Why your nonprofit needs to A/B test your communications.
by Mike Montalto
July 1, 2021

So, you’ve decided to do something different. That’s great! After all, the fundraising landscape is always evolving. And you need to keep things fresh if you want to connect with donors and inspire them to give.

But it’s not always clear what you should change to improve results when it comes to your fundraising outreach. And that’s why your nonprofit should A/B test your communications when you want to try something new!

As a fundraiser, you know that data should drive your decision-making process. And an A/B test will give you the information you need to know what will resonate with audiences and inspire them to give.

While many nonprofit professionals know they should A/B test their communications, they are not always sure how to go about it.

And that’s why we’re going to walk you through how to do it! 

Don't test for the sake of testing! Keep what you're trying to achieve in mind throughout the process.

What are you trying to answer?

First things first. You should have your end-goal in mind before you make any major changes to your outreach materials.

You wouldn’t decide what route was best for your road trip without knowing your destination first! And you need to understand what issues you’re trying to solve before you move forward with you’re A/B testing.

For example, if you are trying to improve the open rate for your fundraising emails, your nonprofit should A/B test different subject lines, the time of day you send emails, or who the email is coming from.

If your open rates are fine, but you think your click-through-rates could be higher, you may decide to change you linking structure, or test out a different layout for your emails all together.

So, it’s important to have that goal in mind, no matter what you are trying to achieve. Otherwise, how do you know where to start?

READ MORE: Fantastic fundraising emails – the complete guide for nonprofits.

DOWNLOAD: Fantastic Fundraising Emails - The Complete Guide for Nonprofits

It’s not all about money.

But first, an important caveat. The issue you are trying to solve should be more specific than, “we need to raise more money.”

As fundraisers, we always have our eye on the bottom line. And the overarching goal of all your fundraising initiatives is to raise money to support your cause and make a difference in the world.

But you need to think on a more micro level when it comes to A/B testing. Focusing solely on raising more money doesn’t help you identify areas to improve. So, consider the steps that come before a donor gives, and focus on what you can do to improve your results throughout that process.

As you improve your outreach materials, step-by-step, you should see an increase in giving as things like open rates, click-through-rates, and response rates improve because of what you learn from your A/B test and the changes you implement based on what you discover.

READ MORE: 5 methods to modernize your nonprofit’s message. 

Subject lines are a great place to start ab testing your emails.

Let’s look at your emails.

We’ve already touched on a few things you can A/B test the next time you send out an email campaign, such as different subject lines or who the email is from. But there’s a lot more to it once you move beyond the subject line and sender information!

For example, have you considered that your audience may respond differently to a highly designed and stylized email and one that looks less formal, like it was typed moments before it reached your inbox? Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages, but it’s up to you to test it out and find out what your audience is more likely to respond to.

Or you can take it to the next level. Maybe your audience will respond better to an email without much text, that features a video explaining the same points you would have made if you typed them out in a traditional email format.

Are your donors more likely to click an in-text link that brings them to your donation page, or an clickable call-to-action button?

Every organization’s donors are different, and have different preferences. So, we don’t know what will have the biggest impact on your audience. But an A/B test can give you the answer!

READ MORE: Why your nonprofit’s call-to-action doesn’t work. 

Test different images, headlines, design styles, ande packaging in direct mail pieces.

How can you A/B test for direct mail?

A/B testing isn’t just for your email messages. While you won’t have the luxury of advanced analytics about each touch from a mass email platform like Campaign Monitor or MailChimp, you can still learn a lot about your donor’s preferences from your direct mail response rate.

You can also use a special link in your direct mail appeals that brings donors to a separate version of your online giving page. This will allow you to see how many donors visited your website after receiving the A or B version of your direct mail piece.

Like your emails, you can test different images, headlines, and design styles in your A/B test and see which your donors respond to best.

But you can also experiment with things like the envelope on your appeal letter. For example, you can test an envelope with a window that gives you a peek at what’s inside against a standard envelope. 

And unlike email, you can test different sizes and textures for your direct mail pieces. Will a traditional appeal letter in an envelope out perform a highly designed postcard on thicker paper with a glossy finish?

It’s up to you to find out!

READ MORE: Direct mail fundraising can help you go surround sound. 

How to use what you learn in your A/B testing.

Send the best to the rest!

We recommend running your A/B test on half of your audience for any given touch point. This way, you can send the version that had the best results to the remaining 50 percent of your audience!

If you conduct your nonprofit’s A/B test on your entire audience, you won’t be able to use what you learn until the next time you reach out. And by then, you may have through of something else you want to test in your next touchpoint!

Starting by sending version A to 25 percent of your audience, version B to another 25 percent, and then sending the remaining donors the more effective version allows you to make the most of what you just learned and maximizes your fundraising potential.

This creates what is known as a feedback loop. And it’s the best way to get your donors to tell you what works best for them, other than asking them directly of course!

So, the next time you’re not sure what you should change in your outreach materials, go straight to the source. Run an A/B test and let your donors show you what the best approach will be!

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