Talk:2011-12 Fundraising and Funds Dissemination process/Online fundraising

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Zack, thank you very much for sharing this. It is very important for every part of out movement to share best practices with everyone else so that we can all learn from each other's mistakes - that is as true for fundraising and it is very everything else. If chapters are allowed to fundraise this year, they will be able to take the lessons you've shared here and use them to improve their banners and donation forms.

There is one aspect of your analysis that you need to be very careful with. WMUK received a large proportion of our donations in the form of direct debits (recurring donations). It is very difficult to put a value on those because we don't know how long they will stay active for. The official WMUK numbers work by taking the monthly donation amount, multiplying it by 12 to get an annual amount and then reducing it by 10% to allow for direct debits being cancelled (that figure is an educated guess - next year we'll have some hard data and will be able to refine it). That likely error in that 10% figure and the fact that the direct debits won't stop after a year makes it very difficult to compare direct debits to one-off donations. You suggest that the donation form making it a little difficult to make one-off donations reduced the amount we raised - whether that is true or not depends on how you value the direct debits. I think the official method probably undervalues them because it is very common for people to set up a direct debit and keep it going to 10+ years. (I'm not trying to say you made any mistakes in your analysis - we don't have the data necessary to do a better analysis, so the results just need to be appropriated caveated.)

I also have a question: have you done any calculations to determine how long you think the WMF would have needed to fundraise for if it had stuck with just the most highly performing banners? (It's a difficult thing to judge, given the effects of banner fatigue, of course, but comparisons with chapters that used Jimmy banners more might make it possible to get a decent estimate.) You mention a plan to run the fundraiser shorter this year - we should discuss the pros and cons of how much shorter to try and make it. --Tango 20:05, 12 February 2012 (UTC)

I really do hate critiquing anyone else's forms. I only mentioned it to explain why I thought the UK saw a more moderate increase than the other chapters who ran Jimmy (and Brandon and other high performers) for longer. But I do think the WMUK form held back donors. It didn't just encourage donors to make recurring direct debits, it made it difficult for people who wanted to give one time gifts to do so. It also (correct me if I'm wrong) forced recurring donors to use direct debit, and one time donors to use PayPal. But many one time donors would want to use direct debit, and many recurring donors would want to use PayPal.
Those issues are part of the normal process of an organization sorting out payment processing on a large scale. But that is part of what this discussion is about: Maybe payment processing is a chore that simply takes time away from the higher-value work of creating good local messaging. Perhaps if WMUK hadn't had to spend time on the donation forms, contracts with banks, PayPal, compliance, etc... it would have had time to highlight some of the great work the chapter is doing in WMUK appeals. (And regardless of who payment processes this year, by the way, the WMF fundraising team is committed to helping to create those kinds of appeals with any community who wants to try.)
You're right that it's hard to make the calculation of how long WMF would have had to fundraise if we ran Jimmy and other high performers for longer. In hindsight, we could have taken banners down for about 10 days in the WMF countries and still made our goal, even without adding more Jimmy days. If we had run many more Jimmy days, then we probably could have started the fundraiser around December 1. I think a shorter fundraiser is better. But I want us all to make it shorter next year by coming up with even better editor appeals, rather than just running Jimmy most of the time. I think we can do a four or five week campaign that focuses attention on contributors and still raises more money. It'll just take more interviews, writing and testing. (And maybe beach backgrounds this year! ;-)
I kind of assumed that there were only cons to running the fundraiser longer. The only pro I can think of is more money. But even there, when the fundraiser is lengthened, you're really just adding those terrible, low-energy middle days. At the beginning and end of the campaign, WMF was raising more than $1 million per day. In the middle, it took a week to raise the same amount. That's why I believe the better way to increase earning potential is to create better appeals and banners, and easier forms, so that those big starting and ending days can become even bigger. Zackexley 21:25, 12 February 2012 (UTC)
I don't want to get sidetracked into the details of the WMUK forms because, as you say, that's not what this discussion is about (but please don't hate critiquing forms - I'm not involved in designing WMUK's donation forms any more, but back when I was I would have loved someone to point out things they thought could be improved). I just want to explain quickly that the way WMUK handled recurring and one-off donations is the norm in the UK - we make recurring donations by direct debit and one-off donations with credit/debit cards (which WMUK does through Paypal). In theory, you can make recurring donations with credit/debit cards and one-off donations with a direct debit, but it would be unusual.
The con of a shorter fundraiser is that you have to have to use Jimmy banners more and can't take the time to educate the public through storytelling, etc.. Obviously, if you can raise enough money without needing to do that and still have a short fundraiser, then that's great (although you should still consider going with an even shorter, all-Jimmy campaign using improved Jimmy banners - I'm not sure what would be the right choice, but it shouldn't be dismissed out of hand). --Tango 22:15, 12 February 2012 (UTC)

