A New Normal: Letting data lead the way with NextAfter

A New Normal: Letting data lead the way with NextAfter

April 30, 2020
51 minutes

Tim Kachuriak · Chief Innovation & Optimization Officer, NextAfter | Recently, we talked about who should lead us as we respond to the global COVID-19 crisis. (hint: it's you). Now, we're going to talk about which direction you should lead your community in and how to create a roadmap to achieving a new normal.Tim Kachuriak, connects with Justin Wheeler, Funraise CEO and Co-founder, to look at what nonprofits are doing now to weather the COVID-19 storm and prepare for a new normal.


NextAfter's extensive data showing nonprofits' pre- and post-COVID-19 activities, communications, and purpose is the perfect place for you to start making positive, numbers-based changes for your nonprofit.

Listen as Justin and Tim evaluate valuable data from 150+ charitable organizations across a dozen nonprofit verticals:

  • Total weekly email volume from organizations
  • Which verticals are communicating the most
  • Fluctuation in email volume over recent months
  • Percentage of emails talking about COVID-19
  • Ratio of fundraising emails to newsletters and cultivation content

To steal a quote from NextAfter's Brady Josephson, "...the work isn't done with a click." ... but your new normal can begin there.


Justin Wheeler All right. Welcome, everyone. Thank you for joining us this week during our live Q&A weekly episodes. If you've been following me on LinkedIn, you know that today is one I'm especially excited about because we have a very exciting presentation for you today. So I'd like to get started and introduce a good friend, the CEO of NextAfter Tim Kachuriak to the screen today. Tim, thanks so much for joining us.

Tim Kachuriak Thanks for having me, Justin. This is going to be fun.

Justin Wheeler Absolutely. I'd I would love if you could start off with just a quick introduction of who you are, what you do for nonprofits, and tell us more about NextAfter.

Tim Kachuriak OK, great. So I'm Tim Kachuriak. I'm the Founder and Chief Innovation and Optimization Officer for NextAfter. And NextAfter is really three things. We're a fundraising research lab or consultancy and we're a training institute. And so use each of those different pieces to really help focus on trying to understand why do people give and how can we unlock greater generosity primarily through the digital channel.

Justin Wheeler That's awesome. And, you know, one of the things I'm really excited to kind of go into today is a project that you guys recently took on, kind of once the pandemic hit. OK, can you talk a little bit, give us a little quick kind of like brief on that before we jump into the presentation.

Tim Kachuriak Well, I don't want to go into too much depth and steal all my own thunder. But what I'll say is that we've been tracking how nonprofit organizations have been communicating with their donors since the beginning of the year through today. And we've got some interesting insights that we're gonna share about how different organizations, different types, different verticals are actually messaging their donors during this time whether or not they're mentioning COVID-19 or Coronavirus or the pandemic in the communications. And then we'll take a look at how all of that is affecting the response of donors and how they're giving. So it should be a pretty fun conversation.

Justin Wheeler That's what I love about NextAfter, you guys are always on the cutting edge of testing and experimenting and using data really to kind of run your plays. That's something that I've always appreciated. And, you know, it shows in your guys's work and in the performance of your clients and how they're doing. So kudos to you and the NextAfter team for being so committed to that practice.

Tim Kachuriak Thanks, Justin.

Justin Wheeler So without any further delay, let's just jump straight into your presentation, Tim.

Tim Kachuriak Great. Well, thanks again for the introduction, everybody. Thank you for making time out of your busy schedules to be with us today. And before I jump into the topic, I want to just address every single person that is on the broadcast today. And I want to ask you kind of an introspective question a little bit. I want to ask you how many people out there are feeling kind of like this where you wake up and every day you find yourself trapped in a familiar reality. You're not going anywhere. In fact, nobody is. And there's nothing that you can really do to escape the current reality of your situation. For many of you, it may lead you to the brink of madness. Some of you may have already slipped over the edge. Like me, when my kids convinced me to make dancing cowboy videos for TikTok, which is awesome. But the cool news is I'm gonna actually save this video because in case this whole fundraising optimization thing doesn't work out, this is going to be my audition tape for the Thunder from Down Under, and if you know what that is feel free to laugh. And for those who don't, please, please, please don't Google it. So I know that all of this is kind of crazy. And I know that all of us are kind of going a little bit crazy. But there may be a time in the not too distant future where we look back on this time and we say that you know, maybe it wasn't so bad after all. I mean, being isolated, being sheltered in place, maybe this was a blessing, in fact, and not a curse.

