The power of “no”


In January of last year, we declared 2014 was going to be the year of the audience. Part of that, we said, was offering your donors the 5 C’s:

  1. Clarity
  2. Control
  3. Choice
  4. Convenience
  5. Community

So it was fitting to end the year with a test with Focus on the Family that illustrated the power of offering donors choice and control.

The test — offer donors the option to say “no”

During major fundraising campaigns, we typically put up some sort of splash page or pop-up that interrupts users on their way to the ministry’s website with a very clear donation call to action. This strategy of interruption has proven time and time again to drive significant response.

However, this time we decided to test what it would look like to offer a clear choice to donors. If they weren’t interested in donating, or were busy at the time, they could choose “no.”


You can already see the twist in the image above. We assumed that if you are saying “no thanks” to the call to action, it might be because you’re on your way to something else and you don’t want to be interrupted right now. So we offered you the chance to give us your email address and we’ed remind you later about the opportunity to give.


Once the user gave us their email address, depending on when that was during the campaign, they would receive 1 to 3 follow-up appeals.

This was not a slam dunk test. We hypothesized it could really go either way — on the one hand, offering choice and control would empower donors and give them the ability to make a decision later, if they weren’t able to take a moment and donate right away. We also might capture email addresses, giving us the chance to ask those people again via email.

But on the other hand, by offering users the chance to delay their giving decision, it could mean they never make the decision. Also, offering choice from a usability perspective tends to slow people down and often hurts conversion.

The results — “no” wins

The test with the “no” option resulted in thousands of email addresses captured (2.3% of unique views). Even better — fully one-third of the email addresses were new to the organization — an unanticipated bonus, growing the email list.

More importantly, the response rate to the follow-up emails was 1.48% — stellar for any organization doing email fundraising, and significantly higher than typical email appeal response rates.

But even more surprising, the “no” option splash page resulted in higher clickthrough and conversion on the “YES I want to donate” button. So, despite the fact that we gave users a clear out with the “no” button, more of them decided to click “yes” and give.

Future testing — will this work outside of interrupters, with other non-profits?

To be clear, we are not saying this is a new rule to blindly follow — that all interruption-based ads should offer a “no” option. We are testing two things further with other clients:

First, does this same principle work in situations where we aren’t interrupting users on their way to something else? For example, on a home page ad. We believe the “no” option works especially well when users have another agenda and we’re interrupting them during that task. This way, they can move on to what they came to do, but have a reminder sent to their email.

Second, does this strategy work for nonprofits where the audience is generally made up of people coming to the site with the intent to donate? Hundreds of thousands of people visit Focus on the Family for reasons other than giving — listen to the broadcast, find content, etc. So it makes sense if they are consuming content to offer them the chance to be reminded later about a fundraising campaign. But with a nonprofit where most of the visitors are coming with the intent to donate, like a rescue mission for example, will offering them the option just be a distraction?

As always, I’m happy to answer any questions you might have — email me at or tweet me at @daveraley.