Glasses for Eye Exam

Here’s Why You Should Test EVERYTHING

Do you know how best to communicate with your donors? How about your loved ones? I recently heard a story from a 20-year-old about how she sent a text message to her grandma… and got a handwritten letter in the mail a few days later.

Beyond a chuckle, it speaks to an important point: Whether you’re reaching out to grandma, or a donor interested in your cause, you’ve got to know how best they like to communicate if you want to get a response.

Recently, two successful retailers learned by trial and (a BIG) error, that the way they communicated their message was just as important as the message itself.

  • Nordstrom had a weaker than normal 2019 Q1.
    Reason: Cuts to their direct mail rewards vouchers; moving their customer loyalty program completely online.
  • Clothing retailer J. Jill saw net income plummet from $11.3 million to $4.4 million between 2018 and 2019.
    Reason: A shift from print catalog to social and digital advertising.

These case studies illustrate how important it is to test your ideas before making sweeping strategy decisions that could have devastating results.


Assumption: Nordstrom assumed that by launching its programs online, it would reach top customers instantly and see an increase in sales.

Reality: They experienced a severe dip in sales since many loyalty customers waited to receive vouchers by mail before shopping.


Assumption: Jill saw that digital ads increased impressions and assumed launching an online-only catalog would have the same effect.

Reality: The results revealed that the quality of engagement online couldn’t compare with the print catalog (think of the hours spent thumbing through glossy photos accompanied by the J. Jill mark).

This isn’t just a cautionary tale for retail – it applies to nonprofit fundraising too!

It’s easy to make assumptions about what drives donors to respond. But rolling out a new strategy without testing is making a major decision without any data… a scary place to be when your nonprofit relies almost completely on donor response.

So before anything else, know who your donors are and how they like to engage with you. And often, the best way to find out is by testing different strategies to discover what delivers optimal response rate.

“Too late,” unfortunately, is when Nordstrom and J. Jill realized their quick and comprehensive move to digital had caused their downfall. Donors, like shoppers, are a diverse group of individuals. It’s important to reach out to them in different ways, to “speak their language,” so everyone hears your call to action.

Before you roll out a new strategy, test. Get data that you can use to make an informed decision. If you don’t, you may be gambling income that you rely on – and you won’t know until it’s too late.

  • Shellie Speer

    Shellie Speer-Burnett, Senior Vice President, BDI Academy

    With over 30 years of partnership in Rescue Missions and nonprofit organizations, Shellie Speer-Burnett brings her expertise, counsel and philanthropic-centered passion to assist in furthering the work of BDI’s Rescue Mission clients. For 22 years of her career, she served as the Founder and President/CEO of her own agency, ENEX Group, which helped her clients capture hearts and donor loyalty in their communities.

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