Thank you, Zack, for this post - it is perhaps the most analytical contribution to this discussion so far. It's certainly better talking about what makes campaigns successful than comparing end-of-campaign figures on their own. A couple of minor quibbles regarding WMUK's fundraiser, which I don't think affect your overall conclusions;

Many of the "half-Jimmy" days we had were 1/3 or 1/4 or 1/5 Jimmy, as what we ended up doing with editor banners was running them alongside Jimmy rather than resting Jimmy altogether. Also, we (ok, mainly I!) felt it was important to keep at least one female face on the banners wherever possible (so both Susan and GorillaWarfare were well-used).
You note that we could have raised more with a form that made it easier to make a one-off donation. We made a conscious choice to prioritise recurring direct debit income and testing showed that we could raise the proportion of recurring income considerably at the cost of a small amount in donations overall. Exactly what the long-term value of that recurring income is, we do not know, but over 5 years it will end up somewhere between 2.5 and 4x what the value in the first year is. On another way of looking at it, we will start the 2012 fundraiser with something like £200,000 already expected in recurring income.
Regards, The Land 08:27, 13 February 2012 (UTC) (Wikimedia UK fundraising lead)
Thanks for those clarifications. I agree with the importance you're placing on recurring donations. My hunch, though, is that WMDE's recurring form would have raised WMUK more money over all (even the way you were calculating it). They offered one radio button choice that included monthly, quarterly and one-time. So there were no extra steps or confusion for people who were determined to make a one time donation. But I really love to be proven wrong on this kind of thing (that's how we improve our instincts about what works). If you guys tested that kind of form against the one with the check box, we'd all benefit from learning about those results. Zackexley 19:36, 13 February 2012 (UTC)
We haven't tested that layout yet - as you'll appreciate, there are always more tests you can think of than opportunities to do them. But I'll put it top of our list for next time. Assuming there is a next time, of course. ;-) The Land 21:48, 13 February 2012 (UTC)

Hi Zack, a couple of points:

  1. Part of your analysis seems to be just repeating the previous WMF position of ignoring money claimed back from the Tax man via Gift Aid. Which of course risks a UK riposte that if you just compare part of the UK fundraiser against the whole WMF fundraiser the UK doesn't look as successful as it was. Are you not counting that part of the money simply because in the US reclaimed tax accrues to the donor not the charity, or because the Foundation is uncomfortable about the UK chapter having accepted money from the UK Government, even though that money is coming to us because of our charitable status?
  2. In my experience of charity marketing in the UK, many charities accept that the marketing cost to recruit a new direct debit donor can exceed the first year's donations. Yet they still do so because of the value of a direct debit over several years. Can I ask what multiple your spreadsheet has given to the value of direct debits, and how you came up with that figure? Clearly we won't know for twenty years how many of those direct debits will still be running in twenty years time, but there are other charities with a long track record of this sort of fundraising and we may be able to tap into their experience. We can also start making projections long before that as we track the percentage of people cancelling their direct debits.
  3. You've said that the UK did no localisation, are you ignoring the localisation done in testing different Gift Aid wordings? My understanding of the fundraiser was that this was heavily tested and there was significant improvement during the campaign. WereSpielChequers (talk) 08:17, 8 March 2012 (UTC)


Hi. Zack, thanks for sharing this analysis. Could you perhaps run the numbers for Hungary, where the chapter payment processed in 2010, and the WMF in 2011, and that for some reason has seen the smallest amount and rate of growth among places where there was a switch to a WMF raising funds? I am asking because beforehand the year-on-year growth was noticeably faster. (This could be a regional characteristic, as the growth in the Central European Union generally seems lower than the average this year, but there are outliers like Romania; which would suggest that there could still be potential and I don't have data for previous years to see if there is a trend there). --Bence 21:56, 12 February 2012 (UTC)

