The Virtual Arm Wrestle – A/B Split Testing – is CRO’s Foundation

Virtual Arm Wrestle_CROOur Abila experts have researched and crafted Key Fundraising Predictions for 2015 to help you gain a clear understanding of the challenges facing your sector in the coming year, and how you can turn them into real advantages for your organization.

Below is a deep dive into Fundraising Prediction #1 – Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO).

 And, because conversion optimization is so important to nonprofits’ success, we’re rolling out a series of blogs on this topic. In the first post, we defined CRO. Last week, we unveiled the 8 Pillars of CRO. This week, we delve into A/B Split Testing.

The basic premise of Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) is to find out what works and what doesn’t. One of the best and simplest ways to do this is by using the A/B Split Test.

A Split Test is a process of testing two separate variants – an A version and a B version – against each other to determine which one produces better results. It’s basically an arm wrestle to find a winner.

For it to be a true A/B Split Test you need to send an equal amount of traffic to each version during the same time period. This usually requires software to not only manage traffic, but also decide on the frontrunner (more on this in a future post).

If you don’t have the resources to purchase or utilize Split Testing software, there’s also the option to run a “Before and After” Test. For this type of testing, you still have an A and a B version, but you only run one at a time. Use version A for a set amount of time or number of visitors, then measure conversions and actions. Then replace it with version B for the same amount of time/visitors, then measure conversions and actions. While this is not as “scientific” as a true Split Test, it will still give you great information you need to make informed decisions and improve conversion rates.

Here are the Nuts-n-Bolts of Running a Basic A/B Split Test

  1. Set a Goal – What do you want to increase? Email sign-ups, volunteer registrations, donations? Don’t spend too much time here, simply pick a goal you want to test and get going. Eventually you’ll test all of these things!
  2. Decide What to Test – Based on your goal, what can you change that might improve conversions? The headline, button color, text on the page? Remember to only change ONE thing at a time for each test (see our previous post on Pillars of CRO for details). Again, don’t worry about picking the perfect item to test … just pick something. You can, and should, come back and test the other elements at a later date.
  3. Set up Your Test – Create both versions of your test, the A and the B, and decide if you’re going to conduct a true A/B Split Test or a Before and After.
  4. Walk Away – Now for the hard part. You need to walk away and let the test run for a while. Without interference. This is not the time to jump in and change things if/when you notice one of the versions not doing well. Borrowing from The Beatles, Let It Be.
  5. Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner – Once completed it’s now time to measure the results and determine if your test has a clear winner. In many cases this will be easy to determine, while other times it will be a near dead heat.
  6. Rinse and Repeat – You didn’t think we were done did you? Now that you have a winner you need to keep going. You can choose to run the winner against a new challenger, or move on and test something else entirely. The key is to keep testing and trying to improve your conversion rates over the long haul.

Slice Your Revenue Pie into Smaller Pieces

Alternative revenue postOur Abila experts have researched and crafted Key Association Predictions for 2015 to help you gain a clear understanding of the challenges facing your sector in the coming year, and how you can turn them into real advantages for your organization.

Below is a deep dive into Association Prediction #3 – Alternative Revenue Sources.

If we’re being perfectly honest, the need to explore non-dues revenue sources and alternative ways to add value to your membership is really less of a prediction and more of a hard reality for associations operating in today’s digital world.

Certainly, there was a time not long ago when associations were largely funded by annual dues and a big meeting. Today, however, about half of the money processed through Abila association management software comes from dues, while the remaining half is generated by events, fundraising, product sales, credentialing, and other sources. Industry-wide, that split is more like 35 percent dues/65 percent alternative revenue sources.

There are three main reasons why relying principally on dues to fund your association is an outdated business model.

1. Associations are no longer guaranteed membership from professionals seeking to fulfill a civic duty, further their career, or go to Vegas for the annual conference. Consumers today are much more discriminating about how they spend their money. They expect more than just the warm fuzzy feeling attained from being part of a greater whole. And they expect more than inclusion in one professional event a year.

2. Back in the day, associations provided a unique information source that members couldn’t get anywhere else. With the Internet, that’s less the case. There are a lot of free information sources out there that are devaluing your membership, making it far less enticing to professionals.

3. Just like with any venture, over-relying on one or two revenue sources is risky business. From a strictly economic perspective, if one product or service has a bad spell, you could be in big financial trouble.

Adding non-dues revenue sources isn’t one of those “if-you-build-it-they-will-come” scenarios, though. First, you should consider what type of program or initiative will add the most value to your membership. Next, you need to develop and implement a multiyear plan that includes a strong value proposition and aggressive marketing. Most importantly, you have to be prepared, willing, and able to lose money the first year you launch.

