The Popup Experiment: Effects from Unexpected Places

Part 1: Testing Upworthy’s Technique

I spend a lot of time on the Internet and I’m always looking for inspiration. In late 2013 I clicked a link to an article on Upworthy, a site always on the forefront of testing stickiness and psychological hooks. When the page loaded I was presented with this statement:

Upworthy's Modal Dialog

After clicking “I Agree” (because who wouldn’t?), I was asked to sign up for the site’s mailing list.

This type of interface element is called a “modal dialog,” and I generally find them to be annoying, distracting, and intrusive. In this case however, the dialog made me smile, and even got me to click just to see what would happen.

That experience stuck with me and over the next few weeks I designed a way to take advantage of a similar psychological cue on GlobalGiving.

Our initial experiment (a minimum viable product)

We’re always looking for ways to build our newsletter list, and I saw an opportunity to let visitors to our nonprofit partners’ project pages subscribe to their quarterly email updates. I liked the fact that I was giving users a way to express their interest in and support for the project even if they weren’t ready to give monetarily.

Because of my dislike for modal dialogs (unless the message is critical), I looked for a way to catch the user’s attention without monopolizing it. Eventually I decided to have a small, unobtrusive box slide out from the page’s lower corner a few seconds after the it loaded, and make a similar appeal. Here’s my first attempt:

This project is doing great work

If the user chose to click “I Agree,” I offered them the opportunity to sign up for the project’s email updates and for GlobalGiving’s newsletter. I launched that to the site and saw a modest level of signups, so I knew I was onto something. But wanting to make the most of the opportunity, and doing my best to live our “Never Settle” core value, I decided to try to maximize the signup rate by testing a few of the assumptions I had made.

Experimental Variables

Variable 1 (Teaser): The point of this experiment was to catch people’s attention with the friendly language and statement nobody could possibly disagree with, then make the “big” ask of signing up for our mailing lists (using what’s known as the Foot-in-the-Door technique). Hopefully by first agreeing with the modest statement, the user would feel more inclined to sign up. But would people feel misled by this? Was I undermining their trust by posing a seemingly harmless question, then asking them for their email address? Would people not understand that they were being offered the option to sign up for the mailing list, and ignore the coy initial question completely? I decided to test dropping the pretense and just offer the user the ability to sign up for the mailing lists directly.

Variable 2 (Language): Relatedly, how would the playful language affect the user’s understanding of the offer? Would they be more likely to sign up if the language were more straightforward? I decided to test replacing the language above versus the direct but rather flat, “Sign up for updates about this project?” followed by the options “OK” and “No.”

Variable 3 (Timing): Finally, the duration of time I had chosen to wait before showing the offer was more or less arbitrary. I didn’t want the offer to pop up immediately, in order to give the user some time to digest the information they wanted in the first place, but could the time be too short, causing the offer to surprise, jar, or overwhelm the user? Could it be too long so that the user would already have left, or decided to take another action? I decided to test pauses of four and eight seconds before showing the offer.

Tables with Eight Cells Defined

I divided our audience into eight segments, and showed each segment a unique combination of those three variables. Over the course of about a month, we showed the offer nearly 80,000 times, and gained more than 1000 new subscribers.


Analyzing the results, I learned that more people signed up for the mailing lists if they saw the “teaser” first; the Foot-in-the-Door technique worked! That was the only statistically significant result the experiment produced; waiting eight seconds slightly outperformed waiting for four, while the two different wordings were nearly a statistical toss-up.

Showing the teaser question increased the conversion rate from 1.10% to 1.57%

My team and I decided to make the offer permanent with “This project is doing great work” showing up after eight seconds.

Part 2: Tweaking the results

A few months went by, and our communications manager came to me with two observations about the offer. First, she explained that many of our website visitors are learning about these projects and their work for the first time, so the user would not be equipped to weigh in on whether or not the project is doing “great work.” This might make them less likely to respond to the prompt. Second, the statement parses oddly: the projects themselves aren’t doing any work at all, it’s the people that work at our nonprofit partner organizations who do the work.

She suggested an alternative wording that would remedy these issues: “This project is important.” We fired up another test.

There was no statistical difference in the signup rates between the cells with the two language variations after a month…or two months…or three months. After three months and 300,000 views, the two wordings were at a statistical dead heat, so we ended the experiment. We decided to stick with the “important” language if for nothing else than better grammar.

