What would you do if your online donations quintupled? Well, write down those ideas because with us today is Shane Michael, a website and fundraising guru. He and his organization, Mittun, have helped hundreds of clients increase their online donations and today he shares two tips that are proven to help increase your online donations.
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Website: Cause Give
Exclusive Resources for SNP Listeners: Mittun/snp
(1:35) An online fundraising campaign success story
(11:07) Lesson Learned #1: Know your donor
(15:51) Lesson Learned #2: Know your process
Dolph Goldenburg (00:00):
Welcome to the Successful Nonprofits® Podcast. I’m your host, Dolph Goldenburg. Saying websites are important is definitely an understatement in 2020. At a minimum, a bare minimum, an effective website increases your user engagement; improves fundraising potential’ attracts quality staff, donors, volunteers, and partners; and, yes, even helps you find clients. And if it is efficient, keeping a website running does not have to require a lot of time or energy or even a lot of money. But the key to all of that is getting your website to the point that it is both effective and efficient. And that is why today’s guest, Shane Michael, is here. Shane is a website innovator and fundraising consultant with a passion for helping nonprofits grow. He is the founder and CEO of Mittun, a website service provider that specifically focuses on nonprofits and mission driven brands. Through Mittun, Shane and his team have helped hundreds of nonprofits raise millions of dollars. Shane himself is an expert in nonprofit website design and innovation and all that it entails from page layout to managing multiple websites to showcasing data, impact, and, of course, collecting donations and payments. So please join me in welcoming Shane to the podcast. Hey Shane, welcome to the podcast.
Shane Michael (01:32):
Hi, Dolph. Great to be here.
Dolph Goldenburg (01:35):
You shared a story with me about merging behavioral economics and websites to help the Prostate Cancer Foundation raise five times more money from a single campaign. And I am a behavioral econ nerd. So I need you to explain this to me.
Shane Michael (01:51):
Yeah, absolutely. So first, the campaign itself is called the Home Run challenge and it’s all about keeping dad in the game through baseball. And so they partner with major league baseball, Fox TV, and a bunch of other large brands. And it’s this nationwide campaign that gets a lot of attention and you make pledges or donations based on the amount of home runs these teams hit. And so they’d been doing this for about 15 years before we took over the project a few years ago and everything, seemingly, was going well due to the amount of attention it gets. But fundamentally we were looking at the numbers and we thought, “Shouldn’t this be getting way more donations, a lot more attention?” And so we decided to review the actual process of the donor journey, and not just the process, but who are these people that are donating?
Shane Michael (02:48):
Well, if it’s MLB, it’s baseball and people love their team. People wear swag for their team. They are loyal to their team. And so the donation flow was how much do you want to donate or how much do you want to pledge per home run? And then at the very end, the final question, was who’s the team that you want to support? Well, we said, “What if we shift that?” What if we get the baseball fans to pick their team first? To say Detroit Tigers or San Diego Padres, to pick that team first and then go down the journey. And so we experimented with that process and the results were incredible. We saw way less donation drop-offs and way higher levels of commitment almost instantly. And it makes perfect sense because if you’re a baseball fan, you want to show loyalty to your team.
Shane Michael (03:46):
And so that simple switch of the donation order literally resulted in a five times increase in millions of more dollars. And so it’s incredibly fascinating to really understand the process of why people give and what motives they have. And we’ve been deploying that amongst all of our sites now: really putting ourselves in their shoes. And not just thinking of hypothetical scenarios, but really asking people what is the driving force behind their behavior, then putting yourself in their shoes, and using that as this guiding post to make these decisions. And in our case, directly resulting in more donations and how that affects the website. So it was an incredible experience and the results were amazing.
Dolph Goldenburg (04:38):
Those really are amazing results. I’ve got the numbers in front of me. So before you got involved, in about half a decade they built this from nothing to about half a million dollars a year. And it sounds like a pretty short period of time. How much time did it take for you to take it from half a million to about 2.5 million?