Hi Bence. My guess is that WMHU did a really good job on their donation form (like WMNL, who also had a smaller gain in 2011). I haven't been able to look at the Hungarian donation pages from last year because of some problem with the site (the WMHU forms were hosted entirely on the WMHU site). Do you have a screen shot or any record of the 2010 donation pages?
But part of it aso seems to be exchange rate changes. If you take 210 as the average rate for 2010 and 235 for 2011, then you get a 39% increase. And if you only include the money that went through the Hungarian donation page in 2010, the increase is 65%. Zackexley 04:12, 13 February 2012 (UTC)
Thanks Zack. The exchange rate is always a pain. I believe the chapter didn't get any significant amount of stray donations this year, so the movement overall increase is probably closest to the 39% mark.
I think we used a form on wmf wiki and its exact replica on our site (which is indeed broken now, but will be restored this week); after it was switched over, IIRC. --Bence 10:29, 13 February 2012 (UTC)
Bence, do you know why there was so much spill over to the WMF form last year? It was almost 18% of the total. Here's another thought about the HU numbers: The total amount was small enough that a few large donations would make a big difference. It makes more sense to look at the number of donations. I'll try to run those numbers and will post an update here. Zackexley 19:39, 13 February 2012 (UTC)
Bence: I looked up the number of donors and it does look like some large donations in 2010 may have skewed the 2010->2011 increase downward. There was a 99.72% increase in number of donations between the two years. Zackexley 00:11, 14 February 2012 (UTC)
Thanks, Zack for looking into it! I am not sure about the reason of the spillover, perhaps the e-mail campaign was successful that year, or some donation links didn't geolocate (e.g. our form mentioned that half of the money would go to the WMF, and some people might have done a Google search to check who they are and once on their site, they didn't get back to our form (or consciously decided that they want all their money, especially if they gave big donations, spent on servers rather than local programs which were mentioned on our donation form). It would be interesting to pose the question in a survey to the 2010 donors, why have they chosen the WMF instead of us; there might be some useful lessons in it. --Bence 19:07, 15 February 2012 (UTC)


Im not sure. If it is the "Jimmy-Bonus", then - and thats the argument of ur survey - what should hindering to centralize the whole campaign? There was something useful written by [user:the_land]. I dont know, where that disappeared? Jimmy might be a statue, but what is Jimmy without the authors, who believed that he would make that as strong as it is...I dont know. The Jimmy-Bonus is the Jimmy-Bonus, the product he did not write, those were some other people.--Angel54 5 23:53, 12 February 2012 (UTC)

One problem with centralising the whole fundraiser is that the WMF as a US entity would not get the tax concessions that organisations in France, the UK and elsewhere get. In some cases this means we get less money in total, in other cases we annoy our donors. WereSpielChequers (talk) 16:27, 13 March 2012 (UTC)

Narrow Approach[edit]

Zack, your entire evaluation has a limited perspective on fundraising. I know better than anyone, how your opinion are backed by pages of Data, and analysis but would you consider, in the larger scheme of things, and more time, that chapters are better placed to decide on messaging. Let me elaborate, there is a whole lot of local issues, colloquialisms, references, that your centralized team will always overlook. One shot fits all, jimmy or Brandon approach is not sustainable, I believe you know this very well. Considering the future of the fundraiser, do you think that a centralized, and a geographically isolated approach is the way for growth? Localization is very limited now, with only translations of central messages, even the chapter fundraising doesn't involve a lot of experimentation beyond the existing campaigns and banners. In future, is this exact model going to scale, year after year, geography after geography? Theo10011 04:28, 13 February 2012 (UTC)

