Nathaniel Ward

Hey there! I’m an online marketer and fundraiser living in Washington, D.C.

I love understanding why people make decisions—why they say yes to an offer or unsubscribe from an email or make a purchase.

I’m fascinated by psychology and how technology and experimentation can help us understand people better. This helps us marketers communicate better with each person we reach.

These are the subjects of my frequent talks on online marketing and optimization, including at the Marketing Sherpa Optimization Summit, the Nonprofit Innovation and Optimization Summit, and the Direct Marketing Association Nonprofit Conference.

Most of the time, I can be found at The Heritage Foundation, where I oversee online fundraising.

P.S. Opinions expressed on this site are my own.

I don’t have comments enabled, so here’s how you can get in touch: Send me a tweet. Or find me on Facebook or LinkedIn.

Recent scribblings

Nick Marcelli parodies campaign technology reporters

Nick Marcelli has already written the post-election digital strategy article you’ll read seven times next week:

Over a dozen operatives interviewed for this story say [Campaign] has been quietly building a digital and data operation which may rival Obama’s vaunted machine. “This is the best digital operation in history.” Said one operative familiar with [Candidate]’s digital operation.

The closing paragraph nails it.

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Don’t blindly follow design trends

Kevin Marks has a surprisingly quantitative take about why the web is getting harder to read:

There’s a widespread movement in design circles to reduce the contrast between text and background, making type harder to read. Apple is guilty. Google is, too. So is Twitter.

Typography may not seem like a crucial design element, but it is.

The key takeaway: blindly following design trends can make it harder for people to read your stuff. That’s especially important for fundraisers, who often deal with older audiences.

Fortunately, you don’t need to adopt a design because it’s trendy. You can experiment to find out if that design better achieves your goals than what you’re using now.

By Nathaniel Ward on


How to focus

How do you remain focused and productive in a world full of distractions? Here’s how I do it:

  • Use a task management system like the Getting Things Done framework. Getting your to-do list out of your head and into a list or an app like Todoist can help you declutter your mind and prioritize what’s important.

  • Take notes about everything. Jotting down a few ideas during or after every meeting will help you focused, organize your thoughts, and keep track of important information. Using an app like Apple’s Notes or Evernote will make your notes searchable in the future.

  • Turn off device notifications. All of them, on all devices. I only allow notifications for texts, phone calls, and calendar reminders, and then only on my phone. Very little is so important that it requires a chirp or a buzz or a visual alert when you’re in the zone.

  • Dedicate time to your priorities. If something is important, even something that’s not “work” like exercise, devote time specifically to its completion. Use your calendar to reserve the time so people don’t schedule you. And when you’re working, use a timer like Tadam to help maintain focus.

  • Start projects early. Start working on a project immediately upon receiving it, while it’s top of mind. Your initial inspiration, even if it’s just notes jotted down, will serve you well when you’re under the gun.

  • Turn down unnecessary meetings. Other people don’t control your time. You do. If you have something to do that’s more important than attending the meeting, politely decline.

What do you do to focus?

By Nathaniel Ward on


‘Realistically, do you care?’

“For most websites, ‘change only one thing per test’ is pretty bad advice,” Alex Birkett writes at Conversion XL:

While you might get precise knowledge about what specific element caused a lift when you test one element at a time, you may be missing the forest for the trees.

“Let’s say you change 100 things, and sales go up 30% – but you don’t know what caused the change,” Peep Laja says in the article. “Realistically, do you care?”

You’re probably leaving money on the table by not running radical tests. One-element tests can limit the scale of your lifts—they can hit local maxima, in optimization speak—and can take far longer to yield meaningful results.

Read the whole thing.

By Nathaniel Ward on


4 books that are worth your time

These are four books I finished recently that you should read too:

1. Rework

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. Targeted at entrepreneurs, but offering clear lessons to anyone managing a project or team, Rework explains that the keys to success are 1) having the right team in place; 2) launching your product; and 3) constantly improving your product.

2. Girl on the Train

Paula Hawkins. This engaging thriller makes for a good escape from more serious fare.

3. Subliminal

Leonard Mlodinow. So much of what we do every day is governed not by conscious thought but by our unconscious: automatic processes we don’t even know exist. Subliminal is an important read for marketers who want to understand human behavior.

4. Children of Monsters

Jay Nordlinger. An absolutely fascinating look at the children of the 20th century’s worst dictators.

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