Tim Kachuriak But we'll come back to that a little bit later. I want to jump into the topic today. I want to really kind of help us understand how should we be considering our fundraising, how should we be communicating with our donors as it relates to this current crisis that we find ourselves and in order to explore this I want to go through two questions that I think are on the top of every one of our minds. The first one is this how are other nonprofits responding? What are they doing right now? How are they communicating with their donors? We're gonna try to answer that question. And the second question, which is related is how are donors responding? Are they still giving? Are they responding to certain types of appeals? So to answer these questions, I want to use some data. So if any of you are familiar with NextAfter an our work, you know that we do a lot of these mystery donor studies. And basically what we'll do is we'll go out, we'll subscribe to hundreds of different organizations at the same time, we'll monitor everything they send us, every email, every text message, every voice mail. We even have boxes and boxes of direct mail that's stacked up in our storage locker, and what we do is we analyze the pieces of correspondence and we try to understand how these organizations are communicating value to us. And when they ask us to give a gift, we'll respond by giving a financial gift as small as $20, as large as $5,000. And so because we've done this for a number of years, we've created something that we call our aggregate donor inbox where we have pouring into it on a daily basis emails from hundreds of different organizations. So when everything started to break with COVID-19, I went to our CTO and I said, Hey, Kevin, how can we take some of this data that we're collecting and archiving on a real-time basis and make it accessible to other organizations that are trying to figure out and trying to navigate the waters in terms of how they should be communicating with their donors. So he took a look at the data and he started making some observations and he put together a series of these different data visualizations where you can look at, you know, what is the total volume of messages that are being sent? Are different verticals responding differently with different types of messages? What is the content of the messages? Are they solicitations? Are they engagement pieces? Are they newsletters? And then he even opened up a way for you to go in and actually scroll through all the messages that we've received from these different organizations.

Tim Kachuriak So I'm going to use this first data set to try to answer this first question. What are other nonprofit organizations doing as it relates to communicating with their donors? OK, so let's go and try to answer that. So first, let me frame the data set for you. We're looking at 156 different organizations that span twelve different verticals. And we're monitoring data from April. I'm sorry, from January 1st through April 15th. So that's the data set we're looking at today. And you can see the different verticals represented. We have arts and culture, education, environment, faith-based foundations, health, human services, international public media, public policy, public societal benefit, and wildlife and animal welfare. So the first observation I want to draw your attention to is this what we have noticed from January 1st through April 15th is we've seen a steady increase in the volume of email messages that are being sent from nonprofit organizations. And if you really kind of focus in on March and April, we see a pretty significant acceleration in the volume of messages that are being sent. So when you started to drill down a little bit deeper, say, OK, what types of organizations are sending the most email content right now? At the top of the heap is international, public policy, and public media organizations. You can see environment, human services, health are somewhere in the middle and towards the bottom is foundations, public societal benefit, arts and culture, wildlife. But what's interesting to note, even though each of these different organizations are sending a different volume of messages during this time, every single one of the verticals represented here over the last couple of months, especially, we have seen an increase in volume of emails that are being sent. So if you say, OK, well, what types of messages are these organizations sending? If we look at the total volume of messages and break them down by different message type, we can see that 47% of the messages being sent are solicitations, appeals. Another 45% are cultivation, engagement type of messages, and 7.5% are newsletters or updates of some sort. And if you look at the chart on the right, I think that this is actually really interesting and very telling. If you look at week by week the composition of messages that are being sent, meaning what type of messages are being sent as a percentage of the total. You don't see a very significant variance. And what this suggests to me, even though nonprofits are sending more messages to their donors at this time, they're not really altering the mix between solicitation, engagement or news. You don't see a wide variance there as the weeks go by. However, there are some types of organizations that are sending much more in the way of solicitations. And this probably might be common sense or might be logical. So international organizations are sending a significantly higher percentage of solicitations than any other message type. Same with public policy organizations, environment organizations, human services and health organizations. So there are some groups that are sending a significantly higher volume of solicitations than any other type of message.

Tim Kachuriak So the next question that we asked, we said, OK, are nonprofit organizations are they communicating about covered 19? Are they mentioning Coronavirus or pandemic in their communications? Well, prior to March 1st, almost all of the organizations that we looked at did not mention COVID-19 or Coronavirus or pandemic in their communications. Now fast forward another two months. So like looking at all of March and most of April 65% - I'm sorry, 62% of all messages, whether that's a solicitation, whether that's a newsletter or whether that's an engagement piece, is mentioning COVID-19, Coronavirus or pandemic in communications. And if we look over time, if we would look at it week by week. You can see a gradual increase in the percentage of messages that are mentioning COVID-19 in some way. It got as high as 73% one week of all messages had mentioned of COVID-19. I think last week was about 63%. So you can see it's hanging right around that 63% that we're looking at.