So what’s the best alternative revenue source? That’s a question you have to ask yourself, and your answer should be founded in your members’ greatest needs. Personally, I think credentialing could top most associations’ lists. Professional credentials can give your members a strong competitive edge in the marketplace and it can give you recurring revenue with annual re-certifications.

A word of caution: Some sectors have been overrun by very competitive sites offering cheap, and sometimes free, education opportunities. To compete, you need to offer your members more than just a piece of paper. Develop a meaningful program, and then heavily promote it in the marketplace, so members see your credentials as absolutely necessary to further their careers.

8 Pillars of Conversion Optimization

White ancient marble pillars in a row

Our Abila experts have researched and crafted Key Fundraising Predictions for 2015 to help you gain a clear understanding of the challenges facing your sector in the coming year, and how you can turn them into real advantages for your organization.

Below is a deep dive into Fundraising Prediction #1 – Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO).

And, because CRO is so important to nonprofits’ success, we’re rolling out a series of four blogs on this topic. Last week we defined CRO. This second blog, below, is a very high-level discussion of the dos and don’ts. Next week we’ll delve deeper into the nitty-gritty of CRO strategies.

 Pillar 1: Don’t Freak Out!

CRO can be complex; the learning curve, steep and long. Plus, “new” can be scary. Don’t let this overwhelm you. As with any new skill you start with the basics and build upon them over time.

 Pillar 2: You Must Test

Testing, retesting, then testing again is the cornerstone of CRO. You may think you know what’s working and what’s not. You may have a strong opinion on the subject. But you really don’t know until you test. Even professionals who make a living testing CRO are continually surprised at what drives conversion rates.

Pillar 3: Don’t Assume If It Works for One Nonprofit, It’ll Work for You

A best practice is only a best practice if it works for your organization. Certainly, borrowing best practices from others is a great place to start. Then prove them right or wrong through testing.

Pillar 4: Only Test One Thing at a Time

We tend to be overzealous when we launch a new initiative, wanting to make sweeping changes as swiftly as humanly possible. Don’t take this approach with CRO. Test one thing at a time, for example your homepage headline. Because if you test multiple elements – like headline, donate button, and image – you won’t be able to pinpoint exactly what boosted or busted your conversion rate, and therefore. will be unable to replicate the results in other areas.

Pillar 5: Test the Big Stuff First

Test the big elements, such as headline, buttons, calls to action, copy, and images, first. These will make the biggest difference in your donations. Sweat the small stuff, like colors, fonts, and page placement, second.

Pillar 6: Don’t Be Afraid to Fail

I’ve seen terror in the eyes of clients when the subject of failure arises. Many professionals –including those in the nonprofit sector – are afraid to fail. This is one of those times when failure is the only option, because it’s integral to testing. Every time you fail you get closer to the mark. Imagine you’re an archer taking shots at a target. When you’re off a little to the left, you adjust, then shoot again. Adjust, then shoot again. With each attempt, you’re getting closer to that desired bulls-eye.

Pillar 7: Never Stop Testing

You’re never “done” with CRO. If you want to be successful, you have to keep trying and testing new things. This will continually increase your online fundraising dollars as well.

Pillar 8: See Pillar 1 … Don’t Freak Out!


What impact are your volunteers making?

hand raised up on white isolated backgroundSoftware Advice recently released their 2014 Volunteer Impact Report that provides insight into how nonprofits are measuring the impact that volunteers have on their organization’s mission and goal.

Here were some of the key findings that stood out to us:

  • 45 percent of organizations do not currently measure volunteer impact.
  • A lack of resources and tools hinders 34 percent of organizations from measuring volunteer impact.
  • For organizations that do measure volunteer impact, the most effective metrics (according to 98 percent of respondents) were project outputs—i.e. the number of meals served, books distributed, etc.


The ability to report on impact is a must.  Increasingly,  younger generations expect greater transparency and accountability from the organizations they support. A 2014 Software Advice survey found that 60 percent of individual donors want proof that a nonprofit is making a positive impact before making a second donation.

We outlined the importance of non-financial reporting in our Key Nonprofit Accounting Predictions for 2015. Nonprofits need to show the journey of a dollar toward supporting a mission—from reporting on a project that is happening, to tracking activity related to the project, to how the dollar donated had an impact on the project. Because volunteer work factors into the ultimate impact equation, showing how volunteers contribute to mission advancement can influence donation decisions.

The changing demographics of the supporter base, and greater scrutiny from supporters and board members will give organizations an opportunity to showcase the great work they, with the help of volunteers, are doing to make a difference in the world.

