Nathan Mackenzie Brown, founder of Really American, showed us that running petitions with donation upsells can significantly improve your Facebook fundraising, for organizations large and small.

Here's what they did and how you can make that their strategy work for your organization, too.

Meet Really American

Really American helps concerned citizens defend truth, democracy, social justice, and the environment against the corruption that Bernie Sanders exposed to the American public in the 2016 presidential election.

Their Facebook Goals

Really American wanted to use ActionSprout to achieve these three goals with their Facebook campaign:

  1. To grow their email list of supporters
  2. To immediate back up petitions with donation upsells to cover ad costs
  3. To make more in donations than what they were spending on Facebook ads

The Impact

From April 1 to July 25, Brown worked hard to meet the above goals. The results blew us away:

  • They built an email list of over 49,000 supporters
  • They got more than 500 people to donate
  • They had a net gain of $2,722.57 in donations after what they spent on ads

“Typically non-profit organizations and political campaigns will pay $1-$2 to acquire email leads," explained Brown. "I actually made about $.06 on average per email address that I acquired during this time period. Someone who works in the digital consulting world on political campaigns heard about my results and thought they were impossible... until he saw the analytics screenshots from my Facebook ad account. I’d say accomplishing results good enough to be considered impossible is reason to be happy!”

How They Did It

During the experiment, Really American launched more than 80 different petitions, all coupled with donation upsells.

What do we mean by “donation upsells” exactly? Well, for every time they gave supporters the chance to sign a petition in support of a cause, they then immediately followed up with a message giving that supporter the opportunity to pitch in a few dollars to the cause.

“I ran upsells right after people signed the petition, where I asked people to donate money to help get more people to sign the petitions" Brown told us. 'I chose this method because I saw Change.org doing this on their petitions and I have seen Moveon.org doing it as well. I figured it probably would work well given that these large organizations use a similar approach. 

"It tooks some testing on wording, but once I got it right, it worked effectively to cover more than the ad spend on petitions that were really hot.”

Brown found that upsells engaged his supporters better than a straight donation action. (Upsells follow the same principles as micro-commitments, which you can learn more about here.) In other words, if someone takes a small action for you, like signing a petition or pledging their support, they are much more likely to take action again.

Brown's experiment proved this to be the case.

“One of the most interesting things I saw, pretty consistently, was that the lower the acquisition cost on email signatures, the higher the percentage of people who gave donations... and the more money I made per donation. I think this indicates that, when a petition resonates for people at a high level, it's because people think donating might really help the situation, so it's worth donating to as well as signing.”

Throughout this process, Brown experimented on his Facebook page to track what resonated and what didn’t, giving him the ability to fine tune his strategy and focus his efforts where they had the opportunity for the greatest results.

But how does one come up with that many petitions and ideas to test?

“What I found worked best for me was to find articles on topics that I thought could make good petitions. I posted those to my page to see how my audience responded. When something got a lot more engagement, I focused on making a petition about it. Obviously, this required having enough followers that I could get some reasonable engagement on my posts. If one doesn’t have a big enough following, then you might want to test the articles with a small ad spend to your desired target audience to see if they respond before making the petitions.”

With this method, he was able to discover a formula for successful petitions.

“Find something people are really upset about, which is trending and ties into your cause," he explains. "Identify a 'bad' party that is involved in the situation. Theyn identify a third party that people believe would actually do something about the situation, if enough people sign a petition about the issue.”

Campaign Creative

Of the 80 different petitions and upsells that Really American launched during the course of this experiment, these three turned out to be the top performers:

1. Sign If You Want Every Vote Counted In California!

What the post did well:

  • Used hashtags, exposing the cause to a wider audience
  • Used clear, concise language that demonstrated why supporters should click and what’s at stake

What the petition did well:

  • Made use of urgent language with a clear, concise call to action for maximum completions
  • Used the “strength in numbers” mentality to get folks to add their names to a growing list of supporters, rather than asking them to solve the problem by themselves

The results:

2. Sign Petition: Investigate CA & NY Voter Suppression!

What the post did well:

  • Set the stage with a clear call to action
  • Featured a large, engaging image of Bernie Sanders to grab attention and make you stop scrolling to check it out

What the petition did well:

  • Presented clear, urgent language
  • Featured a concise call to action for maximum completions

The results:

3. Add Your Name To Punish Voter Suppression!

What the post did well:

  • Presented a clear call to action
  • Showed a large, engaging image of Bernie Sanders to grab attention and pique interest

What the petition did well:

  • Used clear, urgent language
  • Offered a clear, concise call to action for maximum completions

The results: 

In total, these top three petitions enjoyed an average conversion rate of 53%... with 84,142 Facebook shares!

Lessons and Takeaways

So how can your nonprofit enjoy this same level of success?

  • Post and test as much as you can! Really American created and promoted more than 80 different petitions to learn what resonated most with supporters.
  • Use the trending stories and topics that folks are currently talking about as inspiration for new petition ideas. This will help you create enough petition content to run a test of this size.
  • If you can, spend a little money on Facebook ads to get the ball rolling.
  • Double down on what works and leave the rest behind. Your supporters are the experts on what engages them, not you.
  • Be as clear and concise as possible when framing your issue and call to action.

More About Nathan Mackenzie Brown and Really American
Brown is currently running similar campaigns now for a mayor’s race in California and for a bike advocacy organization in California in partnership with
AHG. Really American is currently interested in finding one or two more clients to work with on this sort of basis. In addition, they are in the early stages of seeking seed money from large donors to scale the activities of Really American’s email list building and fundraising activities. You can reach Brown by direct messaging the Really American Facebook page.

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