A few weeks back, I shared a story about a meeting in which the accountable manager said that he would know if his current campaign was working once the final results were all in. In other words, when the organization would have no ability to influence the outcome.
My last six posts were inspired by that incident: first, a post about the importance of early warning indicators (also called leading indicators), and a five part series about easily-implemented tactics because it’s not too late to influence the outcome of a holiday fundraising campaign. (Here’s a link to the first post, if you’re getting this by email.)
Besides evaluating progress against your own week-by-week 2008 results, here are some benchmarks that may help you to evaluate how well your holiday campaign is going – so you can decide whether or not to turn up the heat. Remember my focus is always on small, local non-profits. I’m drawing here on the M+R Strategic Services/NTEN report, “2009 eNonprofit Benchmarks Study” (available free online), and my own anecdotal experience from working with several non-profits as a pro bono consultant here in Sacramento:
- Email frequency: According to the M+R report, organizations send 3.5 emails per month on average. My own experience is that most small, local nonprofits assume they shouldn’t send more than one or two emails per month. Yes, a few more people unsubscribe over the holidays, but there’s good evidence that non-profits will net more contributions by increasing email frequency some. For email tips, read that first not-too-late post.
- Email open rates: Open rates have been dropping over the past three years, according to M+R. In 2008, the open rate for local nonprofit’s emails was 20%. This number includes a wide variety of email content types: appeals, advocacy and news. Nationally, open rates are lower for fundraising appeals: only 14%. M+R points out that open rates are understated, “…open rates are a notoriously unreliable metric… because the technology that allows us to measure an ‘open’ is affected by factors — spam filters, preview panes, image-blocking — that have little to do with whether someone is actually opening (or reading) an email.” Here in Sacramento, one organization that has been sending e-newsletters for over a year had an open rate of 23.8% on its last email. Another, sending its first email, had an open rate of 21.1%. Neither subject line was as compelling as it could have been, and we are hopeful to increase open rates for the next emailings. The drop in email open rates over the past three years does not mean this tactic has run its course or is not worth the return; to the contrary, response rates are often higher and more immediate than snail mail appeals, not to mention the lower cost of the tactic. And P.S., don’t panic. Email open rates typically decline a little in December. That may well be because the average number of email messages increased from 3.5 for the year to 5.5 in December, according to M+R’s 2008 data, possibly saturating some constituents.
- Click throughs: Click through rates have also been dropping, down to 2.4% according to the M+R metric. Click throughs to local nonprofits were a little higher, 4.7% in 2008. But here’s where my experience is far different. For the two organizations I mentioned above, the click through rates – that is, the percentage of people who followed a link to the home website or another website linked in the email – was a whopping 22.6% in one case and 19.6% in the other. So there’s another argument for email: links make it easy for people to investigate something further on the website and increase engagement, immediately.
- Email fundraising response rates: For local organizations, the national M+R benchmark is 0.09%. Roughly speaking, if a small non-profit sends a email asking for donations to 1,000 constituents, and 10 people give a gift, it’s hit the national benchmark. If no one gives, you should do some thinking about why. But remember, this response rate is for emails with a clear “give money” kind of subject line and content.
The Oxfam case study on page 26 of the free downloadable M+R report is worth the read, and a good not-to-late nudge.