Shane Michael (04:56):
It was the first year we took it over. We took over the campaign in the fall, because it happens right before Father’s Day every single year. So June 1st to Father’s Day, so the duration changes. So there are a few variables, but the media exposure, all of that stays the same. So the fundamental change was the actual website, the donation process, and specifically switching the donation order. So I would say about six months just because they do a lot of planning. But the actual work of the website was probably boiled down to about a month of actual changes and testing and stuff like that.
Dolph Goldenburg (05:38):
And clearly this was not the same people or the same number of people giving more in terms of an average gift. So did you also see about a five times increase in participation? What did that look like?
Shane Michael (05:51):
Yeah, absolutely. So the numbers all around went up. There was about two times the average gift size. And so then whatever that equals out to be the amount of people that actually donated as well. So there was an increase on all fronts, but people were actually giving more and there were more donors. And we think people gave more really because of brand and team loyalty; they felt compelled to donate to their team. And it was the first time somebody donated $60,000 online through a donation portal. And so that was shocking in itself that people actually felt comfortable enough to give that much online, that the platform was stable enough and looked secure enough, to process that transaction. So there were a lot of very unique things that happened as a result of this and the metrics all around went up.
Dolph Goldenburg (06:42):
What I love about this is this is behavioral econ at its best. So average gift went up. Total number of donors went up. Total number of gifts went up. Let’s unpack this, though. So you started working on this August, September, October before Father’s Day. So nine months before Father’s Day, really. Did you do A/B testing? What did you do so that you would know this would work?
Shane Michael (07:06):
Yeah. We essentially went to the drawing board and started over with a whole redesign and looking at what should this experience actually look like? And so it kind of went in phases. So it first started with just re-skinning the site: making sure it’s mobile friendly, making the design look better, appealing to that sporty person that wants to give back to the community. And so it started with a normal design process where we basically recreated all the user flows, all the new pages, all of that good stuff. Well, they’ve done that multiple times for a bunch of other campaigns. But they always ask their follow-up question at the end with whatever it is: Who’s the beneficiary? Why are you donating? So that’s been universal throughout all their processes. So it wasn’t until probably April, right before the campaign, where we really started looking at the actual donation process itself and the actual flow and thought, “What if we create a whole grid of teams? Let’s make the user pick the team first.”
Shane Michael (08:16):
We started A/B testing. So half of the users were trying the new format and immediately the results were like 10 times more people were just clicking through the first couple of steps. And so we didn’t actually let the A/B tests run out for the full month or two because we didn’t want to lose out on how good it was already performing. They made the executive decision to go forward with this and the results were just incredible. So it was a two tier process: the design rebrand and then switching the order of the donation process to really pull to donor’s heartstrings and to show their loyalty with their team.
Dolph Goldenburg (09:02):
And how did you come up with the idea to first profile that grid of all of the MLB teams? Did you have conversations with fans or donors, focus groups, a brainstorm session, or you thought of it in the shower? How did you come up with that idea?
Shane Michael (09:17):
One of our co-founders, who’s not with the company anymore, is a huge baseball fan. And so when we first took over the project a few years ago, he was on staff still. And he was part of the driving force of really thinking, “What makes me go to a baseball game? I would never go to another team’s baseball game unless my team was playing. I wouldn’t even consider it.” So when people think about this campaign, is that the first thought that they’re having is well? Whose home runs do I care about? What do I care about this campaign? And so he instilled the idea into everybody’s minds. And then we started to explore it more, started interviewing baseball enthusiasts, interviewing repeat donors that gave to the campaign and asked what drives them, how important is brand loyalty, how important is team loyalty? So there definitely was some interview processes. The Prostate Cancer Foundation was doing that, as well. They’re a larger organization so they have the resources to get user feedback and surveys. And so we were doing it from both sides, but it was our company’s idea to actually alter the donation flow and to switch up that order.
Dolph Goldenburg (10:41):
Got it. What an incredible idea. Now I know we’ve probably got some listeners right now who are saying to themselves, “Well, that’s great. That works really well for an organization that has some type of a sports league affiliation and access to all of these fans. But we’re a small $2 million or $200,000 a year organization. How do we use some of what you’re talking about in our own donation funnels online?”