Tim Kachuriak OK. So here's an important question. Is it advisable to mention COVID-19 or Coronavirus or pandemic in your solicitations? Well, I've got three different case studies, three different a/b tests from three different types of organizations that may shed some light on that question. So here's the first one. This one comes from an organization called Americans for Prosperity, they are an advocacy, a legislative advocacy organization. And what this is, is a donation landing page that is displayed immediately after somebody signs an open letter basically to Congress saying here's how you should respond in your legislation as relates to the CARES Act. So the CARES Act, as you know, is directly related and linked to the current pandemic. OK. So after signing that open letter, they're presented with this landing page. This first version does not really mention COVID-19, does not mention the connection to the pandemic. What it does is simply goes into the standard value proposition for this organization. So here's the reasons why you should give to Americans for Prosperity, not because of COVID-19, but just in general. The second version, which was a/b tested in a head to head split test, mentions COVID-19 throughout. It mentions directly how your gift is going to be used specifically to legislate related to the CARES Act and COVID-19 relief effort and then head to head a/b split test. We found is that COVID-19 relevant ask produced a 37% increase in donation conversion. So based on that example alone, you might say, well, gosh, it probably does make sense to mention the current crisis in our communications, especially as it relates to solicitations. Let's look at another example. So this is from the Heritage Foundation. This is an e-mail appeal. This is something that went out in March, right as the pandemic began. They run a month-long membership drive, they're a membership-based association. This control version is one of the messages in their, I think, multi-message sequence and it's asking people to renew their membership by making a financial gift today. And it's a straightforward ask, renew your membership by giving a gift today to the Heritage Foundation. Treatment one, which was the alternate version that we tested in a head to head a/b split test tries to kind of stuff COVID-19 into a standard membership appeal around, you know, renewing your membership. And it didn't really connect. I mean, you could tell that it was kind of almost like being forced into something that is really more of a standard type of ask. And what we found in the a/b split test is that it produced an 81% decrease in donations with this particular treatment. Now I do want to point out that this is a little bit of a messy test because there's multiple variables that have changed, not just the message and using COVID-19 into this fundraising offer, but if you look at the bottom, it's signed by different person. So there's a couple different variables. But one of the most significant variables is the fact that they are trying to stuff this current relevant issue into something that is their standard appeal and it didn't work. Let's look at another example. This is also on a donation page. This is for an organization called Caring Bridge. If you're not familiar with them, they provide free journals, like online journals, for you to keep in contact with friends and family. If you're going through kind of a health journey, like if you're going through recovery or if you're on a cancer journey of sorts. And the standard ask is like this like a $30 donation to Caring Bridge helps power a site like Kelly's for one month, it powers her friend site for one month. So what they did is they had a very subtle mention to the pandemic. In times like these, staying connected online is essential more than ever, a $30 donation to Caring Bridge powers Kelly's site for one month, would you consider giving today? So you can see they give a very subtle nod. They don't outright just try to make a direct connection, but they're basically saying, look, you know, we're in a special time right now, and that special time means it's a little bit more relevant for people to stay connected with their friends and family. So give a gift today and in our a/b tests. And this organization gets tremendous amounts of traffic volume. So we had hundreds of thousands of samples in both the control in the treatment, and we were not able to see a statistically significant difference between the control and the treatment.

Tim Kachuriak OK. So you might say, well, gosh, now what does this all mean? So let me give you kind of like a way to think about these three different examples and see how your communications, how your landing pages, how your emails might fit into one of these three different categories. The first one, because they connected what they're doing specifically to address the crisis directly to this appeal. That's what I consider to be more of a natural type of inclusion in the communications. Right. It's natural to talk about how your dollars are going to impact the specific issue. If that's where the dollars are going to go. Right. So it's a natural inclusion. The second one, remember, they tried to stuff this relevant issue of the pandemic into a standard appeal. And it didn't work. It didn't make sense. It seemed forced or contrived in some way. So if you're trying to stuff this pandemic into something that is kind of more of a standard type of campaign, something that happens seasonally like Earth Day or something like that, it probably is not going to work. And then the third examples, well, I just would consider to be neutral. I mean, it didn't hurt, didn't help. They didn't go outright to try to connect directly to how their organization is doing something that relates to the current crisis. But they gave a slight nod. They gave a kind of a slight, you know, tip in this direction. And you could see it was more of a neutral type of approach. So I went back into our aggregate donor inbox and I tried to find three different examples of other organizations that did one of these three different approaches. Here's the first one. This is an emergency appeal for Food for the Poor. Now scroll so you can see the entire e-mail. I'll go back to the top. You can go back and actually find this in the aggregate donor inbox and examine it more closely yourself. But if you read here, you know, I know that you may be feeling overwhelmed right now with everything that's happening because of Coronavirus pandemic. And, you know, oh, my gosh, we had to shut down one of our food distribution centers and one of our countries because of this whole thing. And so man, we're working overtime, trying to figure out ways to deliver food to people. And that's why it's more important than ever that you respond before the situation gets any worse. You can see this is an organization that's doing something that's been directly affected by the crisis. They're trying to pivot and work around that. So this is probably an example of a natural inclusion in their messaging. OK. Would you agree?

Tim Kachuriak The second version. So this is a MAD and I'll scroll again so you can see the full, full message here. And if you look here in the very beginning, it says before COVID-19 escalated to a national emergency, MAD set out a goal to do blah blah blah. And then they just go right into like why you should give to this campaign. It's completely disconnected from COVID-19, mentioning it seems almost forced or contrived and is probably an example of them trying to stuff an existing appeal, something that they had set out to do before the crisis took place and they tried to connect it and I don't think it really works. I don't think it really helps.

