Highlighting phrases in fundraising messages raises donations, conference told

Zack Exley, former chief community officer of the Wikimedia Foundation, says the keyword strategy increased donations by up to 22 per cent

Zack Exley
Zack Exley

The Wikimedia Foundation, which operates Wikipedia and other free knowledge-sharing websites, has found that highlighting key phrases in its fundraising messages increases donations by up to 22 per cent, delegates at the International Fundraising Congress heard. 

Zack Exley, a practice director at the global IT consultancy ThoughtWorks and former chief community officer of the Wikimedia Foundation, was speaking at a session called Globarity – the Ray of Solidarity at the conference in the Netherlands on 17 October.

The foundation made the equivalent of about £28m in small donations from two million people in 190 countries and in 82 different currencies last year.

It tested thousands of different fundraising messages at the top of Wikipedia pages, from one featuring an image of the founder Jimmy Wales to the more recent yellow messages, said Exley.

Adding a payment form to the message increased donations by 9 per cent, he said, and highlighting one key phrase in the message improved them by between 15 and 22 per cent.

"Our best messages won everywhere, in every language and in all the countries where we operate," he said.

The foundation received 55 per cent of its donations from the US last year and wanted to try to boost the funding it received from other countries by localising its fundraising message, he said. 

It has held focus groups around the world to test its latest fundraising message. Exley pointed out that Wikimedia was a small non-profit that ran one of the most popular websites in the world, with 500 million users, but operated with a staff of only 175. 

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