Shane Michael (11:07):
Yeah. So I think it’s really important to think about the motives of why people give and if you can get an early commitment. So one example might be, and this is just off the top of my head, let’s say you were an organization helping with animals or something with the rescue of animals. So maybe when you get to a page, the first call to action actually says, “Do you believe these animals should be taken in?” Or, “Do you believe this animal should be killed?” Or something where you know what their answer is going to be. So essentially, “Do you think these animals should be rescued?” Yes, I do. Next message, “Would you prove it and help us build a list of supporters by dropping your email here?” Yes, I will. “And then the next phase, “Would you consider making a donation?”
Shane Michael (11:57):
There’s two sides to this. First, the longer the process, the more likely people are to drop off if it’s a burden to do it. However, if there’s pre-commitment, people get hero syndrome where they want to finish, they want to prove their loyalty. And so it has the opposite effect. People are willing to go through these steps if they already committed to the first step because they feel like they’re abandoning their process, abandoning their team, or if anybody’s like my wife, they would think they’re abandoning these animals personally. And you know that’s not actually the case, but the psyche does that to us. So really think about what early commitments you can get people to commit to that is indirect affiliation with your cause. And if there’s not a direct affiliation, what are some things that you can do to get buy in, to get the user to buy in early and then go through that process.
Shane Michael (12:51):
And then to really understand what makes people give. I’m very surprised with the hundreds of nonprofits that we work with how many fail to do donor surveys. What compelled you to give? Why did you give? Would there have been anything we could have shared that made you give more? And just really getting into their minds. And something else that I think worked really well with this process is the ability to make a pledge in this campaign, which is essentially commit now pay later. And so we’ve been really thinking about how other organizations can do that. So maybe on the donation prompt, it says, “Give once, give monthly, give later.” Maybe give when my next paycheck comes. Maybe there’s another way to get them to commit now but they actually give later. We have found getting that early commitment to be very beneficial. And so just finding ways to get that commitment would be my advice.
Dolph Goldenburg (13:56):
That’s interesting. It’s also probably a little counterintuitive because it means you’re going through additional steps. I’m going to share that I’m a few decades into my career. Back in the olden days of fundraising before the internet you would send mail solicitations. You still do, but those solicitations were the primary way of soliciting hundred dollar gifts. And commonly, everyone knew that a two page front and back letter, so really a four page letter, has a better response rate than a one page letter. And the hypothesis, I don’t know the real reason, but the hypothesis was always that once someone opens the letter, the people that read it are the people who are inclined to give. So the people that want more information read the entire thing and then they’re more motivated to give. So it sounds kind of similar where the more you do, the more likely you are to give.
Shane Michael (14:47):
Yeah, exactly. I think there’s one important point I want to make which is that the piece of material, the message, whatever your call to action is has to connect and resonate with the person. If there’s a long form that I don’t care about, well then yeah, I’m going to abandon it. If it’s a one question thing that I don’t care about, I might fill out the one question. But we’ve noticed that’s reversed when it’s things that are close to your heart, a cause you actually care about. Then you’re willing to read the material. You’re willing to do that pre-commitment and then you have that feeling of, “I just let this drop off. I’m abandoning this cause if I don’t finish.” So if it’s something people care about, it’s okay to guide them through a little bit longer of a process, as long as it’s thoughtful. And it makes sense. I’m not saying to lodge a massive donation form and collect all these data points. That’s not what I’m saying. Just be thoughtful in that process. And it’s okay to get them to commit before they actually pay.
Dolph Goldenburg (15:51):
Right. Now, what are some other things that organizations can do in their online giving funnel to really increase both their conversion rate and also their average?