Theo, I don't think that's fair at all. We put a huge amount of effort into localisation this year:
  • Sent the storytellers far and wide to gather appeals.
  • Invited chapter and community ideas for localised messages and tests, both on mailing lists and on-wiki.
  • Constantly ran our own tests broken down by country/region, on such things as preferred messages and suggested donation amounts.
  • Conducted extensive research on suggested donation amounts that other local charities used, to inform our choices.
  • Took a significant gamble (and gave our technical team a lot of extra work!) by moving to a new payment processor, primarily in order to support more local payment methods and 76 new currencies.
  • Vastly improved our translation infrastructure, getting messages in more languages than ever before.
  • Gave volunteer translators wide latitude to modify messages to suit their own language and audience. Where they had feedback or found some English phrase difficult to translate we took that into account.
And that's just a few examples that come to mind. Of course there's always more that could be done, but I resent your suggestion that this fundraiser was "geographically isolated". Peter Coombe (WMF) 18:35, 13 February 2012 (UTC)
Theo, I agree with everything you're saying (except that my perspective was narrow ;-). As Peter said, we did a lot better localization this year. But the biggest improvement we can make to the fundraiser is still more and better local messaging. Exactly as you say: appeals and banners that are informed by local issues, colloquialisms and references will not only connect better with readers, they will also raise more money and help shorten the fundraiser.
But mere decentralization of Wikimedia fundraising hasn't accomplished that: Chapters who have had complete control over banners and appeals in their countries have tended to run the WMF Jimmy appeals and other WMF high performers, even though those appeals are globally generic, or worse, a bit US-centric. Instead of merely decentralizing, we need a collaboration that mixes the two kinds of knowledge required for Wikimedia fundraising. There is specialized knowledge that goes into making a high performing appeal. And there is local knowledge and experience that goes into making a well localized appeal. We have mostly failed so far to create a fundraising program that fully combines those two kinds of knowledge. Succeeding in that is the WMF fundraising team's #1 goal for 2012.
I think you and I both agree on at least part of the solution: Regardless of who payment processes, we need to find a way for community members to breathe local life into our fundraising appeals. In 2010, you saw that that is not as easy as asking editors to write their own appeals. In 2011, we learned that even when we visited a country (as Victor did India) and interviewed dozens of editors, and wove appeals using their own words, and collaborated with the editors by email and phone to finalize the appeal -- even then -- the appeals didn't contain local colloquialisms and references in ways that made them better appeals.
After watching the past two fundraisers, I'm convinced we can only succeed by having a much *closer* and busier collaboration between many more community members and the WMF fundraising team than ever before. That will mean spending even more time collaborating with editors and local community members on appeals, and specifically versions for their country -- and spending time in person. (Of course, we should also invite community members and all chapters to do this work *without* us too. We should always do that. But we've learned that doing that isn't enough.)
And by the way, there's no reason the fundraiser even needs to be only led only by one centralized team in SF. It would be wonderful if other volunteer or professional fundraising teams came together around the world, testing their own approaches and working with community members on personal appeals in the way I'm suggesting. This is already happening in France and Germany. It would be great to see it happen in India, Brazil, Japan and many other places where our lack of true localization is holding us back.
As far as "centralization" goes, what Sue is arguing for is centralizing payment processing: the servers, security, software dev, legal contracts, compliance, etc... that are required to process online donations in high volume. But that's totally separate from creative work. I think WMF has a responsibility to provide fundraising capacity to the movement (as for example we did by providing the appeals and banners that chapters relied on in 2009, 10 and 11). And there is a big economy of scale to having a certain amount of expertise and experience in one place. But there's no reason to have only one such center. Zackexley 19:24, 13 February 2012 (UTC)
Peter you may recall that I was employed for the fundraiser an year ago, and I was worked in close proximity of the India operations. I am very well aware of what Victor and other storytellers did (I thought they were getting different titles now BTW). WMF did this in Wikimania as well.
I honestly think you're being myopic now, can you honestly say that a team based in San Francisco, can localize messages for a 100 countries around the world? Our definition of Localization really differs, it is not merely putting a call out for translators and getting them translated in 100 languages, I did that myself when I worked. What you are talking about is Red cross or even a commercial company like Pepsi, sitting in LA, designing a campaign and broadcasting it in a 100 countries - Kenya, Bangladesh, Sweden and expecting to get the same results. Translations alone doesn't change a thing in this equation, you are not paying attention to the local culture, issues, and only taking a global approach for a hundred countries. Yes, you can measure the results, yes you can change, but it really doesn't affect a single thing, as long as you're the only ones sitting there with consultants thinking of ways to reach out to people in Bangladesh, India and then Sweden within the same day.
Peter you and the team, wrote those appeals and messages. Believe it or not, you are "isolated" from India, Indonesia, most of Europe, Australia. For example, Maryana's appeal for a chair meant something else in Indonesia and India. Chair is usually used in political context, and half the people who saw it are most likely to think of Harvard as the most elitist iconic institution there is. This is a common problem that the best translators or consultants can not fix. You can not claim to know about a 100 countries and a 100 languages.
Most of what you're talking about is making your internal centralized operations efficient, I am saying the problem is you, the problem is centralization. You are ignoring a lot of local knowledge that all the chapters can provide, that is no comparison from what you gather by sending an employee there for a week, or reading research materials sitting there.
Again, our definition of Localization is different. The messages and the banners were the same, only the languages were translated widely, I am saying chapters might have considerable know-how about how to talk to their own countrymen than the storytellers or researchers or consultants, based in San Francisco.
