Let’s get small: microimprovements

402px-david_von_michelangeloThere is a story, perhaps apocryphal, that someone watched Michelangelo retouching every inch of one of this statues.  The bystander asked him why he bothered with such trifles; the artist replied “Trifles make perfection. And perfection is no trifle.”

In the direct marketing world, it’s difficult to say that there is such a thing as perfection.  You will likely never see, in any quantity, a 100% response rate or open rate.  But our goal is to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

There rarely is an idea that you have that will double the completion of your online donation page.  But you can find 16 ideas that each get you five percent better, each one compounding to double your response.

So without further ago, a few small ideas that may make small (or big) differences.  In no particular order:

Change the color of your donate button to something not approved in your brand guidelines.  It will stick out.  Good.  Things that stick out get clicked on.  When this starts to lose its effectiveness, change it again.

Reduce the size of your download.  A Sprint phone downloads an average of 11 MB per second on 4G .  We can easily design pages with enough extra code and random things to download to cost an extra second.  One second lost means 7% fewer conversions.

That’s probably why water.org has their homepage look like this:

water

But their donation page looks like this:

 

waterdonationpage

Increase customization by a variable.  If you do name, do name and location.  If you do name and location, add in donation history.  Et cetera.  These are more than 5% tactics

Add a small donate bar at the top of your site.  Human Rights Watch reported (at DMA’s DC nonprofit conference) that the below orange bar and a larger orange footer on their site increased donations from the home page by 256%.  Many days, I’d settle for 2.56%.

Go into Google AdWords.  And do what it says to do.  If it recommends splitting up your keywords, it probably knows that doing so will allow you to customize your copy.  Punctuate your headline properly.  It knows that increases click-throughs.  And so on.  It will keep bringing up these opportunities; you just have to act on them.

Try adding a picture.  Not necessarily guaranteed, but a quality picture will usually improve a home page, mailpiece, donation page, content marketing, etc.  I’ve found a significant difference in the traffic I get from blog posts with pictures over those without.  Hence David hanging out at the top of this one.

Call some donors.  Ideally some of your best, but these thank you’s will both help with the donor’s loyalty and give you ideas for things you can try (or stop).

Take some fields off of your donation form.  Phone number?  Ask for that afterward.  If you have the ability to divine city and state from ZIP on your form, go for it.  You are looking to streamline this process.

Similarly, reduce the clicks to get to the donation form.  Hopefully, it’s one or zero (that is, you can start entering info on the Web page).

Remove the navigation from your donation page.  Now is not the time for someone to want to look at your executive’s pictures.  Four tests show improvements from the tiny to the oh-my-goodness here.  

Run a test.  Are those ask amounts correct?  How do you know?  If you are mailing, emailing, or calling with the same thing for 100% of your communications, you are missing out on your 5% opportunities.

Hopefully, one of these gets you 5%.  If it does, please leave it in the comments.  If it doesn’t, please let us know in the comments what did.

Let’s get small: microimprovements

Men donate from Mars; Women donate from Venus

I recently spent a solid week trying to dispel the notion that Millennials are the most unique possible of all generations and, in fact, the idea of generational dynamics entirely.  Millennials are people and should treated like people, no better, no worse.

Since then, the Detroit News and San Diego Magazine have both done canonization pieces about Millennials and charitable giving.  I have tried not to roll my eyes, but I have not succeeded.

One of the many points in those blogs that almost any other point of demographic differentiation is better than generation for determining people’s viewpoints.

So today, I’d like to look at sex differences in giving.  To give credit where credit is due, Indiana University / Purdue University Indianapolis has a wonderful initiative called the Women’s Philanthropy Institute.  They have done a lot of the research into this; my job here is largely to present it and to try really hard not to mess it up.

On that positive note, here are some of the differences (the studies behind these are all found here):

  • Women give more to charities than men and specifically single women give significantly more than single men.
  • That said, marriage significantly increases giving of both men and women.
  • Women tend to give more to women’s issues, human rights, and environmental causes.  Men give more to issues around security, the economy, and sports.
  • Interestingly, these differences subside as women and men get wealthier, with their tastes merging a bit more.   A potential hypothesis is that larger gifts from wealthier people also tend to me more the product of familial consultation.  Thus, it may be a more literal merging of tastes.
  • Men tend to give to fewer charities; women tend to spread out their giving more.
  • Women are more likely to volunteer and more likely to donate to the organization they are involved with as a volunteer.
  • There is little difference in bequest giving patterns.

But you want to know what will cause men to give and what will cause women to give.  Well, I won’t disappoint.

