Research:Examining the Effects of Past Email Features on Donation Rates

From Meta, a Wikimedia project coordination wiki
Duration:  2019-June – 2019-September

This page documents a proposed research project.
Information may be incomplete and may change before the project starts.

The goal of this project is to better understand the relationship between the features and presentation sequence of campaign emails and their effects on donations.

Every year, Wikimedia Foundation relies on a fundraising campaign to help maintain the services it provides to millions of users worldwide (e.g., Wikipedia, Wikibooks, Wikidata, Wikimedia Commons). However, despite the increasing number of individuals who contribute to these campaigns, the number of donors still pale in comparison to the total number of Wikipedia users. This suggests there is ample opportunity to devise more effective fundraising campaigns.

One way we can examine user donation behavior is through the analysis of sequential campaign emails. Because of the high degree of variability in the types of emails sent, analysis of these data, including the order and time intervals between when they are sent, could help us understand how different textual or visual features interact with potential ordering effects to produce different donation outcomes.

One specific analysis we plan to conduct is to examine how repeated exposures of similar or different emails affect donation decisions over time. Our prior research suggests people’s prosocial decisions may be influenced by two competing effects, consistency and moral cleansing [CHI 2013 Paper]. In the study, participants who signed an online petition were more likely to later donate money to a related charity (consistency), while participants who did not sign the petition were more likely to donate to an unrelated charity (moral cleansing). This suggests that if we look at sequential decisions, how related one email and subsequent emails are to each other may affect donation decisions.

This proposed work would benefit the Wikimedia Foundation in the following ways:

Improve fundraising campaign designs. By examining whether the use (or order of presentation) of different types of emails can impact donating behavior, this analysis could be leveraged in the design of more effective campaigns, by mitigating the negative impact of the above effects.

Improve collaborations across campaigns. If the above findings generalize to user campaign donations on Wikipedia, this could have implications for how to maximize contributions across campaigns, by leveraging the above consistency and moral licensing effects.


As per the above discussion, we will examine how repeated exposures of specific email features (similar or different) might impact donation decisions over time. We plan to analyze campaign email data(including email content, time sent, campaign, which emails were opened, which emails were donated on, how much was donated, whether the donor later made a donation on a banner, and any other information about the donor) to examine whether there is a relationship between the order of presentation of different email features and subsequent donation behavior.


We currently anticipate completing this project by September 2019.

Policy, Ethics and Human Subjects Research[edit]