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6 Things I Learned By Signing Up to Get Emails from 152 Canadian Charities (Part 2)

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By: Brady Josephson, Vice President of Innovation and Optimization at NextAfter.

In part 1, I shared 3 of the things I’ve learned from doing 152 email signups as part of research for The Canadian Online Fundraising Scorecard. They were:

  • Organizations were “pretty good” at making the email signup quick and findable.
  • Not every organization wants to get and send emails.
  • You really can get a crappy newsletter anywhere.

You can read more about those three things here but let’s move on to the remaining 3 things I learned from doing 152 email signups to 152 organizations:

4. Organizations are not using enough copy to communicate their offer

One of the biggest lessons I've seen from our research and experiments is that there is immense power and value in copy (your text and writing). In fact, the most important tool you have to communicate your value proposition is your copy. Yet in this study, only 32% of organizations used more than one sentence to state their case as to why someone should sign up for their emails. That's less than a third that are even trying to use what we've seen as the most powerful tool when it comes to email acquisition.

I don't know if this is because the people wrongly assume people don't read, they are getting advice that it's all about the design, videos, or images (it's not), or if people just aren't spending enough time caring and testing when it comes to trying to get emails but this was one of the most discouraging findings.

But, again, instead of looking at the negative — like where the heck is everyone getting their conversion and email signup suggestions from — the upside is that, most likely, by using more copy to explain to donors why your emails matter and are unique to others, you should then be able to get more visitors to become email subscribers.

5. Organizations are not taking advantage of the confirmation page

The confirmation page — the page you should be taken to after an action like an email sign up — is one of the most underutilized tools in the online fundraiser and digital marketers’ toolbox. It makes it makes it easier to set up goals/tracking in Google Analytics so you can see where your sign-ups are coming from and even run some experiments but at the very least, confirmation pages should:

  • Confirm the action that someone took
  • Thank them for that action
  • Let them know what they should expect because of that action

If landing pages should be conversational in their tone and approach — as our research and findings suggest — then not having a confirmation page is like walking away in the middle of a conversation. Imagine if you invited a friend over for dinner, they say yes, and you say... nothing. Not thanks. No 'see you then'. Just silence. How weird would that be?

But that's what many organizations are doing as 61% of organizations did not have a confirmation page of any kind.

So, just to recap, if you wanted to sign up for email, found it, and got over the fact that there was, most likely, very little value being communicated to you and you still went ahead and signed up for emails you had a 60% chance to be greeted with… nothing. No confirmation. No thank you. Nothing.

There is clearly a lot of room to grow with just having a confirmation page but beyond simply having one, they can, and should be used more strategically to engage donors and move them toward another action — follow, share, take a survey, etc. — and even a donation with something like an instant donation page. That may sound counterintuitive — didn't they just sign up to get email updates from you? — but they've already made a bunch of micro 'yes' decisions which builds up cognitive momentum so asking or encouraging another greater action just keeps the momentum going. This is why we've seen conversion rates on these pages anywhere from half a percent up to 10% or even 20%.

Remember that scenario where you invited your friends to dinner, and they said yes? This is kind of like asking them — now that they've shown interest in your dinner — if they can bring a dessert or a salad. If you just asked if they'd bring a salad that would be weird. But once they've said yes to coming it's actually pretty natural. Many people will even ask "what can I bring". 

Think of your confirmation page with an instant donation page kind of like that.

Yet only 7% of organizations in the study had an ask for donations (of any kind) on their confirmation pages. And only 1 had anything like a specific ask with a form on the page.

Again, there is ample room to experiment with this low-cost approach to more quickly turn email signups into donors.

6. Many tools and templates organizations are using suck

As I went through the process of signing up for 152 emails, I ran into some pretty poor sites, pages, and forms.

Like being asked to provide my email twice on consecutive screens (and then not having a confirmation page):

Or needing to create and register for an account to just get emails:

Or having a good offer... only show up if you're on a desktop or laptop:

Or requiring information but not telling me about it until I submit all the information:

Those are just a few. I'd say the majority of my Tweets/GIFs/frustrations were actually about the tools, sites, and user experience as there was a lot of friction (form fields, information required, decisions to make, etc.) and anxiety (Is my information secure? Did I actually sign up?). Much of this is down to the tools being used which are either poor (overall) or need to be customized to be better and people/organizations either don't care or don't know how to do that.

In either case, while I have a lot of empathy (truly), it is still a choice to use a crappy tool or do nothing to improve the experience you are providing donors. One of the goals of this report is to shed light on some of these areas and findings in the hope that more people will care and do something about it.

For me, you, and all of your donor's sakes... let's hope so!

Summary & Infographic

Those were some of the early findings and things I've learned in the process and here's a handy infographic with more of the key stats so far as it relates to email signups:


About the author:

Brady is a charity nerd, entrepreneur, digital marketer, professor, and writer. He’s the Vice President of Innovation and Optimization at NextAfter — a fundraising research lab and consultancy on a mission to unleash the most generous generation in the history of the world. Brady lives just outside Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada with his wife Liz, dog Melly, and cat Thor. You can follow him on Twitter @bradyjosephson.