Tim Kachuriak And then the final example, this is one that comes from Greenpeace and this is part of their kind of Earth Day campaign. And you can see the full message here, right here in the second paragraph. They give a slight nod. They say, look, I want to challenge all of us to use this fierce solidarity. They say, look, you know, we're all going through a shared experience right now. We're all kind of in a situation where our lives look a little bit different, which probably provides a great backdrop, a great context, and opportunity for us to maybe take inventory and say, what are some of the changes that I want to make coming out of this crisis? And they're saying, you know, during that time, why not consider about how you can actually reduce your plastic use, how you can do more to protect the environment from these things that are going to cause destruction and hurt wildlife and ruin the environment. So that you could say this is probably a great example of a natural inclusion where they're not directly trying to tie Earth Day to COVID-19, but they're saying, look, use this time that you have away to think about changes you might want to make. So let me give you the application. OK, so mentioning COVID-19 in your solicitations, it may only help if the things you're doing, if the work that you do is directly related to addressing the current crisis. So hopefully that gives you a framework to think about how you might want to consider, including COVID-19 in your communications, especially your solicitations.

Tim Kachuriak OK, let's look at the second question, which I think is probably even a little bit more interesting. How are donors responding? So to address this question, I want to look at a completely different data set and this dataset comes from a separate benchmarking project that we're currently working on, where we invited nonprofits to share their Google Analytics data with us. Right. And so what we did is we looked at that - we had 90 organizations that volunteered and said, hey, I'd like to participate in this benchmark report. And we started looking at all of their web analytic data and aggregate. And we're able to make some determinations about how different kinds of organizations are experiencing traffic patterns during this time. So I want to give you a couple quick caveats about the data set before we dive into it, because it's important to point out. The first thing is this is a separate data set from the email data that I just showed you. Although I'm going to draw comparisons and say, look, talking about e-mail traffic over here and we're talking about email send volume over here, I'm going to try to make those connections, but just know two different data sets, two separate sets of organizations. The second thing is because this was an opt-in type of benchmark study. We see inconsistent representation of verticals across the study. So we have differing levels of types of organizations represented here. So it's not an equal sample size in each vertical. The second thing e-commerce data is only available for about 43% of the organizations. So when I start talking about revenue, know that that revenue is underreported. It's only based off the 43% of organizations that have good tracking data that we can rely upon. And then the third thing, April is a partial month, so we're coming to the end of it. So I did include some of that in today's presentation last week when I talked about this, April's data looked all over the place because, again, we had an incomplete data set. We had a bit of a timing bias with some of the data. But you'll see that we're kind of closing that gap a little bit as we draw closer to the end of the month. So first thing I want to address is some of the web trends, overall looking at web traffic we see that it's up 3.2% year over year when we compare it to 2019. And since we talked about email send volume in the last segment, I wanted to dig in a little bit and say, OK, what about e-mail traffic? What about traffic that's coming from people that are clicking on links in emails that is bringing them to the nonprofit's web site?

Tim Kachuriak Well, we can see for the quarter it's up slightly 1.34%. But look at March. And March is really when COVID-19 really took off. That's also when the send volume increased. We see a 12% increase year over year and actually traffic from email communications. So why is that? I mean, there's probably one or two explanations for that. The first one is this remember when I told you that nonprofits are sending significantly higher volumes of emails, which creates more opportunities for people to click on links, which creates more opportunity to generate traffic from this channel. But the other reason could be very simply because the fact that we're all sheltered in place, we're not on airplanes, we're not on buses, we're not in cars driving to and fro, we're stuck. You know, most of us in our home offices continue to work, which we're grateful for, but it gives us greater opportunity to open and engage with email. So it could be both the opportunity and it also could be the fact that there's higher volume.

Tim Kachuriak Nathan, who is on our team, he asked a question on Slack the other day related to this. He said he got an email from somebody who's wondering if we're seeing any significant shifts in response rates from email as this pandemic plays out, like are we seeing increases in opens and clicks and response rates. Kristen said, yeah, I sell some high clicks with content that really seemed to speak to one of our client's file. Corey said, Yeah, I had another client whose email engagement has increased even as we've increased their email send volume this past month. Greg said my COVID-19 email appeals for this one organization were the most highly opened, clicked, and responded to emails in the last 12 months. And then Jeff shared some data from a campaign that he was running with one of his clients from March and April. And I don't if you could see it, because it might be smaller, but the open rates are over 50%, click-through rates are very high, 6% for an appeal. So he's seeing within some of his client data significant, you know, support for the same idea that we're seeing higher traffic. So although traffic is up, we're seeing that engagement is slightly down. So if we think about like, you know, bounce rates, average time on site, average page per session compared to 2019, engagement is slightly down. But if you look at this curve here, it's not a big variance. And if you look at it by vertical, you can see that some verticals are seeing higher engagement, some verticals are seeing a lower engagement. So it's kind of a little bit all over the place. Engagement can be a little bit of a squishy metric. So I want to turn our attention more to something that's more concrete, like revenue, like data. So remember, I mentioned that I don't have good data for every organization in this benchmark setting. So instead of 10 verticals, I only have 8 verticals that have organizations representing good revenue data instead of 90 organizations, I've got 39. And that means that instead of 198 visitors analyze, we only had 107 million visits to analyze. But from those 39 organizations across those eight verticals, we were able to observe $46 million in revenue. And compared to last year, revenue is actually up 15.8% is what we're seeing year over year from January 1st to April 15th of this year compared to the same period last year. So we break this down by month. One thing you can notice, January and February were pretty, pretty level when it came to the number of gifts, the number of donations. When we look at March, March was up 11.2% year over year and donations. April so far is up 23.7%. So that's very significant and that's very encouraging and may not be exactly what we all expected, although the gifts, the number of gifts have been up in March. Average gift, at least in March we saw was down about 14%. An April average gift to kind of came up a little bit in line with what we saw in 2019. But overall for the year average gift is slightly down compared to 2019. The one other encouraging thing. And this is very encouraging considering that we're seeing increases in traffic volume. Usually, if you see increases in traffic volume you see a decrease in donation conversion, which means for every person coming to my web site, what's the percentage of those who will actually give a financial gift. And we could see every single month this year. January, February, March and April is not quite done yet. The conversion rate has been up compared to 2019 and given a few days left in April and knowing that Giving Tuesday Now is happening next week, I would expect that April numbers will probably come up.