Even failed experiments (those without significant results) can result in learning, so I was prepared to accept these results and go forward with the knowledge that neither a project doing “great work” nor being “important” was more persuasive to our users in terms of convincing them to sign up for a mailing list. Perhaps there is other wording that would be more persuasive; perhaps there is a more effective UI treatment. Opportunities for further experimentation abound.

Part 3: The twist ending

And that’s where things would have ended, except there were other effects to consider. Newsletter sign-ups are not the primary goal for our partners’ project pages; ultimately, we want to help our partners receive donations. I had an inkling that our intervention might have some effect on users’ donation rates, so I compared the funds raised in each of the two cells, and the results speak for themselves:

Revenue increased 9.5%

Sure enough, users who are asked whether or not they agree that a project is “important” donate nearly 10% more money than those that are asked if they agree that it is “doing great work!” This was a statistically significant result.

I walked away from this experience happy that I found a way to increase donations, and humbly surprised that the biggest gain came from a source I hadn’t even considered. This experiment, well over a year in the making, serves as a reminder that by continually testing we can be continually improving, and to always remain open to positive effects from unexpected places. Plus it’s always a good idea to use correct grammar.

DataKind and GlobalGiving Using Data Science to Drive Funding to Effective Organizations

A DataKind DataDive team hard at work answering questions with GlobalGiving data

This is a guest post written by Miram Young, DataKind’s Communications Specialist.

At DataKind, we harness the power of data science in the service of humanity by bringing together data science experts with mission-driven organizations like GlobalGiving to work on projects addressing critical humanitarian problems. We have the honor of working with inspiring organizations around the world looking to use data to transform their work and are thrilled to be working on our second project with GlobalGiving using data science to drive dollars to effective organizations.

There is much that binds DataKind and GlobalGiving together. For one, as we discovered at our recent DataDive weekend in Nashville, we both have a knack for doing cartwheels down hallways (GlobalGiving was much better than we were.) Perhaps more significantly, we are bound together by our missions similarly dedicated to giving social change organizations access to powerful resources to amplify their impact.

The GlobalGiving DataDive team

The GlobalGiving DataDive team

As all of you know, GlobalGiving is in itself a tremendous resource for organizations and individuals raising needed funds to address critical issues around the world. GlobalGiving has another powerful resource up its sleeve as well: data.  Because GlobalGiving’s website tracks each project’s fundraising progress and each click of a potential donor, they have gathered a tremendous amount of data that can, in turn, be used to help people more easily find organizations they would like to donate to and help organizations fundraise more effectively.

But what exactly is data science anyway? Simply put, we at DataKind think of data science as the art of wrangling data to provide actionable information, predict our future behavior, uncover patterns to help us prioritize, or otherwise draw meaning from vast data resources. While there’s still debate about defining this profession, we think of a data scientist as both a statistician and a computer scientist. This combination of skills puts data scientists in a sweet spot of knowing not only how to obtain and transform the necessary data for an organization, but also how to understand what the numbers are–and are not–saying.

Our project with GlobalGiving started at our October DataDive with an initial analysis of data from their past projects to determine what factors lead to projects being successfully funded. DataKind volunteers found interesting trends, such as the fact that more specificity within a project description tended to lead to more donations.

Our DataKind team is now in the stage of using these findings to optimize GlobalGiving’s search ranking algorithm. By the end of the project, GlobalGiving will have a better understanding of which factors motivate donors to give, which will in turn be used to help organizations fundraise more effectively.

Stay tuned for more updates on this project over the coming weeks. If you’ll be at NTEN’s Nonprofit Technology Conference in March, Will Frechette from GlobalGiving will be speaking on a panel that our Programs Strategist, Shubha Bala, is hosting on how nonprofits can use data science to advance their work. We’d love to see you there (and maybe even do a cartwheel or two with you down the hall).

Disasters and Development: Reflections from the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan

Eva Jocelyn Ship in Tacloban CityAt the end of last year, I had the opportunity to travel to the Philippines and to visit GlobalGiving’s local partners that have been driving the Super Typhoon Haiyan recovery effort. (The storm was known locally as Typhoon Yolanda.) One year after the disaster, some of the most powerful remnants from the destruction have become benign landmarks and regular photo ops for visitors, like this 3,000 ton ship that washed into a community in Tacloban City. This juxtaposition of the terrifying and the mundane is a fitting metaphor for the complex road to recovery.