Zack- I was talking more about future growth than the current situation. You are probably seeing close to the saturation point of what your banners and messaging can generate, if not now than within this year you might. DO you think that specialized knowledge of fundraising, transfers over to other languages - Let's say french or Spanish? I don't. I think besides English and mostly the US it has a sub-optimal impact, which was never pursued aggressively country by country. Your point about Victor's visit to India is exactly what I'm referring to. If you handed over a portion of the fundraising creative side to the chapter, they might do it much easier than WMF and might have some measurable impact. As for having fundraising teams around the world, I think you just argued my point - chapters do have those, I have been arguing to preserve that decentralization. Payment processing is a part of the package, you can not offer creative duties and not payment processing. If money is raised by a chapter locally, they have rules to comply with, I would even go as far as to say, if you were to tie in incentives with target, you would see a much higher response from chapter involvement. Regards. Theo10011 02:08, 14 February 2012 (UTC)
Theo10011, as somebody who has had absolutely no involvement with fundraising, I'm a bit confused. :) Can you explain why "payment processing is a part of the package"? I don't quite understand why chapters would feel that they cannot contribute without also processing payments...particularly if processing payments does not inherently convey a right to retain control of those funds. Can you explain so an outsider can follow what makes payment processing necessary for chapters to take a role in this? --Maggie Dennis (WMF) 13:40, 14 February 2012 (UTC)
Hiya Maggie. I was making a reference to the fact that payment processing itself requires localization. Let me elaborate, credit cards are not the universal currency used for donation, neither is PayPal. Different countries have different systems, off the top of my head, India has a strong leaning towards Netbanking over credit cards, this is same for many asian countries where local payment solution are preferred over the international one, even in Europe, where we make a considerable amount of collection, we need to support local payment solution. There is also the issue of, local currency support and approximation about donation amount, that chapters would be much better placed to take. The decision to support and then acquire the said infrastructure has not been a priority for WMF, the global approach overlooks local needs. Understandably, a central payment processing organization can not support different solutions for different markets. Again, chapters are best placed to decide and acquire the said payment processing infrastructure, local currency support, followed by offering local tax benefit, possible receipt and an ongoing donor relation. I do see it, as a complete package. WMF takes a global approach and can never get into this much detail, I am suggesting for future growth, this might be a very important factor. In India and from my perspective much of Asia, there is ambiguity and xenophobia about making international transactions. It is also strictly regulated, it is not possible to make international donations using credit cards in a lot of countries in the Global south. Paypal has been banned and severely restricted in countries like India and Brazil. Regards. Theo10011 10:04, 15 February 2012 (UTC)
Theo, it's true that WMF is not able to offer local payment options in countries where it is against the law for a foreign organization to do so. But there are very few cases like that in the world. All our research so far indicates that there are no significant payment methods that WMF would be barred from accepting.
You're right that local volunteers and staff have the advantage of *being there* as they're trying to figure out what payment options are most appropriate to use. But I'll restate my belief that the Wikimedia movement will get the best outcome if local staff and volunteers collaborate with WMF staff to localize both on the creative side and on the payment processing/ payment option side too. I think we both agree on this.
I think this is where we may disagree: You're saying that if chapters are responsible for payment processing, donation pages, creative and all aspects of fundraising in their countries, then they will tend to do better than WMF at making money, representing movement values and giving donors a good experience. But that just hasn't been the case consistently. And that is not a criticism of chapters. All chapters payment processing work in the past has been impressive: Sometimes it was just one or two volunteers who managed to set up an infrastructure that processed hundreds of thousands of dollars. But results varied: Some chapters have offered several payment methods, but many have failed to offer *any* local payment methods and only allowed credit cards through Paypal. Some chapters have created usable donation forms, but many have created hard-to-use or confusing ones. Some chapters have done a good job of handling all the legal, financial and data protection rules and regulations around payment processing, others have not.
Everything I'm saying applies regardless of who payment processes. Regardless of who processes payments, what we know is that if WMF and chapters and other volunteers collaborate more closely, we'll have better localization. Local volunteers have important local knowledge about payment methods. WMF has the legal, tech and other resources to evaluate contracts with payment method providers, implement them technically, protect user data according to national and international standards, user test different approaches to donation flows for different payment methods, etc... It's not unreasonable to expect us to do that with 30 or 40 or more countries over the course of a year, which together account for nearly all WMF donations. In 2011 we did extensive localization in dozens of countries. It wasn't perfect, but it was the most carefully localized global WMF fundraiser ever, including the 2010 campaign when more than a dozen chapters payment processed locally. And we're ready to do a much better job this year.
That kind of collaboration around localization can take place regardless of who payment processes. So the considerations about who should payment process are separate from who has better local knowledge. Because local knowledge can inform the process in either case. The questions about who should payment process are a whole different set of questions, such as: Does payment processing make chapters more or less independent? Does it allow for greater fundraising collaboration or suck time and resources away from collaboration? Does it suck time away from core Wikimedia movement work? Does it expose the movement to financial, legal and data privacy risk? Etc... Zackexley 16:32, 15 February 2012 (UTC)
Zack, I doubt if the UK is an extreme example, we are usually more "open" than most economies. But we have at least two payment mechanisms that are not open to a US organisation, even a not for profit. Most people in the UK will have an account with one of the clearing banks, and anyone with such an account can setup a direct debit or a standing order to pay another account in any UK clearing bank on a regular basis and until further notice. We had some success getting donors onto direct debit in the last campaign, and it is probably the main method used by most UK charities soliciting funds from supporters; Especially those who are aiming to build up a stream of predictable longterm revenue. I have direct debits still going to charities I was involved in during the 1980s but have not been particularly active in for the last couple of decades. The other mechanism we have in the UK that the WMF can't tap into remotely from San Francisco is Payroll Giving, as this is a fundraising route only available to UK registered charities. But as some employers match or part match their employees donations, payroll giving is the payment method of choice for some UK donors, especially if they are earning enough to be on the 50% tax band. WereSpielChequers (talk) 12:27, 20 March 2012 (UTC)

