case study

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.

FC_Bespoke Ask_Blog.jpg

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!


A Match Made in Heaven: Frontier and Bridgeway quadruple $60k for poverty relief

History

In late April of 2014, our leadership team met with Mark Petersen, Executive Director of Bridgeway Foundation, at their downtown Toronto office. Over hours of conversation, we shared our concerns, thoughts and hopes about digital fundraising in Canada. On the plane ride home to British Columbia, we envisioned a plan that would motivate charities to become more innovative online.

In the following months, our team secured a grant to study fundraising best practices, examining a 55 point checklist for each of 92 member organizations listed by the Canadian Council of Christian Charities. Months of research, micro-donations and writing later, we had a report in our hands. This report can be downloaded at digitalcharity.ca.

To connect the study with tangible results, the capstone of the project was to lead six charities through a best-practice matching campaign. Each charity served the area of urban poverty relief, but were different sizes and in different cities.

The Match

Bridgeway Foundation is a private family foundation that supports non-profit organizations through financial grants and partnerships. They stimulate innovation within the social sector and strengthen organizations’ capacities to serve. Working in tandem with their generosity, we devised a plan to organize and execute six pro-bono match campaigns for $10,000 each, for a total of $60,000 in matching funds.

Eligible charities were encouraged to apply for Bridgeway’s grant by submitting an application that highlighted a project in need of funds. Once selected they were informed, and Bridgeway gave us notice of winners to begin our summer partnership.

Over the summer of 2015, the Frontier team performed pro-bono fundraising campaigns for the following charities:

Siloam Mission, Winnipeg, Large List, June 23 to July 2 Regeneration Outreach Community, Brampton, Small List, June 25 to July 14 Souls Harbour Rescue Mission, Halifax, Small List, July 1 to July 20 Hope Mission, Edmonton, Medium List, July 14 to July 23 Welcome Hall Mission, Montreal, Small List, July 7 to July 16 Yonge Street Mission, Toronto, Large List, August 11 to August 20

None of these six charities had sent out similar campaigns to their email list in at least the previous twelve months.

The Campaigns

We needed to keep things simple for two reasons: we were walking through major digital campaigns with strangers to whom we’d be introducing different tools, methods and tactics. We also wanted to make sure that there was consistency across the group to provide clearer analytics.

Frontier’s action plan was as follows:

Campaign Setup

  • Using the best practices from our digitalcharity.ca report, build a simple landing page that can be adapted for each of the six charities.
  • Work with each charity to set up a Stripe.com account for processing donations.
  • Set up donor friendly confirmation pages & thank you emails.
  • Create an eblast that can be adapted for 10 or 20 day campaigns.

Eblasting

  • Send a kick off eblast on day one to their whole list.
  • Send a reminder eblast 2 days after the initial announcement to the whole list.*
  • Send a ‘forward to a friend’ eblast on day 7 to the engaged segment of the list.*
  • Send a last-day reminder on the final day to the whole list.
  • Send a ‘few hours left’ eblast in the final evening to those who did not open the previous email.
  • Send a Congratulations/Thank-you eblast to everyone the day after.

*exact day for sending each eblast may vary 1-2 days depending on day of the week and whether the campaign was for 10 or 20 days.

Bonus

For most charities, we posted on Facebook or tweeted. Others successfully inspired major donors to put down money and thus drive their campaign further. Organizations that surpassed their goal early on were encouraged to approach major donors and request that their gift be used to motivate others to give more. In this way, the campaigns kept up their momentum until the end of the 10 or 20 day period. Having “in the moment” action made for exciting days!

Putting a charge in the online giving pages

We truly believe we created the six best online giving pages in Canada this summer. Employing the lessons learned within the digitalcharity.ca report, we emphasized the following:

  • a fully responsive experience for desktop, tablet and mobile
  • suggested amounts with clear language for impact (eg. $100 helps 64 people)
  • colour schemes specific to each mission for easy and trust-building navigation
  • inline validation for accurate data entry by donors (green check = yes, red x = error)
  • applicable security symbol and trust marks (“100% secure,” Registered Charity Number)
  • minimal number of fields required for donation processing and receipting (eg. CC type, city, province was auto-generated)
Untitled-1
Untitled-1

The Result

Over 300 hours of volunteer time from ten Frontier staff and dozens of hard-working development staff from six different missions worked to send 38 eblasts to over 44,000 subscribers. It made for an incredible summer.