This short video brings to you to some of the people and issues I came across in the Philippines one year after Haiyan.(I’m narrating the video.)

Click to watch a short video about GlobalGiving's visit to the Philippines one year after Typhoon Haiyan

Click to watch a short video about GlobalGiving’s visit to the Philippines one year after Typhoon Haiyan

On my long flight home I reflected back on my many conversations in the Philippines; here are some observations that kept running through my mind:

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 8.57.51 PM1. There is a vital need for ongoing support after disasters fade from the headlines.  Since Haiyan struck the Philippines last year, donors on GlobalGiving have delivered nearly $2.4 million in support of 33 locally-driven nonprofits performing relief and recovery work. When images of the disaster were flooding the newsfeeds, it was relatively easy for us and our nonprofit partners to mobilize donor support. However, as Natalie from International Disaster Volunteers explains in the video, as the work turns from rescue and relief to long-term recovery, many communities are left without the resources they need to get back on their feet.

One the tools we have for addressing these longer-term needs in disaster-affected areas is the anniversary campaign. On the one-year anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan we held a matching campaign, offering $100,000 in matching funds for organizations still working in the Haiyan-affected areas. This recent campaign helped Filipino organizations raise an additional $103,773 from 405 donors for ongoing recovery work after Haiyan. The matching incentives motivate donors to give to support ongoing needs. These donations alone this won’t rebuild the Philippines, but they are an important part of reinforcing the links between local communities and the global community of donors.

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 8.58.08 PM2. Disasters highlight underlying needs for development. When I asked Filipinos about the largest need one year after Haiyan, many people said “livelihoods.” But interestingly, they couldn’t agree on whether the livelihoods situation was better or worse than before the disaster (and the international aid response that followed). To me, this underscores the fact that underemployment is an ongoing issue in the Philippines, and it’s simply one that’s been exacerbated by the natural disasters—including Haiyan.

PBSP, represented by Jay in the video, is a large civil society organization that is funding cash-for-work programs for local villagers who want to re-plant their lost mangroves. This program not only addresses the livelihood issue, but also the deforestation and damage to local watersheds and ecosystems, problems that have existed for years and whose effects were only compounded by the disaster. Livelihood and ecosystem programs generally fall in the category of ongoing needs for ‘development,’ not just disaster relief, but they can spell the difference between a disaster setting back a community for decades or a community being able to cope and move on. That’s why our ‘disaster’ strategy starts and ends with supporting local development efforts.

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 8.56.24 PM3. Disasters can be an opportunity to build local capacity. When disasters do happen, we work to get leaders like Elmer and his organization, WAND, the immediate funding they need to respond, and then we help them leverage those disasters as a way to build skills, expertise, and awareness of ongoing structural issues in their communities. I’ve emailed back and forth with Elmer nearly a dozen times since my visit, and I’ve seen how he’s developing the relationships with the many donors that WAND acquired while they were in disaster-response mode. On the one-year anniversary campaign, Elmer is testing new ways of engaging donors around deadlines and matching incentives, all while building his own networks and fundraising skills. In building his fundraising capacity he’s also building toward sustainability.

When I asked Filipinos if they feared another big storm, every one of them said yes. For many, it wasn’t a question of “if” another devastating typhoon would happen, but “when.” (In fact, in just the 2 months since I returned, the Philippines has already been hit by some very scary storms.) I’m glad to know that for Natalie, Jay, Elmer, and many other local leaders, GlobalGiving is a long-term partner in their growth, learning, and capacity, as they keep their eyes on development and resilience in the Philippines.


The Power of Crowdfunding to Fight Ebola

This article was originally posted on the Philanthropy News Digest PhilanTopic Blog.

In DecTIMEcoverember, TIME magazine named Ebola Fighters — doctors, nurses, caregivers, scientists, and medical directors “who answered the call,” often putting their own lives on the line — as its “Person of the Year.” We couldn’t agree more: local West Africans and long-time residents like our friend and partner Katie Meyler and her colleague Iris are courageous, vital, and worthy of support.