Tim Kachuriak So one little framework for you. This is like a tool to think about how you can actually use these different metrics to begin to, you know, make some goals setting for how you can grow revenue. Revenue is a factor of three different metrics: traffic, conversion, and average gift. We call this the flux capacitor of revenue maximization. What's amazing about this is that if you can increase one of these metrics and the other two remain the same, it has a direct impact on revenue. So if we plot these, we see that, you know, for the year, traffic is up 3.2%, conversions up 9.9%, average gift is slightly down 1.1%. If you multiply those three numbers together, that's what gives you your 16% increase in year over year revenue.

Tim Kachuriak So let me just summarize real quick and then we're going to open up for questions. So the first question was what are other nonprofit organizations doing? Are they still communicating with their donors? Are they still fundraising? The answer to that question is yes, they are still fundraising. In fact, they're increasing the volume of messages. They're increasing their digital communications with their donors during this time. Are you, right? That's a question that you should ask. The second thing is that donors are still giving, looking at the trends year over year from these two different data sets we see that revenues are actually up. And, Justin and I were talking about this right before we got on and he's seeing the exact same trends on the Funraise platform. So this is something that we're starting to see to be a positive effect, although other channels probably are down and are suffering. We are seeing a lot more donors migrating over to digital. So let me come back to my kind of little opening monologue. Remember, I told you maybe this time that we're experiencing is not a curse. Maybe it's a blessing. So if you watch the movie Groundhog Day, you know that Phil, who is the local weatherman, found himself waking up and every day it's Groundhog Day over and over again. And firstly, it triggered this bewilderment. This is strange, what's going on, that moved to like frustration because he realized he had no control over his situation and nothing he could do could change that. Then that frustration grew to despair where he just was just absolutely saddened and just miserable because there was nothing he could do to change his reality. But then all of a sudden, that gave way to a revelation. And he started to see that maybe this isn't a curse. It's in fact, a blessing. And he used that as an opportunity to really invent himself into the very best version of himself as he possibly could be.

Tim Kachuriak So if you've been following Justin on LinkedIn, you know that he's been talking a lot exactly about this. He said that this is an opportunity. This is a great opportunity for you to transform the way that you relate to your donors. The digital revolution is happening. We've all been given a violent shove into it. So the question is, how are we going to deal with that? So I've got two resources I want to share with you. And then we're gonna open up for questions. The first, if you have not yet explored the Corona Virus Resource Center, please do so. You can go through and dissect, slice and dice all this data yourself. You can go in and click through all the different emails. You can filter it by different verticals so you can just look at organizations that represent your peers. But go to NextAfter.com/coronavirus, you could check that out. And then secondly, I want to give you a gift. So we have a number of different online courses. We want to give everybody an opportunity to really reinvent themselves and really increase their capacity to be an effective digital fundraiser. So you can go to courses.nextafter.com. If you use the code, 'LEARNFROMHOMETRY'. You can get any one of our courses for free, but you have to hurry up because it expires on May 1st. So use it the next couple of days or you can also become a member, get access to all of our courses, unlimited access, and we're going to offer you a 50% discount if you want to do that. So with that I am going to stop sharing my screen. I'm gonna turn things back over to Justin and we'll open it up for questions and answers.

Justin Wheeler Great. Thank you so much, Tim, for that very thorough, data-driven presentation. You know, I loved what you said at the end, too, and I talked about this a little bit the other day about, you know, the digital revolution is here. And I think one of the conversations I've been engaged a lot in with nonprofit executives recently, and I love how you're talking about, is it a blessing or a curse? I definitely agree. It is a blessing. Right, I mean what organizations do today to invest in their digital efforts is not going to go away when this pandemic is over, right. It's gonna be a new revenue channel. It's gonna be a new opportunity for these organizations to grow and become more sophisticated in the, you know, the areas where donors want to participate in giving. So I think that this is not like a diminishing return. This isn't like throwing money into a black hole. It's an investment in the long term future of your organization.