A grand total of $237,476 was raised. $177,476 came directly from online donors, and 15% came from offline gifts directly as a result of the campaign!

Every charity reached the $10k match threshold, with the best performers raising $33.9k, $48.4k, and an astounding $58.2k.

1,270 donors contributed to the match online. 23% of online gifts came in the first day of the campaign while 35% came in the final day.

We noticed a significant increase in e-commerce conversion rate (in other words, the percentage of people who come to the page who donate). During the campaigns (10-20 day periods) the charities averaged 12.36% conversion of site visitors as compared to 2.44% March through May (90 day periods that included an Easter and a Camp fundraising ask).

The average gift increased 11%, or $14.44, over the March to May average.

Of the three charities with data before and after our campaign, 56% of all online donations from June 21 till August 22 were attributed to the match campaign.

One of the Biggest Insights: Mobile Matters

The three big charities with complete data from previous months increased their mobile conversion rate by 867% during the 10 days of the match, when compared with March through May. They had 128 combined mobile donations for a 0.6% conversion rate on those three months, in comparison to 116 mobile donations during the 10 day match for a 5.8% conversion rate.

Screen Shot 2015-09-09 at 2.11.03 PM
Screen Shot 2015-09-09 at 2.11.03 PM

These three organizations raised $13,653 through mobile during the match campaigns as compared to $5,158 the three months of March through May.

Tablet giving changed too. Tablet conversions went from 2.45% conversion March through May to 12.87% during the campaign. They raised $11,766 from tablets during the campaign, up from $5,456 March through May.

Whereas mobile and tablet represented 13.9% of online giving in March through May, during the campaign they contributed to 20%, an increase of over 43%.

Match campaigns can transform fundraising campaigns through the power of multiplication, extending the impact of each donor. But these campaigns are about so much more. The partnerships over this year contributed to hundreds of thousands of dollars raised, and many lives changed. The human impact happened when the excellence of collaboration met the innovation of technology.

The first day in the new kitchen! Thank you Lucy Kristen and Grace Place pic.twitter.com/bp9fS4UiOT

— Regen Brampton (@RegenBrampton) August 28, 2015

Victoria Dandelion Society's Easter Match, a Case Study

History

The Victoria Dandelion Society (VDS) was founded in 2011 by Reverend Al Tysick, in order to meet the need for both tangible and emotional support within Victoria’s homeless community.

We had been working with VDS since early on, building them a new website and implementing email and direct mail programs. Thanks to this we were we were able to follow best practices from the start, not only in the website we built but in fundraising campaigns. We have seen the fruits of this in continued growth of VDS’s donor base.

This year a rare opportunity arose when an anonymous donor stepped up, offering to match gifts up to $75,000. Having experienced great success with match campaigns run for larger clients such as Union Gospel Mission, we wanted to bring those outcomes to our most grassroots client, the Dandelion Society.

The Game Plan

This was not the first match campaign we had organized for VDS—they had participated in two campaigns through Chimp.net in 2014 with moderate success. In both these cases the donor had been directed to an external site, so we decided on a new approach to streamline the giving process and hopefully bring in more donations.

The new Spring Match campaign would keep donors on the VDS site, creating less distractions that would draw away from the process. We would implement an aggressive email campaign as well as two print appeals in order to reach a diverse array of donors and create a truly integrated campaign.

Frontier laid the groundwork for this campaign by inserting a ‘soft’ launch in the February print appeal and the Winter Newsletter. This ensured that donors would be expecting the match and thus more receptive when it was fully launched, despite our email strategy being fairly aggressive.

The campaign included 8 emails, 2 direct mail appeals, web boosts and several social media posts. The core messaging was simple: Donate now to help twice as many people, increase our impact on the street.

IMG_0998
IMG_0998

Print appeal and envelopes with match campaign branding

The 8 emails were segmented so that not every contact received every one. Those who clicked donate on a certain email would not receive a reminder, and those who hadn’t donated were sent a follow-up. As the campaign deadline drew closer, the frequency of emails increased to give a sense of urgency.

