Tag Archives: E-newsletters

Benchmarks to help you assess holiday fundraising progress

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.

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Five not-too-late tips for holiday appeals: #1 email more often

Forty-four days until December 31!  If you’re a non-profit, it’s not too late to have an impact on this giving season, without spending a lot of money.  Based on last year’s experience, non-profits should expect average gifts to be smaller, but that doesn’t mean you should give up on mobilizing – and even growing – your base.

So here’s tip number one:

Increase the frequency of your emails or e-newsletters over the next five weeks.  I was impressed with Jeff Patrick’s presentation last April at the Nonprofit Technology Education Network conference, which suggested that non-profits have far greater latitude than they think when it comes to the amount of email they can send to their constituent base.  That doesn’t mean you should bombard your supporters with appeals just because you have their email addresses.  But if you’ve been paying attention to what they open, read and respond to, you can gin up a mix of cultivation and appeal content.  Cultivation-focused content includes information and profiles, but stops short of asking for money.  Appeal content, well, flat out asks for donations (elegantly, perhaps, but still directly).

By the way, Jeff suggested tracking down email addresses for donors who have previously only communicated with you by  snail mail.  FreshAddress, a service he has used that sells email addresses, turned out to be too expensive for one small, local non-profit.  Fortunately, the organization was able to expand its list of good email addresses by working with Blackbaud, their fundraising data management system.  (Blackbaud required them to send a friendly email with an opt-out option before they started emailing on a regular basis.)

If you do decide to up the email ante, make sure you have a foolproof system for managing unsubscribes (Constant Contact is one affordable example), and that you watch the “opt out” data like a hawk.  You’ll do more harm than good if you start sending out a bajillion emails from your Outlook or email client, or if people don’t want to receive email from you and they can’t get off your list.

(If you want to read a cringe-worthy example of how NOT to manage unsubscribe requests, check out this story on the Bad Pitch Blog.)

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Do year-end fundraising pitches aimed at procrastinators work?

I’m declaring year-end e-mail pitches to nudge procrastinators a successful tactic, but I’m interested in your thoughts about circumstances under which they might fail or backfire… as well as your thoughts about what type of message is most successful — a direct-and-to-the-point “don’t forget” email, or something with a little more emotional oomph.

Network for Good recently reported that nearly 50% of donations they receive in December come in during the last six days of the month.  It also reported that average donations in December have historically been higher:  $189 in December 2007 compared to $135 during other months that year.

Taking the nudge to heart, a small food closet here in Sacramento tried an end-of-the-year reminder via its e-newsletter.   The approach was a brief, very personal article about the view from the executive director’s office – describing the chaos, including large numbers of people lining up for food, and stacks of donors’ checks arriving with notes.  One reader immediately wrote back:  “This letter is the BEST one I’ve read from you all…while all you do and communicate is wonderful, the letter below painted the picture so well. Thank you for all you do. I will drop a check off soon…”  And minutes later, the agency was notified that a $1,500 donation had been received online.

CARE sent a straightforward e-mail reminder with the subject line “3-2-1!  Make your gift before the New Year!”  The e-mail included a giant “donate now” button.  Feeding America’s (formerly America’s Second Harvest) e-mail reminder was similarly straightforward:  “Last chance for tax-deductible donation for 2008,” which focused on tax benefits of giving now.  And in case you didn’t get it, the “tax-deductible” line was repeated within the copy twice, hyperlinked to the donor function of the agency’s website.

What do you think worked best?  A short-but-sweet reminder, without a lot of emotion?  Something that focused on the tax benefits?  Or something that was a gentler reminder, a little longer, but still reminded people it wasn’t too late to give?  Or did the most successful tactic depend on the agency and its relationship with the people who receive the appeal?  It would be great to have real data about the results, but I’ll take informed opinion from you as a starter!

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