Getting to know our donors can make a difference between a donor who stops giving and one who becomes a consistent, long-term supporter. In addition to asking donors what they think, testing approaches for communicating can help fundraisers find the right mix of content, frequency and length to maximize a person’s engagement with our organization.

Testing is a tried-and-true strategy for fundraising, yet too often, it isn’t done. For one thing, it costs money to test. Added to that is that we may not really want to change; we like things the way they are. Sure, we’d like to raise more money, but not if it means changing the letter, newsletters, emails, etc., that we are so proud of.

One of the worst things a fundraiser can do is forget who the audience is. It’s not the fundraising team or the board members, or even the president. The audience is the person who gets the message and is being asked to give. And he or she likely knows very little about your organization (despite all the information you have provided) – and may not even care that much. Sure, they want to help end homelessness or cure cancer, but just staying a step ahead of the mortgage and cooking healthy food instead of ordering a pizza is consuming all their energy.

In other words, your audience has to be convinced over and over to care enough to read or watch your message, and then to respond with a donation to your organization.

Testing can help you pinpoint what is more likely to break through the clutter of everyday life. You can test envelopes that are more likely to be opened, subject lines that increase open rates, landing pages that result in more gifts, and dollar asks that reactivate more former donors.

But remember to only test one thing at a time. Sending out a mailing with two different carrier envelopes, a two-page or a one-page letter and a brochure inserted in half the mailings tells you absolutely nothing. One mailing segment may do better than the others, but why? Was it the brochure (or lack of a brochure)? The letter length? The different envelope?

Testing doesn’t have to be overly expensive and is possible even with a smaller mailing list or email file. Plus you can potentially learn something that will boost income for months to come.

And testing can, most of all, keep us from sending our online or print fundraising just because it makes us feel good — because the bottom line for fundraising is, “Does it make the donor respond with a gift?”