While much of the emergency funding from private donors and companies has been channeled to U.S. government partnerships and programs, we’ve been focused on helping donors reach the “last mile” with their donations. Aaron Debah is familiar with that last mile. Aaron, a Liberian nurse, has rallied his neighbors to go house-to-house to combat rumors and misinformation in a culturally relevant way. He’s also producing a local radio show about Ebola to spread the message more widely in the community. Through Internews, GlobalGiving donors are funding motorbikes for community activists, a scanner/copier/printer, and mobile phones, among other items. Through their actions, people like Aaron are making an enormous difference in the fight against the virus at a hyper-local level.

Radio producer and nurse Aaron Debah and his colleague Roosevelt Dolo (L) are coordinating community volunteers to fight Ebola in Liberia.

Radio producer and nurse Aaron Debah and his colleague Roosevelt Dolo (L) are coordinating community volunteers to fight Ebola in Liberia.

$3 Million and Counting for Locally Driven Ebola Solutions

At the end of 2014, we announced that we had helped raise more than $3 million for Ebola relief from donors in sixty-eight countries through the GlobalGiving community. We’re currently crowdfunding for more than 29 community organizations that are preventing and fighting the spread of the virus in West Africa. By giving to local nonprofits that are deeply rooted in the affected areas, donors are supporting organizations that were creating change in their own communities long before this Ebola outbreak — and will be there to drive the recovery of the region over the long term.

More than 3,800 individuals have given to over 30 Ebola relief projects on and, including GlobalGiving’s Ebola Epidemic Relief Fund. In November, a $200 donation to the fund came from a community of concerned people in Mozambique: “Though it may not seem like much, this is equivalent to two months minimum wage here. Thank you for connecting our hearts with fellow Africans who are suffering!” said Brian, the man whose family collected and sent the donations to GlobalGiving.

Private foundations have joined the thousands of individual donors to support locally driven organizations combating Ebola in West Africa through GlobalGiving. In August, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation gave $100,000 to the GlobalGiving Ebola Epidemic Relief Fund in the form of a matching grant, motivating more than seven hundred individual donors to give $100,000 over a span of just four days. In September, the Sall Family Foundation also gave $100,000 and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation contributed $400,000. And in November the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust gave $2.2 million to the fund.

Transparency around this funding is important to us. Each of the nonprofits on GlobalGiving has been vetted and has committed to providing donors regular updates about how donations are put to work. We’re also publishing donation data to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) on a daily basis.

A Marketplace That Creates Local Resilience

As 2014 was coming to a close, Jennifer Lentfer, a leading blogger on aid effectiveness, made this comment: “Grassroots groups fighting Ebola have formidable challenge. They must continually seek out and compete for new resources in a funding environment that favors short-term grants to larger, higher-profile groups and that is often led by global trends rather than persistent, ongoing challenges.”

Jennifer is right, and that’s exactly the reason the GlobalGiving marketplace exists. We work not only to connect small groups to major funding, but to help those organizations build their own capacity and funding networks so that their communities will be stronger and more resilient in the face of ongoing challenges and future crises.

For us at GlobalGiving, it’s about even more than just access to funding. We’re also making sure that local organizations have access to the information and ideas they need to be as effective as possible with the money they do have. We’re connecting organizations of all sizes to technology and information that would have otherwise only been available to major international NGOs.

More Than Just Funding: Access to Technology That Could Help Stop Ebola

In November, several of our nonprofit partners in West Africa highlighted a major challenge: they needed faster access to data from the field. We connected those nonprofits with Journey, a South African technology company with a history of success developing mobile health solutions in Africa. Journey is now working with GlobalGiving partners to create and distribute the Ebola Care app, helping health workers track individual patients, coordinate education events, follow up with at-risk children and orphans, and log data about survivors.

EbolaCareApp“In order to be effective during any crisis, being able to access real-time data is critical, as time is of the essence,” Sam Herring, data manager for More Than Me, one of our partners that is using the app in the slum of West Point, Liberia, explains. “Thanks to the Ebola Care app, data that once took weeks to get to us is now rolling in by the minute. This allows us to identify hot zones, have our ambulance transport suspected Ebola patients to Ebola treatment units immediately, send in our social mobilization team to provide psychosocial support, food, and cleaning items to affected homes, and enable our nursing team to educate residents about prevention.”

