August 21, 2014

Why the ALS Association Is Leaving Millions on the Table

If you’ve checked a social platform in the past few weeks, you’ve probably seen at least one friend donning the latest summer trend: a soaked outfit, courtesy of the ALS #icebucketchallenge. If ALS Association isn’t already testing their donation form, they should be—they’re leaving millions of potential donation dollars on the table.

a close-up of a person smiling

Shana Rusonis

If you clicked this headline, then you clearly know what the ALS #icebucketchallenge is and how it’s showering the Internet. If you don’t, read the next paragraph. If you do know what it is, kindly skip to paragraph 3.

ice bucket challenge, opportunity to optimize

The premise is simple and inherently viral: Choose three friends to either douse themselves with a bucket of ice water or donate to the ALS Association, the predominant awareness and fundraising organization for the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the degenerative illness also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Those who have completed the challenge earn the right to nominate three friends via social media, giving them a 24-hour timeframe to participate.

Although the challenge has been criticized for pairing a trivial activity with a very serious disease, the campaign is extremely successful on both the awareness and fundraising fronts as well. Since the campaign kicked off July 29th, more than $31 Million has been donated to the ALS Association compared to $1.9 Million during the same timeframe last year.*

Extremely high traffic, but no optimization

We’d hazard a guess that the ALS Association is experiencing historic traffic volumes on its domain. One quick look at the source code or a glimpse at Ghostery tells us that they aren’t currently running experiments on their donation page. We at Optimizely strongly feel they should be. The ALS Association is leaving millions of dollars in donations on the table by not optimizing with their donation page.’s current donation page. Click to view in another tab.

Based on the work Optimizely co-founders did on the Clinton-Bush Haiti fundraising efforts, we know that large scale fundraising campaigns present an incredible opportunity to capitalize on traffic with A/B testing and optimization. Experimenting with web design and optimizing during a high-traffic period can encourage engagement, conversions, and donation dollars for a worthy cause.

We want to help!

In the spirit of #TeardownTuesdays and supporting a good cause, we’re recommending four experiment ideas to help the ALS Association capitalize on this incredible momentum to drive more donations of higher value.

We’re also offering to run these tests for The webmaster of this donation page is invited to email me at to get started.

Suggestion #1: Eliminate everything non-essential

A guiding principle in optimization for increased conversions is to keep a webpage visitor focused on the ultimate goal of the page by removing distractions. Looking at the current ALS Association donation page, there are many options to navigate or move away from the donation form:

  • Share, Print, Contact, and Find Services options
  • Newsletter signup form
  • Navigation bar
  • More options for giving
  • Search module
  • ALS Registry sign up module

All of these components are non-essential steps that could distract a visitor from completing their donation. Try removing these elements that are unnecessary or otherwise duplicated—for instance, the newsletter signup is also an opt-in checkbox when email is collected in the billing information section. It’s great that the organization is asking for me to subscribe to their emails, but they could also ask after I’ve successfully donated, not while I’m busy filling in my information correctly.

With a long donation form, every form field matters. Just like I suggested removing non-essential items from the page, test the same change on the form fields themselves—take out any that are not required.

As the Optimizely team learned from the Clinton-Bush Haiti fundraising efforts, consolidating form fields can have a significant impact on form completions. Removing two pieces of information – phone number and title – from the donation form increased conversions by 11%.


At a glance, I found five form fields that could be removed or consolidated to encourage faster form completions.

Suggestion #2: Recommend a donation amount

Visitor focus on the Internet is scarce; the average human attention span tops out at 8 seconds. This donation page could avoid indecision and promote action by recommending popular donation amounts.

Testing either the donation intervals themselves or a recommended amount could help visitors to quickly select their donation amount and move on to the rest of the form.


The ALS team can even use data to make this recommendation; what are their most popular donation amounts for new donors? $25? $100, as the Ice Bucket Challenge recommends?

Suggestion #3: Make the Call to Action More Compelling

The page’s call to action also needs to be compelling in order to combat its length. Potential donors just completed a dozen form fields and added sensitive payment information. The copy on the call to action button can be more specific, emotionally resonant, or personal to ensure that the visitor completes their donation.

“Complete donation” is the no-frills, straightforward, existing CTA. Try “Help Find a Cure” or “Fight ALS” for stronger emotional triggers that drive conversions. Maybe a tongue-in-cheek “Keep Me Dry” would resonate with donors visiting the page because of the Ice Bucket Challenge. Again, it’s worth a test!


Bonus test idea: Another experiment from the Clinton-Bush Haiti Relief fundraising effort is the addition of an image to the donation form. When the team tested adding an image to the right of the form field, average donations per pageview increased.

Suggestion #4: Break up the form

The donation page is long. Federal law requires that certain information from donors be included when collecting charitable gifts. For this reason, the donation form will always be long and a little unwieldy.

A clever (and more complex test) that can be run to try to circumvent this issue is to implement what Optimizely’s Head of Optimization, Kyle Rush, calls the “small incline versus the steep slope.”

When Kyle worked on the Obama for America 2012 campaign, this was a test that they tried to increase donations on a page that had already been optimized with A/B testing. Instead of continuing to try to whittle down form fields, the OFA team set about making the form appear shorter by breaking it into pieces.

They hypothesized that this would make the form more approachable, and that the emotional investment in completing the donation would increase with every step visitors filled out.

The “small incline” test on the OFA donation form led to a 5% conversion increase.


The donation page could be broken into three steps: 1) Gift Information, 2) Billing Information, and 3) Payment Information. The order of these steps could also be tested. Ideally, the least difficult step to complete should come first in the sequence.

Getting involved

Now, it’s your turn. Take part in this historic campaign, learn about the disease, or help another nonprofit near and dear to your heart. For more information on Optimizely’s work with nonnprofits, visit to learn more about our dedicated program and special pricing.

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*Donation timeframe for ALSA’s #icebucketchallenge: July 29 – August 20, 2014.