Tim Kachuriak We know that so many people are suffering. I mean, not only just the people that are physically suffering from this pandemic but also the people that are financially suffering and those who are, you know, really sacrificed - officially on the frontlines, giving every single day to care for those. But for the many of us that are stuck at home. And we just are frustrated because we can't, you know, go back to reality. We're saying, look, this is an opportunity to invent a new kind of reality as it relates to how you're gonna engage with their donors. So that's just important.

Justin Wheeler Absolutely. So let's jump into some of the questions from the individuals listening. So the first question here is, do you think we should direct our focus to a certain segment of donors during this time? Should we expect one group to be more generous during this than others? Major gifts versus peer-to-peer versus any other group or segment?

Tim Kachuriak Well, I can speak. I haven't, we haven't actually looked into this, this is a great question. This probably gives us something else to back into the data and start to understand. But one thing I can say from times of economic downturn in the past, what we typically see is that the kind of broad-based donors of a sub $1000 donors, the people that are giving the $25, $50, $100 gifts their giving doesn't change a whole lot during these times. It's really, you know, the people that have those high capacity gifts, they usually have to cut back. Right, because they don't feel quite as wealthy as they did prior to the economic downturn. And so we typically will see it affects a bigger donor. So I don't know if that's necessarily suggesting you should exclude them from communications during this time. But I do know that using your broad based donors, your retail donors, if you will, continue to give, regardless of economic situation.

Justin Wheeler Something that would be really interesting to kind of tag onto there is to also take a look at some data around specifically like major gifts and donors. And just like you said, you mean the Great Recession 2008 household giving went up 2%, major gifts, foundations, corporations went down. But what would be interesting, I think one of the biggest changes since 2008 to major gifts has been the popularity of donor-advised funds. And since, you know, the funds are already designated to charity, I wonder if we'll see, you know, more generosity from Daffs today versus 2008. That'd be interesting to kind of benchmark and see what that giving could look like.

Tim Kachuriak Yeah, that's a great point.

Justin Wheeler Do you see greater open rates through Outlook or through a service like Constant Contact or any other medium? I mean, are you guys tracking like the email client in any of this?

Tim Kachuriak I will tell you this. I can't necessarily answer that question directly. What I will tell you this. Take a look at the design of your email communications. In many cases, what we find is actually when you strip away a lot of the images, the graphics, the HTML, a lot of those things that some of these e-mail service providers look at and say, oh, that's somebody trying to market to somebody. Let's go put that in The Promotions tab, we found when we've done head to head a/b split tests stripping away that stuff gets better open rates across different ESPs. So that maybe something to test in your communications, maybe especially during this time if you really want to get through, send a text-based appeal as opposed to HTML.

Justin Wheeler So you've mentioned a couple of times, you know, head to head a/b testing. Let's get a little bit tactical and practical here. What's the best way to approach a proper a/b test?

Tim Kachuriak First of all, you have to determine, you know, do you have a large enough sample to be able to get a statistically valid result? And so what you need to have as a baseline, you have to understand what is your baseline conversion rates. Right. If you have, you know, very low conversion rates and low traffic, you're probably not going to see a statistically significant difference between the two. So that's the first thing. And then the second thing is like you have to be able to do some research ahead of running the test to try to understand what is it specifically that's causing people to not respond to my offer, not respond to my donation page. You have to sometimes do user surveys. You have to talk to donors in many cases. And try to develop a coherent hypothesis. I believe that if I make these changes, this is what's gonna happen. And this is what's going to increase my results. So there's a lot that goes into the work, you know, prior to actually running the tests. Running tests is actually the simple part. You make the changes. Most software today like Google optimizes free, it will split your web site traffic. Most e-mail service providers have a built-in a/b testing module. So running the test is easy. It's planning for the test is the more difficult part.

Justin Wheeler Got it. Cool. So let's take a step outside of what the data is telling us and maybe go a little more anecdotal and maybe you have the data for this as well. I would love, you know, kind of either that or anecdotal. But why do you think giving is increasing? Like, why are people giving more money during this time? Is it a cause and effect type of thing? Is it coincidence? Like, what's what's your thoughts and opinions around why we're seeing this phenomenon.

Tim Kachuriak I think it's a combination of multiple factors. Number one, especially as opposed to online giving. So that's all I can really speak to today, online giving. Number one, people are wired into a computer much more than they have been in the past. I know just speaking for myself, I usually travel two to three days a week, I'm on airplanes. You know, I'm in hotels, I'm in meetings, all that stuff is happening at my desk right now. Right. So I am like wired into my desk. I'm much more attentive. I am probably opening more emails than I typically do. So number two, nonprofits are sending more messages, right? They're sending more messages. They're creating more opportunities for people to engage with their communication. So that's a second factor. I think the third factor and maybe this one's the one that's a little bit more, you know where you're wanting to go. I think that nonprofits offer people something during times of crisis that they desperately need and want and they can't get anywhere else. Right. You think about it like nonprofits give people the opportunity to go outside themselves to do something, right? To kind of respond in a way that actually creates impact in the world. And I can't buy that anywhere else. Right. I can't get that on Amazon. The only place I can get that is when I give to a cause that I care deeply about. And I begin to attach myself to that cause and some way through my financial giving. So I think it also gives them power. It gives them power when you're in a powerless situation you want to have something that enables you to have some sort of power. I think giving gives people that power in some way.