A Social Science Research study  found that men have lower empathy scores when not watching Glory, Brian’s Song, Rudy, or Field of Dreams. (They omit this last part, but it’s implied.)  Given this, they looked to see if there was a way to get them to donate (noting that emotional appeals were not working as well).

The researchers tried four frames:

  • Social proof: “When you give to CRP, you join your fellow citizens in helping to fight poverty. The poor are now being helped by record numbers of charitable givers across the country. You can join the movement to eliminate poverty with your contribution to CRP.”
  • Efficacy: “When you give to CRP, your donation counts. Multiple external audits confirm that more than 98% of donations to CRP go on to directly benefit the poor. You can be assured CRP will put your contribution to work by using your donation to fight poverty effectively.”
  • Clear injustice: “When you give to CRP, you help fight the injustice of poverty today. Of the millions of people who fall below the poverty line, many of them were born into poverty and never had the opportunities that other Americans did. You can help address the injustice of poverty through your donation to CRP.”
  • Aligned self-interest: “When you give to CRP, your donation addresses a problem that hurts us all. Research shows that poverty weighs down our interconnected economy, leading to greater government spending, and exacerbating many social problems like crime. You can benefit everyone, and help make the economy strong and productive for us all through your donation to CRP.”

The aligned self-interest framing worked significantly better than the others with men.  However, this was also the worst performing with women.

So, to oversimplify, the traditional emotional appeal works best with women and appealing to “what’s in it for me” works best with men.

Has anyone has experience with testing this type of messaging?  Would love to hear your experience in the comments or at nick@directtodonor.com.

Men donate from Mars; Women donate from Venus

Priming with donation history and localization

I realized while preparing this post that I have used the phrase “play back” donation history in four different posts — in measuring retention, in the power of commitment and consistency, in my first post on customization, and yesterday.

But I realized I had not provided the intellectual background for why, other than as an example of commitment and consistency.

That ends today.  Kessler and Milkman of the Wharton School did a study of identity in charitable giving.  As they are from Wharton, they gussy up the paper with all sorts of stuff likewharton

But the paper is basically did two split tests with the American Red Cross.  The first was with lapsed (25+ month) donors, where the test version added the line “Previous Gift: [Date]” at the top of the letter (this was the only change).  Lapsed donors renewed 20% better when this statement of their donor status up front.

Also, response rates were 6-8 percent.  Can someone tell me what Red Cross was mailing to lapsed donors in 2010? Because if it wasn’t gold bricks, I want to test it.

I would wager that this is part the idea that the nonprofit knows who I am and what I’ve done.  It’s nice not to be treated anonymously, especially in this day and age.

 

farside

Copyright: someone who isn’t me. My apologies.
If it helps, I owe all of the Far Side books…

Part of this is reminder: “oh, goodness me, I meant to send a check, but I forgot.  Has it been that long?”.  Part is almost certainly shame.  Like we said yesterday, people want to feel good about themselves and a donation four years ago likely isn’t enough to cut it.

The second test looked at community identification.  People received solicitations for one of four efforts: the annual drive, the state drive, the winter drive, and the city drive (with the name of their state and city filled in).  Customizing this down to the city level significantly helped response rate:

  • City: 5.51%
  • State: 4.12%
  • Annual: 4.01%
  • Winter: 3.82% — proof that people hate winter

There was also a 4.8% higher average gift for those who received the city mailing.

The authors went a step further and looked at community size.  Sure enough, people from smaller communities were even more influenced by having the drive be about their city than people from larger ones.  After all, it’s easier to have community pride for Greendale, WI, than the entirety of Chicago, IL.  In part because Greendale is awesome, but mostly because of size.

So these two types of priming work and are thus things that can work for us in the mail, on the phones, and online, considering that the costs of these types of tweaks are typically low.  So go forth and customize!

Priming with donation history and localization

What’s in a name? Word choice in direct marketing

It is an article of faith that names have power. In Genesis 1 and 2, Adam names the animals as part of his dominion over them. Many wizards in the Potterverse dare not speak the name of Voldemort, choosing He Who Must Not Be Named instead. Shakespeare asked what was in a name and it turned out it was quite a bit, given the death toll at the end of that play. Rumplestiltskin, Isis versus Ra, Doctor Who, Bilbo in Smaug’s den, YHWH, and so on: so much of our myth and mythology is about there being power in what something is called.

The truth is that, because of nominal biases, what something is called matters. I’m cheating a bit with this topic, because this isn’t one big cognitive bias, but a few different ones. They can have an impact on your direct marketing language.

