Test, Send, Adjust, Repeat

You send messages regularly, post information to your blog, and tweet about all of it. When was the last time to checked your open rates or click through rates? What about blog visits, time on site, or even which posts were most tweeted (and not by you)? In order to ensure you get your message out effectively, you need to regularly check the data where you can see what works, which messages did well, and where you may be able to pick up engagement. Sometimes, the answer isn’t in one metric, but actually in a combination of metrics that you can find by way of a/b testing.

Here’s a short list of some of my go-to metrics and a/b testing options to help gauge how a single email or post is doing, or what I can do to make it even better.


Open rate by type: Open rates can vary pretty significantly between a fundraising appeal and a donor stewardship message, a program promotion and a post-event follow up. The type of message being sent (not just the subject line) can sway the open rate. Looking at the open rate from one message against the general open rate for your messages of that type can keep things in perspective and also help identify how this specific message performed.

Subject line tests: We’ve all seen the one word subject lines, or inclusion of your name in the subject. Do they really work? The simple answer is “maybe.” You have to test out subject lines to see what catches the eye of your supporters. Try testing the length (don’t always avoid a long subject, sometimes they work!) or the inclusion of key dates. Be sure to test subject lines on a subset of your list and then send the winning message on to everyone else – it doesn’t have to be a comparison of different messages.


Traffic sources: People don’t always find your latest blog post by knowing exactly where to look. You may be surprised to see where traffic is coming from. Do you have prominent bloggers in your community showcasing your latest research or campaign? Maybe you have champions helping fundraise on your behalf. Your supporters are talking about you, and so are reporters, and even your funders and partners. Watch your traffic sources and connect with those organizations or people to help encourage that coverage! 

Image placement: Proven successful practice tells us that including images along with our content can really help – it provides some context, breaks up the monotony of the page, and can add to the understanding of the subject. But, where do we put these images so that they serve us well but don’t distract the reader, keeping them visible but not disrupting the design or layout of the content? Try testing images that sit next to content (like a box on the side where content can wrap around) versus on top(like a banner across the content area). You can even try using the images as the title or to capture the key take-aways from your post (hint: this may help with social sharing!).


Content sharing: Of course, you’d like to believe that all of your content is worth sharing! The truth is that some posts will be more widely shared than others, and that’s okay. What’s crucial is identifying what makes your content more shareable or what other channels are more likely to be used. Do you have lots of people posting your content or sharing your updates on Facebook, but you just don’t get that kind of reaction on LinkedIn? Or, are there certain announcements, posts, or content that you post that gets picked up right away? Keeping track of where and what sharing your community does with your content will help as you plan for multichannel campaigns.

Multichannel timing: Speaking of multichannel campaigns, the timing of your messages across different channels is a very fun but also very informative test. If you start promoting something on social media 30 minutes after a big announcement distributed via email, do you see more engagement? What about if you post about a new campaign after sending out a direct mail appeal? Coordinate your efforts across channels by using hashtags or unique URLs so you can catch which channels may be sending traffic or engaging the most supporters.

How do you show that you’re getting your message out successfully? I’d love to hear from you!

Amy Sample Ward
Driven by a belief that the nonprofit technology community can be a movement-based force for positive change, Amy is NTEN’s CEO and former membership director. Her prior experience in direct service, policy, philanthropy, and capacity-building organizations has also fueled her aspirations to create meaningful, inclusive, and compassionate community engagement and educational opportunities for all organizations. Amy inspires the NTEN team and partners around the world to believe in community-generated change. She believes technology can help nonprofits reach their missions more effectively, efficiently, and inclusively, and she’s interested in everything from digital equity to social innovation.