Together with Journey, we’ve mobilized smartphone donations for nonprofits that have the desire and capacity to use the app. And after developing it with input from some of our with local partners in Liberia, Journey is distributing the app on smartphones to other GlobalGiving partners who have expressed interest. Journey also continues to gather feedback and improve the app based on feedback from the field so that it will become even more effective in meeting the needs of health workers on the ground.

MariTEDxOur co-founder, Mari, gave a TEDx talk earlier this year in which she noted that “the power of crowdfunding isn’t in the funding, it’s in the crowd.” We’ve seen that idea come to life over the past several months as we invest in organizations networking to support the fight against Ebola. As long as there are unmet needs in local communities from Monrovia to Mumbai, Mexico to Minneapolis, GlobalGiving will continue to mobilize crowds to level the playing field for local change-makers.

You can learn more about the GlobalGiving partners responding to the Ebola outbreak here:


West Africans are not powerless against Ebola…and neither are we

This article was originally published on

Archie Gbessay, 28, is a fierce protector of his siblings, and a passionate young leader in a Liberian slum called West Point. After his mother died of cancer, Archie had a dream to become a surgeon. He works hard to save $20 each month so he can start a small business selling electronics. Archie hopes the business will earn him enough money to go to medical school some day. But when Ebola came to Liberia, Archie took the lead of a community task force to head off the disease. Archie’s dream to become a surgeon is now on hold; today he’s driving the Ebola-Free West Point Coalition, and he’s fighting to keep his community alive.

Equipped with information, a megaphone, buckets, chlorine, and community trust built over his lifetime, Archie is a one of the most crucial weapons against Ebola in Liberia.

Foreign agencies and our military are bringing beds and protective suits to treat the sick, but Archie has the skills to prevent his neighbors from contracting Ebola in the first place.

Photo courtesy of The Coalition To End Ebola via

There seems to be a narrative coming from the aid community that Americans don’t care about Ebola in West Africa, but I believe there is a solid core of generous people who would’ve been moved to act sooner if we, at aid agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), had told stories coming from locally-driven prevention and treatment efforts more urgently, realistically and effectively. As this blog points out,stories about the local response to Ebola are hard to find.

The biggest of all international disaster responders, the American Red Cross, held held off on mobilizing individual donors to respond to Ebola partly due to a lack of (donor) interest, according to an ABC story. They waited until this month to create an Ebola-specific donation campaign. This delay (or choice not to engage individual donors) certainly influenced other major funders and responders who are hanging on the sidelines waiting for their influential peers to act first. The result? As one NY Times story explains,Americans aren’t giving because they haven’t been asked.

I work for GlobalGiving, the first global crowdfunding marketplace, and we’ve matched more than 400,000 donors with more than 10,000 grassroots projects in the developing world over the last decade. I’ve read enough emails from GlobalGiving donors over the last few months to know that individuals from outside Africa do care. What we as aid agencies and non-governmental organizations need to do is a better job of demonstrating how one person’s donation can make a difference for individual people fighting Ebola in their own neighborhoods.

This health crisis has turned into a humanitarian crisis that will have devastating long-term psychological, social, and economic effects. In “Hotel Rwanda,” Joaquin Phoenix’s character predicts that when the public is confronted by footage of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, “they’ll say ‘Oh my God, that’s horrible,’ and then go on eating their dinners.”

Two decades later, we can’t stand by with the same sense of helplessness in the wake of this ongoing tragedy. It’s 2014 and this time, Americans have the means, the technology, and the will to engage with and support people like Archie who will stop the Ebola outbreak.

By all means, yes, we should continue to implore international leaders to invest right now in immediate efforts to stop the epidemic and long-term work to develop better health infrastructure in West Africa. But you better believe that after the U.N. and the U.S. have packed up their tents, Archie and community-based leaders and organizations will be the ones driving the long-term recovery for a generation ravaged by Ebola.

So please don’t believe it when you hear that Americans don’t care about Ebola. All of us—everyday citizens as well as NGO communicators—need to change that self-fulfilling narrative. Help your friends and family feel empowered by knowing that there are safe, efficient, and reliable ways to make meaningful contributions by supporting vital local community leaders like Archie and the Ebola-Free West Point Coalition. In doing so you’ll let those courageous women and men know that that we are with them.