You can see the full Software Advice report here:

What the Heck is CRO, and Why Should You Care?

1421289384_Conversion_Rate_Optimization-512Our Abila experts have researched and crafted Key Fundraising Predictions for 2015 to help you gain a clear understanding of the challenges facing your sector in the coming year, and how you can turn them into real advantages for your organization.

Below is a deep dive into Fundraising Prediction #1 – Conversion Optimization.

And, because conversion optimization is so important to nonprofits’ success, we’ll roll out a series of four blogs on this topic. This is first in the series.

What if you could convert a higher percentage of website visitors to donors, without actually increasing your number of visitors?

You’d want in, right? Well, welcome to the party!

Conversion optimization, sometimes called conversion rate optimization (CRO), is a technique that has swept the small business sector over the last few years. Small business professionals have done the hard work of pioneering and perfecting CRO, and now is the ideal time for nonprofits to take advantage of this clearly paved way.

CRO is the scientific process of evaluating your website’s features and functionality to identify ways to improve visitors’ experiences. The end goal is getting a higher percentage of visitors to do what you want them to do – whether that’s donate dollars, watch a video, volunteer for an event, or sign up for a service.

Making strategic online decisions based on “a wing and a prayer” should be a thing of the past. Because CRO dictates you collect, analyze, and use visitor data to inform your decisions.

Why should you care about CRO? Here are three main reasons:

  1. Making very slight tweaks to your site – for example, changing the color of your “Donate Now” button or repositioning an image on your homepage – can dramatically improve your conversion rate. Let’s say you typically host 100 visitors on your site each day and two of them donate. If you could convince four to donate the same amount of money, you’ve just doubled your online fundraising.
  1. With CRO, you don’t have to increase traffic, you just need to convert more of your existing visitors. This has a huge impact on your expense column, because it eliminates the need to buy Facebook ads or pay for search engine optimization (SEO) services.
  1. Here’s the Big Why: You simply need to KNOW what works and what doesn’t. Otherwise you’re basing your entire online strategy on hunches, guesses, and wishes. CRO provides a very structured and organized way to know what works, so you can do more of it.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we continue our series on CRO. We’ll go in-depth into the rules and winning strategies of conversion optimization, and how to create and implement an effective CRO plan.

With the Bang of a Gavel, It’s Time to Get to Work

Wooden justice gavel and block with brassOur Abila experts have researched and crafted Key Association Predictions for 2015 to help you gain a clear understanding of the challenges facing your sector in the coming year, and how you can turn them into real advantages for your organization.

Below is a deep dive into Association Prediction #5 – New Congress and Advocacy.

Now that the pomp and pageantry of last week’s swearing-in ceremonies are over, it’s time for our Republican-led, 114th Congress to get to work. And you know what that means? It’s time for you to get to work, too.

This year, probably more so than ever, it’s extremely important for you and your association members to get out there and make an impression on the many new, as well as returning legislators.

With leadership from your lobbyists and government relations experts, your advocacy team should have its marching orders. In other words, it should have a clear understanding of industry-related bills up for vote, and what your official stance is on proposed laws.

Your advocacy team should use all communication tools at its disposal to rally member support, including:

  • Notices on your association website
  • Emails to members
  • Direct mail to members
  • Articles in industry periodicals and member publications
  • Targeted communication with interest groups within your association

Ask your members to:

  • Write a letter to Congress (offer a template for them to use, so they don’t have to start from a blank piece of paper)
  • Email their representative (easily identify representatives on sites like
  • Make phone calls
  • Arrange a meeting at the Capitol or local district office
  • Write letters to local newspapers
  • Attend town hall meetings

What you really want, though, is for your message to go viral. Expand your reach via association members’ individual networks. Encourage them to use social media like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram, to get your message out.

Because, at the end of the day, there are representatives who are going to vote “yes” and those who will vote “no” regardless of how persuasive you are. So, you’re really targeting the “fence sitters,” who rely heavily on numbers. For example, if 3,800 of a representative’s constituents are “for” a bill and 15,230 are “against,” he or she will vote “yea” with the clear majority. And since this often boils down to a numbers game, you need to do everything you can to tip the scale in your favor.

Finally, it’s always a good idea to encourage your membership to reach out to their representatives, even when they don’t have a specific “ask.” Urge members to use social media as a platform to educate and inform, on an ongoing basis.

Abila’s Director of Product Management, Darryl Hopkins, is a former legislative assistant on Capitol Hill.

Insights and ideas on best practices, trends, and issues for associations, nonprofit organizations, and government entities.

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