People tend to prefer things, people, objects, etc. that are easy for them to understand. (study here). This is known as the fluency bias. There’s a reason that only eight names cover more than half of our presidents (James, John, William, George, Thomas, Andrew, and Franklin (which used to be a lot more popular than it is now)). Names that are more common help people rise faster in occupations. Believe it or not, stocks that have ticker symbols that can be pronounced as words outperform stocks that can’t be

Our brains are more persuadable by things that are easy to read and to hear. Winston Churchill, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature (and he did some other stuff), talked about how he intentionally chose words with few syllables in his speeches. As a result, they have a fluency that sticks in the mind.

Even as an American, I can easily recall more of Churchill’s rhetoric (“this was their finest hour”, “an Iron Curtain”, “we will fight them on the beaches”, “blood, toil, sweat, and tears”) than FDR’s (“a day that will live in infamy”, “all we have to fear is fear itself”, and I hit a wall).

So never select a gargantuan word when a minuscule one will suffice.

Of course, the most fluent name for something is one’s own name. Believe it or not, people who have the same initial as a hurricane give more in disaster relief to that hurricane. The theory is that people want to distance themselves from the act that “they” are committing.

This works in other ways as well. I once tested state-specific victim stories in direct mail pieces. In half of them, I indicated that the story came from that person’s state; in half, I didn’t. Response rates went up an average of 30% when the story presented in a place the person was familiar with. Thus, customization to personalize the details of stories to your audience can raise more money.

Details also have a powerful nominative effect. In the classic Made to Stick, which I strongly recommend, the Heath brothers relay the study that stuck in my mind as the Darth Vader toothbrush study. Simulated juries were given eight facts for and eight facts against.

darth vader toothbrushThe stories differed only in detail. Half received irrelevant details for the good side: e.g., instead of just “Mrs. Johnson sees to it that her child washes and brushes his teeth before bedtime,” they added “He uses a Star Wars toothbrush that looks like Darth Vader.”

The other half received irrelevant details for the dark side: e.g., in addition to “The child went to school with a badly scraped arm which Mrs. Johnson had not cleaned or attended to. The school nurse had to clean the scrape,” they mentioned that the school nurse spilled the treatment, staining her uniform red.

Jurors who heard vivid details for the good things judged Mrs. Johnson to be a more suitable parent than jurors who heard the unfavorable arguments with vivid details. So make sure you are providing a real picture for your audience.

There is also a framing effect to word choice. Everyone in the abortion debate wants to be pro-life or pro-choice and not anti-life or anti-choice.

I find this to be especially true for verbs. Ideally, you will be able to ditch adverbs like ideally and have your verbs do the heavy lifting. In a study, witnesses were asked how fast two cars were going when they crashed. Except instead of crashed, the authors tended a few different verbs; here are the results:

  • Smashed: 40.5 MPH
  • Collided: 39.3 MPH
  • Bumped: 38.1 MPH
  • Hit: 34.0 MPH
  • Contacted: 31.8 MPH

Let me stress this: they watched the same crash. All that was different was the word that the question used and you still see an impact of almost 30%.

So how can you improve your own copy? One solution is Hemingway, an app that allows you to upload your copy. It then highlights long sentences, adverbs, passive constructions, etc. The reading ease score that comes with Word or similar software can also help.

Or ask a child to read it and see what s/he thinks.

Hope this helps your writing! If you would like some more of my favorite writings of the week, please sign up for my weekly newsletter, which has the feature “favorite thing I didn’t write this week.” I’m very creative at naming things.

What’s in a name? Word choice in direct marketing

And you shall know your constituents by their deeds

There are two ways to know your constituents better: listening to what they do and asking them what they think. Today, I’ll talk about the former; tomorrow, the latter.

Yesterday’s piece talked about how you can roughly define an individual’s responsiveness by medium, message, and action.  The trick is that we often segment by only one, possibly two, of these.  We have medium covered: most large-scale programs of my acquaintance distinguish among people who are mail, telemarketing, online, multichannel, etc. responders.  And many small-scale programs haven’t begun to integrate medium, so in a way this is its own segmentation.

Sometimes, we will use action as a determiner.  We’ll take our online advocates segment and drop it into one of our better-performing donor mail pieces (frequently not customizing the message to advocacy, more’s the pity).

We rarely segment by message, even though picking something that people care about is the most basic precondition of the three.  After all, you may not like telefundraising, but you’d at least listen if it was immediately and urgent about something that you care about.  And it’s much easier to get someone to do something they haven’t done before for a cause they believe in than to get them to do something they’ve done many times if they don’t believe in the message.

The good news is that you have your constituents’ voting records, of a sort.  Consider each donation to a communication a vote for that communication and each non-donation (or, if you can get it from email, non-open or non-clickthrough) as a vote against that communication.

