Human Rights Watch Optimizes its Way to 30% Growth

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is a nonprofit, nongovernmental human rights organization working for changes in policy and practice that promote human rights and justice around the world. Shortly after a website redesign, HRW noticed a significant decline in online donations. Beaconfire RED, their digital consulting agency, helped them figure out what went wrong.

The Problem

HRW launched a website redesign that prioritized news stories over donation asks.

Human Rights Watch Homepage (predesign)

Note the lone, tiny, orange donate button.

Online donations began to slow, but it wasn’t until a lackluster website revenue performance at year-end season that HRW dug into the website visitor tracking data and found that a large portion of online donors were simply not making it to their donation forms. HRW’s first challenge was to get the organizational buy-in necessary to embrace a culture of experimentation and attention to fundraising online. Backed by compelling analytics, HRW’s marketing and communications teams came together to focus on bold optimization and growth strategies, implementing homepage measures that dramatically enhanced overall web revenue performance.

The Solution

HRW’s first test was its donor journey – starting with the homepage.

It tested homepage real estate.

HRW Homepage Tests

Note how the top test featues an orage banner, and the
bottom test features a banner AND a compelling photo.

It tested various splash pages as well as the donation forms itself.

HRW Forms

HRW then revamped its email program, including mobile-optimization and testing different messages.


Note the clear donate buttons on the right, mobile-optimized version.

It also launched an online advertising campaign, testing various imagery and copy.

HRW Ads

The Results

HRW was thrilled with the results of its optimization strategies. When all was said and done:

  • Website optimization resulted in a 26% increase in the number of online gifts.
  • Email optimization resulted in 237% increased revenue!
  • Online advertising resulted in 15% of its total online revenue.

Combined, HRW increased its online fundraising revenue by more than 30% over the previous year!

“We were blown away by how much impact these small changes had on our overall success. The data provided by these tracking parameters will continue to be a driving force for our decisions moving forward.” – Matthew Rullo, Associate Director of Marketing at Human Rights Watch

For more details on HRW’s optimization techniques, including screenshots, check out this presentation from the Engaging Networks 2016 Community Conference.

Chloe Green is a copywriter and digital campaigner with almost a decade of experience in the charity and political sectors. She’s delivered campaigns, copy and consultancy for a raft of good eggs including Anthony Nolan, the National Union of Students, St Mungo’s, and Hillary for America. She was Social Media Manager at the Labour Party between 2016–2019 and now she’s Head of Creative with the lovely team at Forward Action. She leads on fundraising emails, UX copy, and all creative facilitation. She’s an expert in email list growth, digital strategy, organic and paid-for social media, and digital mobilisation.

Rachel founded the specialist charity web agency, Rechord, in 1999. Between 1999 and 2012 they created hundreds of different web applications for organisations in the UK and internationally.
In 2013 she became the 'Donor Whisperer' and focused on helping small to medium-sized non-profits to reach new donors and activists and from there increase their income. She uses a unique process that combines the benefits of consultancy with capacity building.
Her clients include Traidcraft Exchange, the Overseas Development Institute, Jubilee Debt Coalition, the Leprosy Mission of England and Wales, Tax Justice UK, The Canary, Humanity and Inclusion, the Anti-Tribalism Movement, BRACE, New Family Social, Arseh Sevom - and that's just the last year.
She also feels weird writing about herself in the third person.

Ellen is Campaigns Manager overseeing national and local campaigning at the MS Society. She has worked at the MS Society for 2 and a half years, with roles at Scope and Guide Dogs prior to this.

Hannah is Senior Campaigns Officer at the MS Society, working on their local campaigning programme, Local Action for MS and also on social care and carers. She’s worked at the MS Society for a year and a half, and was previously at the MND Association and National Voices.

Executive Director of C6 Digital, London based agency

Ellen is Campaigns Manager overseeing national and local campaigning at the MS Society. She has worked at the MS Society for 2 and a half years, with roles at Scope and Guide Dogs prior to this.

Ellen is Campaigns Manager overseeing national and local campaigning at the MS Society. She has worked at the MS Society for 2 and a half years, with roles at Scope and Guide Dogs prior to this.

Having gotten his start organizing with anti-war veterans and working as Sala Labs, Sales Engineer, and Partner Manager, Bryan now brings his expertise to non-profit and mission-driven clients as 4Site Studios Director of Digital Strategy. Specializing in challenging and complex projects, Bryan works with each client to craft holistic approaches tailored to goals, budget, and outcomes.

Mary Margaret Callahan is the Chief Mission Officer for Pet Partners, where she is responsible for leading mission delivery including the therapy animal program and grassroots advocacy program. She joined Pet Partners in 2013 and has worked to establish the organization as both an influencer and a resource within the animal-assisted intervention (AAI) and human-animal bond (HAB) community. In 2018 she was named one of PetAge Magazine’s Women of Influence. Mary Margaret lives on a small farm outside Seattle with her husband, daughter and menagerie of animals including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, chickens, goats and miniature donkeys.

Joe Derry Hall is a freelancer working on creative digital and communications. His interests include tech innovation, upending power and reimagining different futures. Joe has been the winner of a Mozilla Creative Media Award and the joint winner of a BAFTA digital award. He was previously in-house in campaigning and communications roles at Amnesty International, the Climate Coalition, the Ecocide campaign, Save the Children, Scope and others. He is one of the initiators of Right Way Up, an experiment to create a radical, practical new vision for the social change sector.

Anna Chowcat is the Digital Manager at Refuge and oversees the charity’s digital function and output. Since joining Refuge, Anna has been instrumental in introducing a number of digital engagement programmes including digital campaigns, bespoke email supporter journeys and user friendly donate/campaign pages. Before joining Refuge, she has worked in digital engagement and campaign roles at The Labour Party and Leonard Cheshire Disability.

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