The Danger of Misreading the Data

I’m all for research.  In fact, our company has made a priority of commissioning research (as well as scouring the industry for other relevant and insightful research) that will help nonprofits be more effective in their fundraising efforts.

But there is a danger to misreading the data from research and, as a result, misapplying that data to your detriment.

A good example was a blog I read a while back, quoting research from a study that showed that the most effective emails were those containing 21 links.  You read that right, 21 links.  And the natural conclusion was that 21 links would make your fundraising more effective.

Seems logical, based on the research.

The only problem is this:  The study was focused on commercial enterprises that include things like a poll, survey, ratings, reviews, preferences, and profiles… all on the same email. Now, this may work well for a commercial operation, but to create that kind of distraction in an e-appeal is the kiss of death.

One of the driving axioms of effective direct response fundraising is that simple ALWAYS beats complex.  Which means your e-appeal should always contain just one call to action.  The moment you ask the donor to make more than one decision you will negatively impact response.

A number of years ago a CEO of one of our client’s didn’t believe this to be true and wanted to include an additional call to action.  So we ran an A/B test, one with a singular call to action and another with two call’s to action.

The results?  The singular call to action drove more response and more gifts and more income.  And it was a great teaching moment for the entire team.

Now, should an e-appeal contain multiple links… and many more than most nonprofits include? Absolutely!  But not links that will take someone away from the focus of the e-appeal, and that is to give a donation.  Instead, the additional links should drive the reader to that singular reason for the e-appeal, to make a gift.

Most importantly, don’t make the mistake of misreading the data coming out of research, but be careful to properly read the data.

This means understanding who was surveyed, how that audience might apply to your audience, and figuring out how the findings might best apply to your fundraising efforts.  There’s a good chance the research might be identifying an underlying principle to be pursued, but it might require you to modify the learnings to maintain best fundraising practices.

Data always tells a story.  Just make sure you are listening to the story the data is actually telling!


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Ready to take the next step? Dunham+Company is here to help your organization have more impact and establish deeper relationships with your donors and supporters. Contact Bethany Cranfield at 469-454-0100 to get more information.