Justin Wheeler I definitely agree with that assessment that, you know, especially when you're at home, you're lonely, you're not like - maybe like the purpose that you find by going into the office, interacting with people, that's just that's not you know, it's not there today. And so giving to, you know, one or two of your favorite nonprofits during this time might help kind of fill that void. So that's interesting because as you mentioned, we're seeing you know, we're seeing significantly more volume across our customer base. And it's quite significant. And it is low dollar. Right. We're not seeing an increase of like $10,000 check giving. It's you know, that like $25 to $100 sort of high volume type of giving that's happening. So I think that people just want to want to get more involved. What's your advice for Giving Tuesday Now next week? We've been emailing once a week for the last three weeks. We will email the day before, twice on the day, and a thank you the following day. Any thoughts or advice on that sort of strategy?

Tim Kachuriak I think that sounds great. My overarching recommendation is do not sit this one out. Right. So I know some people are kind of like saying, oh, do we need another given day right now? Yeah, this is great opportunity. They're increasing the kind of the zeitgeist for giving right now. So if you're not going to go and plug yourself into that, I think that you're going to definitely miss out. But I think that the strategy that was outlined, email the day before, two the day of, an email thank you on the last day is great. Maybe test some of the things that we talked about today, like, you know, if you send typically lots of HTML-based messages, try sending a very highly personalized text-based message, maybe, you know, change the way that, you know, your messaging strategy a little bit, be real, be authentic, be kind of a little bit vulnerable because I think everybody's feeling that during this time. And that creates a probably more authentic connection.

Justin Wheeler Totally. I would even argue that you could probably send more emails on Giving Tuesday Now than two if the content is differentiated and if every email is not like a specific ask, maybe it's soft ask. But providing value to your users, talking about the impact, what you're trying to accomplish and so forth. To piggyback on Giving Tuesday Now, do you think that it makes sense for nonprofits who aren't directly connected to COVID or, you know, they're more maybe the forced or neutral type of category in how you kind of described in your presentation? Is this for everyone or is this for a specific subset of nonprofits today?

Tim Kachuriak I think it's for everyone. And just, let me go back and just make sure that you heard me right the first time. I am not suggesting that if you're not doing something related to COVID-19, that you should stop sending fundraising messages. Not at all. What I'm saying is you probably don't need to try to stuff that into your appeal in any way. We've done other tests where we've, you know, tried to stuff it in. And it just - if it doesn't make sense, it doesn't make sense. And people are going to sniff that out instantly. Your donors are incredibly intelligent, incredibly astute. They're receiving hundreds, if not thousands of messages a day, not just from other nonprofit organizations, but from every other organization on planet Earth that wants their money. Right. And so and so they're very good at sniffing out something that is contrived. So don't do it.

Justin Wheeler Yeah, I agree with that. And just to reiterate and double down on, because this has been a very hot topic with nonprofits that I've been engaged with and our team has been engaged with. But there's been this, you know, very serious question of like, do we pause fundraising? Do we stop during this time? You know, everyone is hurting. Unemployment last I checked was 20%. Is it sensitive, you know, to continue? And what your data shows is not only are nonprofits continuing to fundraise, they're doing more of it during this time through their email sends, their solicitations and as a result, they're raising more money during this time than they were last year. So you would you know, you would assume and can draw that conclusion that if we want to raise more money, then we have to not just send out more emails and make more noise. It's got to be thoughtful. I'm sure that the organizations that are doing well, today, it's not like a spray and pray type of strategy, it's very thoughtful, very thought-out and sophisticated.

Tim Kachuriak You think about groups that have had to cancel events or had to close facilities like, you know, arts and museums and things like. I mean, this creates a gap for them. And there's a gap in just even turns how they can actually, like, deliver on their mission. And so I think that this creates opporunity not just to revolutionize their fundraising, but also to revolutionize how they actually deliver against their mission. And I've seen some groups that have like done some incredible stuff to pivot quickly and change to a new way of solving the problem that they had been solving in the past, but just through a different means. And so I think that's a great, I mean, everything's on the table right now.

Justin Wheeler Totally. Yeah. So another Giving Tuesday Now question. We have an organization that was planning to launch mid-May, a COVID-19 related campaign. Would doing something on Giving Tuesday Now. Should that happen? Should you tie it in? Should you pick one or the other? What are your thoughts there?

Tim Kachuriak I mean, what you might be able to do is use Giving Tuesday Now as kind of like the launch of that campaign. Right. So like kind of like lean into that as like almost like let's you know, let's kind of fuel the tank so that when we do go into our full campaign on the 15th, you know, we can actually kind of like bring all that excitement along with it and actually extend the window for the campaign.

