More Than Mullets: Office Culture That’s Empowering + Engaging

At Frontier, we’re dedicated to helping organizations that do good, be great. We have teams specializing in print, digital, design, data, and client success, and they all play a unique role in making that happen.

Fundraising success inspired unprecedented personnel growth in 2018…

Mariam stepped up to become general manager. Nick took on the role of art director with Chantal taking on the majority of design work. A recent addition, David, joins Megan and Silvana to complete the digital team. Client happiness is handled by Sarah and Matt. And finally, our print team isn’t just Sophie anymore! Mariya brings copywriting in house to help streamline production and fit each word into fundraising best practices. And to complete our print team for the first time, we have recent additions Eric, and me—Katie!

Eric and I bravely attended the annual Benifactor retreat this past fall after only one week on the job. Lucky for us, the first order of business was to unpack a box of (mostly) mullet wigs, which nearly every Benifactor manager enthusiastically wore. Seeing a new boss in an epic mullet is enough to put almost anyone at ease, so us newbies were ready for a dive into the wonderful, weird world of Frontier—a world that includes so much more than mullets.  

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Retreats are essential to maintaining the Benifactor mosaic. You see, Frontier is not an only child. We share an office—and knowledge—with several sister agencies, all existing within the Benifactor family. As close relations of Charity Electric, Capstone Fundraising, Good Marketers Group, and Glass Register, Frontier is the sister who handles print and digital marketing for long-term clients.

Being part of a mosaic means we—and by extension our clients—are a part of something bigger. With the rapid growth that we consistently experience, our most recent retreat focused on defining who Benifactor is as a whole and exploring a vision for a sustainable future together.

The retreat was more than a chance to create a vision for our future. It was an opportunity to bond over shared meals and off-key karaoke. All in all, our retreat was a thoughtful reflection of Benifactor’s office culture, which revolves around employee well-being. As stated best by Benifactor Advisor, Heath, during our first retreat session, “growing as a person is more important than the company.”

That’s why Frontier’s culture focuses on keeping people empowered and engaged. Every week, we enjoy Taco Tuesday team lunches where we have the chance to laugh, bond and get to know each other so we can work better as a team.

With a flexible 32 hour work week, we can set our own hours and choose to enjoy the shared focus and camaraderie of our bright, open-concept office, or to work from home.

We also take the idea of self-determination seriously—it’s right in our name. We’re on the frontier of fundraising, and every job candidate writes a review of the HBO series Deadwood. It gives us a writing sample and insight into the way our potential new team members think. More importantly, it gives new hires a helpful analogy to understand our culture.

Like in the frontier town of Deadwood, at Frontier Marketing Company everyone gets to choose who they want to be. Team members are encouraged to figure out how their unique skills can most benefit the team. Someone could start in a well-defined role, and within a few months or years, end up in a position that didn’t even exist when they started.

Our culture constantly evolves to help the team be their best. This kind of flexibility and empowerment keeps everyone engaged and excited about their work. Even better, with everyone adding unique skills and strengths, we have a whole range of expertise that allows us to produce the best possible results for our clients.


The Innovation of Envelope Design

The Backstory

For 40 years, Kelowna’s Gospel Mission has been feeding, housing and supporting the vulnerable to turn homelessness into wholeness. Frontier has had the pleasure of partnering with this transformational organization for the last four years.

Our main goal is to help organizations create lasting change. In order to make this happen, we focus on what we can do to ensure constant growth. This means we analyze every detail that goes into our client’s campaigns to ensure optimal donor engagement. Our experiments  compare and contrast different characteristics so that we are constantly providing the best results possible.

The results of some of our tests and innovations are shared in blog posts such as Behind the Design: A Case Study and Victoria Dandelion Society: A Case Study. Constant testing helps us to further tailor our strategies to our client’s individual needs. That’s why we’re sharing one of our most recent tests with you, today.

The Test

Here at Frontier, we get pretty excited about the design of envelopes. Why? Because the design of a sealable paper container could be the difference between obtaining a donation or not.

Generally, for Kelowna’s Gospel Mission newsletters, we create outer envelopes that are minimalist in design. This is because we send out five per year, alternating with fundraising appeals that have much more vibrant and colourful outer envelopes. It’s a subtle way of branding the newsletters differently so that donors recognize them as soon as they open their mailbox. (See image below.)

