Rule #10: Test Fundraising Communications

Take every opportunity available to you to test ideas, propositions, plans and other fundraising communications with a selected group of donors.


Perhaps the most frequently repeated mistake that fundraisers make is not making sufficient time to just talk with donors to understand more about why they give and what their interests are. Fundraising can be a risky activity insofar as one cannot always predict how donors will respond to new appeals, new projects and so on.


Well designed and executed testing is the best way to reduce guessing and mitigate risk.


Many successful direct mail fundraisers, major gift specialists and bequest practitioners design ways of testing concepts and content with a sample group of supporters to learn what could succeed and what would likely fail. Donor feedback is crucial. The way in which their testing is designed is also crucial.


Testing takes many forms. Depending on the circumstances, good fundraisers use surveys, interviews or focus groups. Good fundraisers ensure that their feedback instruments are properly constructed and delivered so the feedback and insight they collect will deliver clear findings for their larger work.


For large campaigns, organisations are wise to assess their internal readiness to tackle such a big task. This is achieved by assessing the feasibility of their campaign ambitions with their current major supporters—the very people most likely to give. After all, if their top 20 or 40 donors don’t think the campaign is a good idea, then why should the organisation have any expectation of strong support?


The findings that are gleaned from well designed and properly delivered testing should be used to reshape what is rolled out on a larger scale. In extreme cases, the test outcomes might indicate that the best course of action is to drop that particular campaign idea and change course.


There are some very sophisticated test instruments now used for appeals and campaigns. Some very clever practitioners run multiple tests with different groups around the one appeal or campaign to generate powerful insights.


Conclusions drawn from test results should be checked and routinely viewed with caution.