Untitled-1
Untitled-1

Results

Our persistence paid off. Including matched funds the campaign brought in $91,026. For a small organization like VDS, this was a huge success. The previous two match campaigns through Chimp.net had only raised $6,830 and $5,044 respectively, affirming that the fewer steps the donor has to complete, the more likely they are to give, and that integrated campaigns perform best.

The results of this campaign confirmed our suspicions that an aggressive approach can work, especially when people are given a deadline. It creates a sense of urgency and often will encourage donors to give more.

Victoria Dandelion Society, a Case Study

History Started by Reverend Al Tysick in the late summer of 2011, the Victoria Dandelion Society registered as a charity October 2012. Victoria Dandelion Society (VDS) is very much a grassroots charity, founded and run by a single man who has made it his mission of over 30 years to care for Victoria’s homeless community; better known as Rev. Al’s street family.

Frontier was brought in early on to help grow the donor base, at the time consisting of mostly Rev. Al’s friends and close contacts in the community. As VDS was a fairly new charity, it gave us the opportunity to implement best practices from the get-go rather than working backwards to implement fixes to processes already underway.

Game Plan Following a fundraising audit and plan, we set up systems best suited to today’s world of fundraising. This meant a strong focus in online giving. As a foundation for that, we built:

  • a brand new website
  • an email program
  • a Google AdWords Grant
  • a direct mail program

The new and improved website, renamed from dandelionsociety.ca to hopeliveshere.ca, provided a strong foundation to foster online giving with clear messaging in Al’s unique voice and a visual outline of the work VDS does in the community. Donors, current and potential, are able to see where and how their dollars are put to work and observe their impact on the ground.

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 2.32.30 PM

The email program keeps donors informed and engaged with Dandelion Reports, online appeals, stories, and messages from the desk of Rev. Al. The purpose of sharing this information in such a personal voice is to demonstrate the tangible impact donors are making by supporting the Victoria Dandelion Society. Donors are known to give up to three times more to charities that show the problem being solved and where their dollars will go.

We also set VDS up with the database SalesForce.com (which we recommend to nearly all our clients) to ease the tracking process of online giving. Additionally, Stripe paired with our own customized donation system made gift processing a breeze for donors and helped us avoid the dreaded donation form abandonment.

Results

Donor cultivation was also an area we wanted to emphasize. We gradually grew the direct mail program, slowly increasing the number of mailings per year. Over the Christmas period we ran acquisition pieces in the Times Colonist. The uniquely small size of VDS allowed us to really personalize their appeals. Take the monthly donor program for example:

  • Monthly donor program runs every three months
  • Monthly donors are fondly known as ‘Al’s Pals’
  • Every monthly donor appeal letter is handwritten and personally stamped!

As a fundraising tool, this works incredibly well as this level of personalization shows donors that you notice and value them which makes them feel connected to your organization, which means they’re more motivated to support it. It certainly worked for VDS as we grew from two monthly donors to 125 monthly donors in under three years.

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 2.32.09 PM

Our cultivation and acquisition efforts were rewarded when donor numbers grew from 141 in 2011 to 2,582 in 2014. In 2014, VDS welcomed 1177 new donors compared to 2011 when they had all of 90 new donors.

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 2.31.27 PM

The results truly speak for themselves with a revenue jump of $22,389 to $244,576 in three years. It’s humbling to see a small organization that directly impacts the local community experience such rapid growth in the few years we’ve been privileged to work with them. From starting out with under 150 donors to over 2,500 is no small feat for a grassroots organization like Victoria Dandelion Society.

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 2.31.15 PM

They also saw website revenue jump from $28,672.80 to $40,418.10 (up 40.96%!) in two years. Not only did their revenue increase but their number of gifts went up by 42.64% (258 in the 2013-2014 period vs 368 in the 2014-2015, to mid April).

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 2.31.46 PM Figure shows 2014-2015, to mid April vs. 2013-2014

It’s wonderful to see that a clear and simple online giving strategy combined with a strong print program has really worked beautifully for VDS.