Zack your responses are getting long winded. You agree with me on some points and then, we apparently disagree on others. While I would like to delude myself into thinking we live in a utopia, where collaboration means the same to me as you, it is not the reality. It seems your definition of localization and collaboration, doesn't stretch much further than mostly translate and write reports, to let the grown-ups and professionals handle the rest.
You are arguing that the chapters haven't been able to give a good "donor experience" consistently. I'm not sure if you read my first few comments, I did not talk about the past. You have been there for roughly 2 years. Correct me, if I'm wrong but you were in charge of 2 fundraisers. I was talking more from a strategic point-of-view, as in, 5 years from now. In the short-term, you can believe that you will be able to provide the most professional fundraiser for the WMF, though I think even you doubt that you can keep upping the target much longer with just jimmy. I was talking about sustainability and consistency, look at the most professional chapter, and think of having 30 more of those, with a professional staff, that wakes up when you go to sleep. Consider a situation where they pick up the slack when the budget keeps expanding. You can not consider and take WMF forever approach for too long. I really don't think you and I agree on the definition of collaboration, they are miles apart. I want the chapters to take the lead and WMF to provide support, it is the other way round for you.
The problem as you allude to, is that chapters are amateurs. Not nearly as professional as they should be, that is what I have been arguing for. It takes times, effort, and support to get that. They are organizations that need infrastructure and guidance, the board's current trajectory is headed towards killing the spark all together. We might even get the other version of collaboration - glorified translators, and assistants to follow up orders and provide reports. Maybe that was the intention all along, who knows. This seems pointless. Theo10011 (talk) 07:25, 16 February 2012 (UTC)