Shane Michael (16:02):
Yeah. So this depends greatly on the actual organization and the sector in the industry we’re in. And so the way I like to start is really understanding what’s happening on your website. That’s the first step. So understanding all of your data points with visualizations, understanding what’s going on on what pages, and how many people are coming to these pages. That’s great on the analytical side. But also look at who’s managing these pages and the process for updating these pages. So thinking about accountability and starting to understand who needs to approve these new pages when we go live. A lot of things are timely. So let’s say if you already have website campaign pages on the back burner saved as drafts for an emergency campaign, and you already have some of the copy approved from your board members. So basically you’re just filling in the title with a disaster. You can mobilize a lot faster this way. You can launch that website the day it’s relevant. And then now, all of a sudden, you have a new opportunity to get more donations and more giving with the website you already have. And so that’s a great strategy for improving the average gift size in your current donor base. There’s a lot of tools out there that give you insight into what people are doing on your website: A/B testing, heat map tracking. You can actually see where users are hovering on your site. So if you want them to click Button A and they’re clicking Button B, you can see that and use that to figure out what’s wrong with Button A. And so again, it comes back to the visualizations. When your whole team can see the big picture, better decisions are made. And so it starts with that in every way, shape, and form
Dolph Goldenburg (18:07):
Let’s talk more about having an emergency campaign just ready to go because all organizations face emergencies, especially now, I think you’ve got a client that you did something like that with.
Shane Michael (18:17):
Yes, the Los Angeles regional food bank was hit pretty hard with the whole COVID situation, as many businesses, individuals, and organizations worldwide have been. And so one of the benefits with working with them is they have a pretty nimble marketing team and we handle all of their website stuff. And so essentially we started working with them as soon as this became a pandemic. We asked, “With this going to affect everybody in LA, everybody nationwide, how can we mobilize right now?” And so with the way the website was set up, we already had prebuilt templates. We already had systems in place to launch pages fast. So we were able to launch a page fast on a development environment, meaning the link was not viewable to everybody, share it with their team, get signed off, and go. And we actually launched the page too soon; Google and Facebook were still eliminating and shadow banning any ads about COVID in early March. And so we were trying to figure out why the ads weren’t showing and why the campaigns weren’t running. We learned Google and Facebook didn’t want to spread misinformation; everything was still so new. So we actually launched the campaign before Google and Facebook were even ready to allow ads about the subject matter to display, even for obviously for good organizations like food banks, which were considered essential, and for good reason.
Shane Michael (19:48):
And so by being ready and having the systems in place, they were able to mobilize very quickly. In the last two weeks of March, they made more than all of December combined. And in the nonprofit world, everybody knows the end of the year is the Holy grail of online giving. And so that was just wild. But it was because we were ready and we mobilized so quickly. And that comes back to just having those pages ready, understanding the exact process to launching a new campaign. There’s a lot of confusion. People don’t know the actual steps, who’s accountable for what. And so just having a visualization of how it all comes together, the steps that you have to take, really helped make this a smashing success. So it was it was a great outcome and the results are still great because unfortunately the situation is still going on.
Dolph Goldenburg (20:50):
So I think some of the takeaways are, first of all, put yourself in your donors’ shoes; know what’s motivating them to click and what’s motivating them to give and give them more of those things. And the second takeaway is to really think about how you’re structuring your campaigns and be ready for when that opportunity happens.
Shane Michael (21:08):
Dolph Goldenburg (21:10):
That’s awesome. And of course also A/B testing never hurts; it never hurts to test and make sure your hypothesis is correct before you actually spend a lot of money and a lot of resources implementing it. That’s awesome. Shane, we’re just about to wrap up, but I really need to move on to the off-the-map question so that our Listeners can get to know you just a little bit better. And Listeners, let me say that Shane was an American Ninja Warrior. I was going to ask him about that, but honestly, compared to just the incredible expertise that he has, being an American Ninja warrior pales in comparison to someone who can literally, quintuple a campaign in less than one year. So I actually instead want to ask you, Shane, about the name of your company: Mittun. And I’ve never, ever heard that before.
Shane Michael (22:05):
So I’m from Michigan and everybody from Michigan when asked, “Where do you live?” everyone puts up their hand, because Michigan looks like a mitten, and they point to it. And myself and our co-founders came up with the brilliant idea when we moved to California over 10 years ago: the mitten is United in California because everybody’s from the mitten state. We started the company, we named it Mitten United. Well, about four or five years in, my now wife actually started as a marketing consultant of my company. That’s a whole other story. She said, “Guys, I like the name. It’s cute, but Mitten United isn’t brandable. We’re competing against United Airlines. We’re competing against mitten manufacturers, like the actual snow glove mittens. And we can’t really brand it. Why don’t we do what FedEx did?”