[tangent] This is also a helpful technique for when your executive director comes into your office and says “I’ve had five calls today from people who aren’t happy about [insert name of communication here].”  If you reframe it as five people voted against it by calling and five thousand people voted for it by donating, the noisy few are not nearly as concerning.[/tangent]

A proper modeler would use the data from these votes to run a Bayesian model to update continually the priors on whether or not someone would respond to a piece.  As you can probably tell, I’m not a proper modeler.  I prefer my models fast, free, and explainable.  So here’s how I’d use this voting data:

  • Take all of your communications over a 3-5 year period and code them by message.  So for our hypothetical wetlands organization from yesterday, this might be education, research, and conservation.  Hopefully, you don’t have too many communications that mix your messages (people donate to causes, not lists), but if you do, either take it by the primary focus or code it to both messages.
  • Determine the mix of your communications.  Let’s say that over five years this wetlands organization did 25 conservation appeals, 15 education appeals, and 10 research appeals.  This makes the mix 50% conservation, 30% education, and 20% research.
  • Take your donor file and pull out only those people who donated an average of at least once per year over that 3-5 year period.  This will ensure you are looking only at those people who have even close to sufficient data to draw conclusions.
  • Take the coding of communications you have and apply it to the pieces to which the person donated.  Generate a response rate for each type of message for each person on your file.
  • Now, study that list.

In studying that list, you are probably going to find some interesting results:

  • There are going to be some people (a minority of your file but likely a healthy segment) that only gave to one type of message.  And you’ll see the pattern immediately.  Someone who gave eight times over five years to education appeals and never to conservation or research appeals is clearly an education donor.  You will look at all of the other communications you sent this person and all of the people like her in the X-issue-only segments and you will weep a little.  But weep not.  You can now save your costs and these people’s irritation in the future by sending them only the communications about their issue area (with the occasional test to see if their preferences have changed).  It’s only a mistake unless you don’t learn from it; if you do learn from it, it’s called testing.
  • You can also probably lump people who gave rarely to other messages in with the X-issue only people.  So if someone gave to nine of the ten research appeals and to only one each of education and conservation, they clearly have a strong research preference.  This is why it’s helpful to look at these data by response rates — you can see where people have ebbs and flows in their support.
  • You will also see people who like two messages, but not a third (or fourth or however many you have; I will warn you to minimize the number of buckets, as you will not have a large enough sample size without).  So if someone gave five times, three to education appeals and two to research appeals, education and research both appeal to this person with a 20% response rate.  However, conservation doesn’t apparently appeal to them, so you can reduce communications in this realm.
  • You’ll also see a contingent of folks who donate to communications in roughly the same proportion that you send them out.  These people can probably be classified as organizational or institutional donors.  It will take far more digging than mere file analysis to figure out what makes this donor tick.

This leads into an important point: these will not get you to why.  Even things like how often a person gives for how long or Target Analytics Group’s Loyalty Insights, which can show if the person is giving uniquely to you or to others, are transactional data.  While useful proxies, they can’t tell you the depth of feeling that someone has for an organization or let you know what ties bind them to you.  To do that, you must ask.  That’s what I’ll cover tomorrow.  But hopefully this gets a little closer to information that will help you customize your donor’s experiences.

 

And you shall know your constituents by their deeds

The science of ask strings

Today’s direct marketing paper says, in essence, the less you ask for, the more people respond and the less they give.  Duh.

But there are some great surprises in the paper that make it well worth exploration.

De Bruyn and Prokopec took a look at anchoring effects in ask strings.  Specifically, they worked with a large and anonymous European non-profit to mail to their donor list.  They did so with a 3 x 3 matrix of ask strings set by two criteria: 1) is the initial ask below, at, or above their previous contribution? and 2) is the ask string steep (20% increases in levels), steeper (50% increases in levels), or steepest (80% increase in levels).  The ask strings were four items long.

This is a bit confusing, but here are initial and final asks for each condition, assuming a $100 donor.  You’ll note they are appropriately rounded:

Lower Equal Higher
Steep $85 … $140 $100 … $170 $120 … $200
Steeper $70 … $230 $100 … $350 $150 … $500
Steepest $55 … $320 $100 … $580 $180 … $1000

Some of these may look to you as they looked to me — fairly aggressive.  In the higher steepest condition, you are asking your $100 donor to donate $180, $320, $580, or $1000 — not a common ask string by any means.  That’s why I’m glad there are studies like these that test this with other people’s money.