Justin Wheeler So I think that there's a way to almost like use it as a launch point. So taking one step back from like this, like from being in the weeds here, what are you and the NextAfter team advising your clients? You know, for the remainder of 2020, should their fundraising strategies be changing what's sort of like high-level conversations or advice would you share with nonprofits as they think about our plan on 1/1/20 is very different than our plan today, and it's probably going to be different than our plan in 30 days. What's your advice on how nonprofits should approach kind of planning for the rest of the year?

Tim Kachuriak We have some groups that have been in the past very reliant upon events. And so in some of those events, we're actually like used for like sponsorship acquisition. So they would like, you know, drive people from these events to go and like sponsor a child. And all of that has gone, right, for the foreseeable future. And so they are pivoting. They're putting a lot more of their acquisition focus in digital means, because that's the only way that they can go. Other groups are trying to figure out, like educational institutions, they're like, look, we used to have students that would come in, especially during the summer term. And, you know, we would take them through this program. We can't do that this year. How are we gonna do that? And so they're virtualizing their operations. They're developing online courses, they're developing online curriculum, they're doing Zoom meetings and town halls. I mean, and they're really pivoting. And what they're finding is, number one, they're almost seeing that this opens up because of digital. It actually breaks down some of the geographic borders that typically surrounded their program delivery and their fundraising. And so they're seeing it as like a greater opportunity. Like we used to have, like, you know, 50 kids a time in the class. Now we can have 500. How are we going to do that? Right. So it's kind of exciting.

Justin Wheeler Yeah. No, I actually just. Just today was talking to someone or someone was posting on one of my posts about. So they've had to move their - they provide support to cancer patients. And so they've had to take this online and virtual and they've seen a 51% increase in attendance for their programs by going virtual. And so, you know, obviously the natural kind of like logic there is when the country opens back up, like, don't stop doing digital. Don't stop offering your programs virtually, because obviously it's connecting with people. And it broadens your overall kind of reach and approach. So it's really, it's been really fun to see the innovation and how quickly nonprofits have innovated, whether it's delivering their programs, changing their fundraising strategies. You know, nonprofits have always been gritty. And I've loved to see how organizations have just really taken the charge and have really gone with it. So maybe one or two more questions here as we wrap up. This individual is curious if in your guys research if there have been there any keywords that drive better results or any ways to kind of just differentiate in your email, you know, communication to donors that typically drives better results?

Tim Kachuriak One of the overarching findings from a lot of our research, especially that the e-mail testing stuff we've done is that like people give to people, right. They don't give to organizations, they don't give to web sites, they don't give to direct mail campaigns. They don't even get the emails they give to people. And so what we found is that the more that you can humanize your communication. So it sounds and feels like it comes from one person to another person, it makes a big deal. So that's why I'm talking about getting rid of some of the images, the buttons, the multiple calls to action and even changing the way you write it. So if you used to hire a professional copywriter, maybe just sit down and say, like, how would I just write to my friends or, you know, a loved one and write right out just an authentic letter. And you may be surprised at how effective that is.

Justin Wheeler Are you guys seeing higher conversion on rich text e-mails versus HTML across the board or in specific like strategies?

Tim Kachuriak For appeals, for sure. Like so, like every time we've done that and we've, I think we've run tests like that probably four dozen different times with different organizations. We've done it in different countries and different languages and we see consistent results. And again, there's there's two reasons for that. Number one, it gets better inbox across the board it always gets better inboxing. But number two, again, people have like this search and destroy mission that they're on when they go through their inbox. Right. And you can instantly see if something is marketing or something is something you need to read. So even just getting somebody to like read something they may have missed that they just spotted it as like another marketing message. Sometimes sells.

Justin Wheeler That's great. Well, Tim. Thank you so much for joining us today and sharing this wealth of information for all of the participants. That free online course is going to be fire. So I would recommend that you go on over to their site right away to secure your spot. I imagine if it's anything like NextAfter puts out, it's going to be absolute fire. So we'll make sure that's linked, so you guys have access to sign up and register for that online course. If an organization is looking for services that NextAfter provides us the best way for them to get in touch with you, Tim?

Tim Kachuriak Probably just head over to our web site nextafter.com or you can shoot me an email just Tim@nextafter.com.

Justin Wheeler Awesome. Well, Tim, thank you so much. Thanks for joining us today. Really appreciate it. And we look forward to keeping the conversation going.

Tim Kachuriak Awesome. Thank you so much, Justin. Thanks for putting this together. And thanks to the entire Funraise team.

Justin Wheeler Absolutely. Have a good one.

Thanks for listening to this episode of Nonstop Nonprofit. This podcast is brought to you by your friends at Funraise. Nonprofit fundraising software, built by nonprofit people. If you'd like to continue the conversation, find me on LinkedIn or text me at 562-242-8160. And don't forget to get your next episode the second it hits the internet. Go to nonstopnonprofitpodcast.com and sign up for email notifications today. See you next time!