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When we wondered whether we were missing out on a chance to share imagery on the newsletter’s outer envelope, we decided to conduct an A/B test! We were curious to see if adding a human face to an alternative newsletter envelope would be a motivator to open it up and see what was inside.

"We were wondering if adding a face, an emotionally stimulating, humanizing element, might increase donor engagement and donation revenue from newsletters.” — Chantal, Frontier designer

The image used on the alternative envelope is of a woman whose story is featured in the centrefold of the newsletter. She overcame obstacles and transformed her life with help from Harmony House, Kelowna’s Gospel Mission’s women’s centre. She appears smiling and content on the envelope, an accurate representation of her success story. (See image below.)

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The newsletter itself was the same for both versions, thanking donors for their support, recapping the previous year with a few stories, and providing an update for future initiatives and programs. The mailing list was randomly split in half, with half of donors receiving the regular, stripped-back version, and the other half receiving the trial version with the image.

Results

When the results came in, we saw a neck-and-neck race between donors receiving version A versus B. Without an indication of one version performing better or worse than the other, what we can do is retest. It’s the name of the game with data-driven fundraising. Even if the results had drastically favoured one version over the other, the nature of increasing donation revenue from a newsletter has a number of variables at play. In order to ensure that the results were an accurate reflection of the variables under assessment, we’d need to perform the same test again, to understand more fully what is happening and what is working.

This is just one example of the many tests we’re regularly running, to find out what’s working with our fundraising, and what might work better. Innovation is a process, and a process we take seriously! By understanding the psychology behind influencing a donor, we can further sharpen our skills and strategies to create incredibly impactful and long-lasting outcomes for our clients.

What’s Next

Newsletters do not typically raise as much revenue as more aggressive fundraising appeals. But while the focus in newsletters is generally on thanking donors, because recognizing their generosity is key to keeping them around, it’s not a waste of time to want more. We hope you’ll stay tuned for other innovations that we’re implementing in our clients’ newsletters!

Introducing Dalit Freedom Network: Almost Four Years with Frontier!

History

Dalit Freedom Network Canada (DFN) is a remarkable non-profit helping Dalit people in India overcome oppression, realize their human worth and gain self-reliance—all through the gift of education. They are helping millions of Dalit people through the support of donors, but in a country with a population like India’s, it’s a massive challenge. Hundreds of millions are still in need.

In 2014, DFN was looking to increase revenue by establishing a strong foundation for fundraising. They had heard of Google AdWords Grants but weren’t using it, and needed an expert to help with their application. Their goals were to gain increased awareness, increased education funding and increased child sponsorships.

When Frontier heard about their need, we knew our data-driven, digital and integrated approach would be a great fit. We knew DFN’s team to be passionate about their life-changing, even world-changing work, so we were thrilled when they chose us to be their guide on the road to higher revenues.

Introducing Frontier

As of this coming fall, Frontier has spent four years with Dalit Freedom Network Canada and we’re thrilled to share some of the valuable improvements we’ve made to their fundraising program!

The first step we took toward building a strategy for long-term growth was an audit to discover and articulate DFN’s situation, strengths and weaknesses. We created an integrated marketing action plan that detailed all of our recommended fundraising and marketing activities for the year ahead—showing the way forward to sustainable growth.

Game Plan

In our action plan, we included a month-by-month direct response (mail and email) fundraising strategy, and committed to donor acquisition and donor retention targets.

Throughout strategizing and production, we kept in close contact with DFN leadership to ensure that every piece was consistent with their core identity. We also pitched in with ideas for stories and media relations, shared from a marketing perspective.

In collaboration with DFN leaders, we developed a visual identity guide and a writing style guide. In this way, we could confidently build out from marketing products that were already in place—maintaining the values of their mission while we moved toward bigger and better.

One of the first projects we took on was the rebrand of their newsletter, The Dalit Report. We set up a consistent schedule of quarterly, seasonal issues. Each issue recaps the highlights of the season and shows donors the true value of their impact. Each shares a feature story, a donor profile and a personal message from Sherry Bailey, DFN Canada’s Executive Director. We even created a special, annual Wish List edition to appear in homes each Christmas season (see image of cover below). Newsletters are created largely as cultivation pieces, to develop long-term relationships with donors by showing accountability, piquing their interest, giving them feedback, and in general fostering interaction, trust and ownership. After all, statistics show—and other fundraising authorities agree—that donors who are personally thanked, who have seen results, and who are connected to the organization through multiple media pathways are more likely to give again.

