I grabbed drinks with a friend the other day. She runs an arts organization and is perpetually in a scramble to raise enough money.

I call this dance the charity hustle.

By its very nature, fundraising will likely always be a challenging and uncertain endeavor. But there are ways to take some of the guesswork out of it. That means you’ll be able to enjoy the dual benefit of raising more money and saving time.

I’ll show you how you can think about improving the various stages of your donor funnel by using little tests, or optimizations. I’ll also tell you which three questions you need to answer at your organization before you start experimenting with your fundraising approaches. This will help your organization develop an optimization mindset that will pay off more and more over time.

That’s because the true value of fundraising optimizations is cumulative — they add up to an unparalleled competitive advantage over time. So the faster and more frequently you learn what works, the better you’ll be able to raise more money. That’s incredibly powerful!

So let’s look at how to determine if part of your fundraising is worth optimizing or not.

3 Questions to Answer Before ‘Fixing’ Your Fundraising 

It’s important to go into fundraising experiments thoughtfully. With so many campaigns and materials involved, you might find yourself tempted to test many things at once. But, truthfully, not all parts of fundraising are worthy of your time.

I recommend using the following three questions to determine whether a given fundraising optimization test at your organization is likely to produce the results you need within an appropriate timeframe:

1) Does the test have the potential to result in meaningful improvements? In order to make sure setting up and running each test is worth your time, it’s important to assess whether or not each one at least has the potential to produce significant benefits.

2) Can you easily set up and analyze the experiment? Due to a plethora of free and easy-to-use tools, many optimization experiments will be well worth the minimal effort of running them. If a test is going to be particularly complicated to set up or analyze, consider passing on it for the time-being.

3) Does the action you’re testing occur with sufficient frequency? With quantity comes precision. In other words, the more often the thing you’re testing occurs, the sooner you’ll be able to learn how to adjust it in order to produce the best results. So be sure to look at improving high frequency activities first, as well as ways to build your audience.

Now that we’ve gone over some of the guiding questions to consider as you approach optimizations, let’s look at some specific areas you might want to consider working on.

3 Fundraising Optimizations You Should Start With

The donor experience is a big process. It’s perfectly normal to get a little overwhelmed when deciding which parts of the experience you want to optimize first.

To help you get started, I’m going to walk you through three parts of any fundraising program that are worth testing and improving. You’ll notice that, by design, each one builds upon the previous one so you can see how the overall donor process can be improved by optimizing even just a small number of interrelated parts.

Let’s look at three areas worth optimizing:

  1. Email subject lines — Getting people to open your emails is the all-important first step of any online giving campaign. To increase your open rates, try testing different sentence structures, such as using lists or questions. This is a great optimization to start with because, with most email providers, testing subject lines is super easy to set up.
  2. Newsletter Content — It’s one thing to get people to open your emails, but in order to raise money, you also need to get people to be compelled by your empowering stories to the point that they donate. You can test different layouts, calls-to-action, and more in order to optimize for giving.
  3. Donation Page Design—The donation page is where people give, so you want to be sure you optimize how effectively it encourages donations. Consider testing different factors like the size of pre-determined gift amounts and encouraging recurring donations by default, to see which ones convert donors to give larger and more frequent gifts.

Start Raising More Money Now

Dan Pallotta recently pointed out in an article targeted to foundations that fundraising is the only capacity that “has the potential to multiply the amount of money that a funder puts into it…” Of course, foundations have been slow to really recognize this — Pallotta even says fundraising is the “least loved” of all nonprofit capacity types.

But I want you to realize that you don’t have to wait for foundations to get the message. You can begin optimizing the parts of your fundraising you have control over today. By asking the right questions and testing the right elements, you can put your organization on the path to a new level of fundraising success this year.

So when you find new donors, you can be confident you’re bringing them into a fundraising program that works — for them and for you.


Kyle Crawford is the CEO of Fundraising Genius. Previously, he founded the global social innovation community Dwilly.