Shane Michael (22:58):
Federal Express became FedEx. So Mitten United, we dropped the second half of the first word and we dropped the second half of the second word. And so Mitten United became Mittun. The most beautiful thing about this, Dolph, is that word means “collaborate” or “join in” in German. That was a complete coincidence. People were like, “How is that possible?” Well, that’s the story. We had Michigan pride, going back to people having pride of their team. And so it became Mittun. And now we have the trademark. Now we can Mittun websites and creative and design. It is brand-able. If you type in that word, Google will say, “Did you mean something else?” because it’s not an English word. Or it’ll show all of our content and our websites. So that’s the story of Mittun.
Dolph Goldenburg (23:50):
That is a really cool. First of all, I’m really impressed, given the fact that it’s a real world word, you were able to get it as a URL because your URL is mittun.com. That is really impressive because I think probably every other single word in the world is probably taken as a URL.
Shane Michael (24:08):
It was a pricey purchase, but we were able to negotiate him down. But yeah, I’m glad that’s said and done and now we own the one word domain.
Dolph Goldenburg (24:17):
There’s a pricey purchase back 15 years ago when I was living in Philly. One of my buddies, in the very early days of the web, his favorite color is purple and he decided to buy purple.com because he wanted to have his email as his firstname.lastname@example.org. And he was offered just absurd amounts of money. He decided he’d rather own purple.com than have the money, but there were times that I was like, “Wow, the opportunity cost! I can’t believe that you would rather own purple.com!” But he did. Good for you though, I’m so glad you were able to get Mittun. That’s awesome.
Shane Michael (24:46):
Yeah, thank you.
Dolph Goldenburg (24:47):
Shane, thank you so much for being with us today. And Listeners, if Shane has inspired you to update or start a website for your nonprofit, then check out Mittun’s website, which I already said, is mittun.com. There you can get more insight and inspiration into the enormous possibilities of a nonprofit website. You will find how to’s, pro tips, project checklists, and even an interactive calculator to help you figure out how much your next online project might actually cost you. And be sure to check back regularly for Mittun Mondays when you can access short videos that give you weekly, do-it-yourself action steps to improve your website and increase your online donations. And let’s face it, right now every organization, yours and every other one, needs to increase their online donations. You can also sign up for a free 20 minute phone consultation if you think you might be interested in Mittun’s services; you’ve already heard about some of the incredible work they have done with real clients. Also check out Cause Give, which is Mittun’s free donation platform that could be connected to your current or soon-to-be new website. You can find that at causegive.mittun.com. And if all of those amazing resources are not enough, Mittun is releasing an exclusive page for our Listeners that will be filled with highly curated selections of the industry’s best kept secrets and resources to help you manage your website. You can find those exclusive resources mittun.com/snp. Hey Shane, thanks again. I’m so grateful you came on today.
Shane Michael (26:31):
Thanks, Dolph, it’s been a pleasure.
Dolph Goldenburg (26:33):
If you found yourself YouTubing mittun.com and then, of course, American Ninja Warrior to see why I would choose to talk about the name of the company instead of Shane being on American Ninja warrior, then don’t worry about it. Keep on YouTubeing then pop over to our website successfulnonprofits.com. We’ll have links to all those URLs there for you. And, Dear Listeners, if you found today’s episode useful, please take a moment to share it with a friend or rate and review it on your streaming app of choice. And if you didn’t find today’s show useful, reach out and tell me why. And I’m serious when I say that: reach out and tell me why. It’s important to me that we provide actionable information in every episode and I want you to get value for the time that you spend listening. That, Listeners, is our show for the week. I hope you have gained some insight to help your nonprofit thrive in a competitive environment.
Dolph Goldenburg (27:30):
I am not an accountant or attorney and neither I nor the Goldenburg Group provide tax, legal, or accounting advice. This material has been provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on, for tax legal or accounting advice. Always consult a qualified, licensed professional about such matters.