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Once DFN had a chance to see our products in action and garnering results, they entrusted us with the creation of three brand new campaigns:

  • Family Day Campaign

  • Christmas

  • Year End, with a tax calculator

We also took two of DFN’s existing campaigns and brought them to a whole new level:

  • Freedom Campaign — essentially rejigged the whole campaign, with all new digital integration (see example of email header image below).

  • Back to School

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In addition to these annual fundraising items, we also signed on to give their website a refresher. We updated its messaging and style to match DFN’s other media platforms, creating a more user-friendly experience and restructuring the flow of the website to funnel all visitors to the donate page. In all campaigns, newsletters and the website, we seamlessly integrated the messaging and brand to develop trust and consistency across all mediums.

For each campaign, we also studied our data and our donors and implemented targeted fundraising through segmentation, so that we could inspire many different types of donors to give. (If you want to know more about donor segmentation, check out our post on it here.) When sending out appeals, newsletters and emails, it’s important to remember that we’re communicating with real live people on the other end, and we have to be relevant to them. So we made every effort to connect with them on a human level and demonstrate shared values.

Working with Frontier for the past several years, I am impressed by how they have not only raised the standard of both our print and digital campaigns, but are constantly looking for ways to improve our communication with our donors. Frontier captures the essence of who we are as a ministry and articulates our story with engaging content and great design.
— Sherry Bailey, Executive Director, Dalit Freedom Network Canada

The Numbers

Beyond developing a wonderful and healthy relationship with DFN’s team, we were able to impress them with consistent growth and help move them towards the vision of freedom for all Dalits!

DFN’s revenue for 2014 was $3,638,862 and over the following year grew to a total revenue of $5,526,920 for 2015. That’s a 51.9% annual increase! Several factors played into this great increase, including the work of Frontier to help  grow their integrated fundraising. Compared to the annual increase from 2013 to 2014 of 28.8%, this was an exciting—but not surprising—number to present to DFN. We also saw exponential growth as we closed out the 2016 year.

To put their growth in perspective, in 2015, we effectively raised $73,613 through the website and $15,643 through emails. In 2016, web revenue increased to $156,629 and emails brought in $37,012. If the email revenue looks small, remember that the ROI is always huge, and in this case, 744%!

Finally, in 2017, we saw an 25% increase in print revenue compared to 2016, and a 35% increase in the average gift amount given in response to print pieces! DFN also experienced a 19% increase in web revenue year over year!

When we first took on DFN as a client in October 2014, they had a donor list for print of approximately 6,000. By sending a warm acquisition to people who were connected with DFN but hadn’t yet given, we grew this list well past 7,500. This growth in print communication plays a big role in the number of donor visits to the website as well, and even the amount of emails that get opened and clicked.

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Conclusion

The numbers don’t lie; our strategies work. The number of donors who have given 10 or more gifts per year has grown by 32%. That means overall, as we focus on the long-term, more Dalit families can get an education and find freedom.

Our primary focus for the past year has been mobile and tablet driven marketing efforts and continuing to bridge the gap between donors and the tangible results of their support. For example, last year’s Back to School campaign showed a school being built in increments based off of donations. We will continue creating innovative campaign elements in order to really engage donors with their impact. We also aim to streamline the transition between print appeals and online donations, as well as moving into a more ‘personal’ format for campaign appeals - including handwritten notes from Dalit children, because there’s nothing like a true story to inspire action.

Furthermore, we are gaining insight into the migration of donors from print to digital mediums. For each large print campaign execute, we also create and share a specific URL tied to that campaign to track which print campaigns are generating online donations. This allows us to more accurately report on print donations, as well as print donations made through digital channels.

We’re always thrilled to see what new, world-changing projects DFN is working on. It means that we get to work with real-life stories of people who are being impacted in wonderful ways and we’re so honoured to play a part! We anticipate many more years of continued growth together and look forward to sharing more awesome results.