Nathaniel Ward

Don’t be afraid to fail

Ed Catmull:

If you aren’t experiencing failure, then you are making a far worse mistake: You are being driven by the desire to avoid it. And, for leaders especially, this strategy—trying to avoid failure by out-thinking it—dooms you to fail.

By Nathaniel Ward on


The purpose of a fundraising email

Quick quiz: When you send out a fundraising email, do you measure its success based on:

  1. The open rate of the email;
  2. The click rate of the email; or
  3. The revenue the email generates?

If you answered anything but 3, try again.

The actual goal of a fundraising email isn’t widely understood, even among fundraisers. Roger Craver has a great rant at The Agitator about this problem:

Sure, there’s plenty of stupid, phony measurements that lead nowhere. Measurements I call ‘vanity metrics’ like ‘open rates’, ‘page views’ and other such nonsense.

Sadly, there’s little or no measurement of the difficulty, frustration – or, hallelujah – moments when donors attempt to engage with nonprofit websites.

Yet we continue to honor — and pay — the consultants, staff and others who bring us lots of ‘Likes’ on Facebook, lots of open rates and views on our websites. Most of it is absolute bullshit!

Opens and clicks and likes are inputs to, not the output of, your fundraising machine. These vanity metrics are useful only insofar as they contribute to revenue. They can be a proxy for success, but as often as not they aren’t.

Opens and clicks are necessary but not sufficient for email fundraising success. Without opens and clicks, your email appeal won’t succeed. But don’t gauge your success based on those alone.

Repeat after me: the purpose of a fundraising email is to raise funds. Period.

By Nathaniel Ward on


Why forcing password resets worsens security

Britain’s CESG explains why they no longer recommend forcing users to reset their passwords:

The majority of password policies force us to use passwords that we find hard to remember. Our passwords have to be as long as possible and as ‘random’ as possible. And while we can manage this for a handful of passwords, we can’t do this for the dozens of passwords we now use in our online lives.

To make matters worse, most password policies insist that we have to keep changing them. And when forced to change one, the chances are that the new password will be similar to the old one.

Attackers can exploit this weakness.

The new password may have been used elsewhere, and attackers can exploit this too. The new password is also more likely to be written down, which represents another vulnerability. New passwords are also more likely to be forgotten, and this carries the productivity costs of users being locked out of their accounts, and service desks having to reset passwords.

Another solution is to use a password manager like 1Password that generates random, unique passwords for each site you use—and then secures them all behind a password only you know. You won’t have to worry about reusing passwords or remembering all of them, and dealing with periodic password resets is a cinch.

By Nathaniel Ward on


In fundraising, ‘what works is, quite simply, what works’

Email fundraising appeals may come across as shrill, oddball, or corny. They often are. Deliberately.

As Eric Josephsen explains, the goal of a fundraising appeal isn’t to please pundits or win design awards:

As hard as I work to create a beautiful product for my clients, that’s not what email fundraising is ultimately about. It’s about getting as many dollars in the door as possible. At the end of the day, whatever it takes to accomplish that goal is what must be done.

The frequency and aggressiveness of political emails fundraising emails is dictated in part by a campaign’s short time horizons. A campaign generally aims to maximize revenue in the short run, before the election, which can lead to more aggressive churn-and-burn tactics. A charity, by contrast, typically aims to build relationships and maximize long-term value over several years.

Josephsen adds that there’s a method behind the tactics used in email fundraising:

In many respects, email fundraising grew out of the political direct mail industry, which established many of the common testing methodologies and creative best practices used in both political and commercial direct mail to this day.

But with the instant results provided by digital communication, political email marketers now also have access to the same analytics and testing tools used by clickbait giants like Upworthy, Amazon, BuzzFeed, and, yes, Gawker.

Online marketers can and should let data make the decisions. Anything else is a disservice to the organization they’re working for. As Josephsen says, “what works is, quite simply, what works.”

By Nathaniel Ward on


Why you need a book club at work →

A lot of office culture today emphasizes productivity. But learning remains essential, and often gets left behind. Who has the time?

Dmitry Koltunov makes the case for making time through a formal office book club:

Sometimes you need to slow down to speed up. To grow ALICE from three of us to 30 people, and to get through the early stage hurdles, we had to find a way to prioritize learning as a team. So we started an office bookclub. No other tradition has had more of a positive impact on our culture, our processes and our product.

By Nathaniel Ward on