As I mentioned, they found asking for more got more in average donation but suppressed response rate.  However, there were several other elaborations on this:

  • Ask string steepness didn’t affect response rate. Only the lowest, left-most ask seemed to affect response rate significantly.  The lesson here is that you can ask for more and get more without hurting response.  This is potentially free money.
  • Steepness did increase average gift.  So 80% increases won in this case.
  • Multi-donors were more set in their ways. Indexing off of higher than their previous contribution was related to a big drop — from an average of 10.5% among those who had the ask string that started at equal to 9.1% among those who were asked for higher.  It is, not shockingly, as if the multi donors were saying that they had already told the nonprofit what they give and don’t forget it.
  • The worst thing you could do was ask single donors for what they gave before.  This surprised me.  Response rates for the single donors were 5.3% in the lower group, 4.1% in the equal group, and 4.3% in the higher group.  Indexed average gifts were .937 (lower), .909 (equal), and 1.162 (higher).  So there was a trough in both response rate and average gift for asking a single donor for the same thing they gave before.

They didn’t give the net revenue per piece charts in the study; I found them invaluable in understanding the implications.  These are indexed to a $100 donor to make the math easy:

Single donors Lower Equal Higher
Steep $4.74 $3.54 $4.23
Steeper $4.76 $3.96 $5.62
Steepest $5.49 $3.68 $5.26
Multi-donors Lower Equal Higher
Steep $10.42 $10.16 $9.96
Steeper $9.30 $10.44 $9.67
Steepest $10.46 $10.53 $10.68

All this indicates something to me that I hadn’t thought of before (and maybe you have and have tested it — if so, please put it in the comments or email me at nick@directtodonor.com so we can have a report from the trenches): different ask strings for single versus multi-donors.

The hypothesis that I would form based on these results is that people who have given before are set in their ways of what they want to give and thus we should index from the previous contribution or the HPC.  Single donors are more pliable, so we can work to get more value out of them early in the relationship, elevating their support before they get set in their ways.

science-pinkman

Hope this has been as valuable for you as it has been for me.

The science of ask strings

Influence in direct marketing: commitment and consistency

Just like people tend to do what other people do, people also tend to do what they themselves have done in the past.

Emerson said famously that “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”  Of course, that’s probably what he always said.

Our mind is wired to think we were right more often than we actually were.  Moreover, we have cognitive dissonance as a tool to help us justify these feelings.  So if we are right all the time, then why wouldn’t we keep doing what we are doing?

This is especially true for older supporters.  A study called “Evidence of a Positive Relationship between Age and Preference for Consistency” (with Cialdini as a co-author – he shows up a lot of different places) found that as we get older, we tend to want to have consistent thoughts, people in our lives, and patterns.  Since a large portion of most nonprofit direct marketing audiences skew older, this is particularly salient for us.

There are four key ways that consistency can work well for you in your direct marketing efforts:

  1. Getting your foot in the door. A small act toward your cause can cause a person to believe that they are the type of person who supports your cause.  This can be an email to their legislator putting up a sign of support, or downloading your materials.  Any small step can be referenced in asks for further, difference, and more valuable asks.  One of the executives I’ve had the honor of working with and for says “if you want to get money, ask for advice; if you want to get advice, ask for money.”There is a concern among some that so-called slactivism – taking on issues online by the least time-consuming means possible hurts “real” efforts.  I would argue that not only have well-run online campaigns changed hearts, minds, and/or votes, but also that these campaigns lend themselves to commitment-based follow-ups with language like “you’ve stood with us before; will you stand with us again” that uses commitment tactics.
  2. Flattery.  This should be easy, in that your donors and supporters are the people who make your valuable mission possible.  Telling them that, however, is not done often enough.  There was a recent quality study that looked at how recalling good deeds affected giving.  They found that when the study subjects primed themselves by recalling their past good deeds and perceive themselves as strongly moral people, they gave twice as many charitable donations as participants who recalled bad deeds.
  3. Playing back consistency. This can be as simple as variable copy letting the person know you know how long they have been giving.  After all, if you are told that “for 14 years, you have stood alongside poor suffering discarded stuffed animals,” who can resist a 15th year?
  4. Honoring consistency. Sending a communication on the anniversary of someone’s initiation with an organization not only gives them a nice feeling, it also reinforces that they are the type of person who gives to organizations like you.  Similarly, published donor rolls are both a great recognition tool and an advertisement on behalf of that’s person’s donation to you.

You should not rest exclusively on consistency’s laurels – expecting someone to give to you just because they have always given is a fool’s errand.  However, you probably noticed that many of the above techniques mix the reminder of the consistency with a reminder of the impact that someone is having or how good it feels to give.  That’s a good way to mix consistency with liking, which is what we’ll talk about tomorrow.

Influence in direct marketing: commitment and consistency