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Drunk Donating: The Greatest Test of All

Just when you thought you’d heard it all in marketing, the DMAW Monthly Lunch and Learn series brings the discourse to a new level.

Cathy Finney of The Wilderness Society and Heather Marsh of A.B. Data brought their combined more than 25 years of experience in direct marketing to a full room of DMAW members and non-members alike, representing nonprofit organizations, associations and marketing professionals.

Email Marketing – Tips, Tricks, and Results, showcased practical and proven tools for creating and sustaining an email marketing strategy.  As with all marketing endeavors, the work begins with a plan.  Cathy pointed out that The Wilderness Society’s plan is a mix of messages:  advocacy, stewardship and solicitation.

Heather advised attendees to create a production schedule.  The schedule should include when an email is scheduled to be sent, message topic, deadlines for drafting, editing and testing emails—as well as accounting for approvals.  Determine what works best for your organization.  Negotiate a balanced strategy between communications and development:  what works for one department may not work for another.

The divide between communications and development forms the basis of silos at many organizations.  To combat this, organizations ought to create a structure that promotes constituent-centric strategies.  Bring together all stakeholders to determine who manages the website, handles digital marketing and fundraising, and create shared goals.  By managing schedules and communications, sharing cohesive tracking documents and meeting regularly, organizations can effectively break out of the silos.

This segued to the presentation’s theme:  TEST!  Heather emphasized the golden rule of testing:  do not test that which is not actionable and does not produce statistically significant results.  She advises using a minimum of 100 responses (i.e. clicks; opens; donations) as a reasonable test results threshold.

Among the myriad of “testable” features:  From line; Subject line; day and/or time email is sent; and the use of symbols (i.e. unique characters).  A goal of testing these features is to improve open rates.  Most frequently asked question:  what is the best time to send an email?  For years, Heather responded that the best time was when you will elicit a response.  A 2012 GetResponse report stated open and click-through rates are highest between 8-9 am then differ where open rates peak again between 3-4 pm while click-through rates peak between 3-8 pm.  Now, we don’t want every organization sending emails at the same time so be sure to test.

Obama For America made sure to do this when they sent an email late at night, asking for a donation—welcoming the era of “drunk donating”.  Cathy and Heather cautioned that this is not one-size-fits-all marketing.

Another means of testing is to be an activist, donor or prospect.  Seed your email address and track the results.  Test messages using different devices:  phone, tablet and computer.  Test how an email appears in different browsers and email services.  Monitor your competitors and industry leaders.

By varying the buttons, copy and pictures or graphics, you can test click through rates.  Most clicks are a result of calls to action.  Be sure all emails support your brand and message.  Segment contact lists by low dollar, mid-high dollar, prospects, activists, sustainers, and lapsed donors.

In addition to organic growth, you can grow your file by using search engine marketing, Google Grants, e-appends, petition networks such as Care2, remarketing and ad buys like Facebook ads.


Goldie Heidi Gider is the Director of Advancement at the National Women’s Health Network, a membership-based organization supported by 8,000 individuals and organizations nationwide.  She can be reached at