Tag Archives: NTEN

Benchmarking Facebook page growth among Sacramento nonprofits

We interrupt our series on strategic planning for nonprofits to check in on an important tactic. Although organizations like NTEN collect and report valuable benchmark data about online communication and fundraising by nonprofits, they usually survey nonprofits that are much larger than those in a community the size of Sacramento.

Starting in March 2010, I began collecting information about Sacramento nonprofits’ Facebook results. Initially I looked at a dozen or so. In September 2011, I expanded my efforts and started tracking more than 30 organizations’ Facebook pages. I took another snapshot today.

Since I have more data for the 9-month period, I’ll report that. Excluding three outliers, nonprofits here in Sacramento experienced an average growth of 38.6% in “likes” over the past 9 months. Among nonprofits who had between 500 and 1,000 “likes” as of September 2011, Effie Yeaw appears to be the winner. In September 2011, they had been liked by 621 people and now they boast 1,125. Good for you, Effie Yeaw, as you make the important transition to being supported by donations rather than funded by a governmental agency! We’ll have to check in and find out how they managed such great growth.

I excluded Sierra Forever Families because they had literally just launched on Facebook when I took my first data snapshot. I also excluded Stanford Home for Children, which has a new identity as Stanford Youth Solutions. Evidently they abandoned their Facebook page with the old identity and are now promoting a page with the new one.

I also excluded Susan G. Komen’s Facebook page. They either picked up a huge number of new likes after the recent Planned Parenthood funding controversy, growing from 2,167 friends in September 2011 to 9,815 today, or it’s possible that they have more than one Facebook page and I previously pulled numbers for a different one than I did today.

What gets you the most new likes, Sacramento nonprofits?

(The chart below is not the entire data set, so the math won’t work right if you try to calculate the average.)

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What’s a good level of growth in Facebook fans?

Key (read from the bottom up on the chart)

1 – Loaves and Fishes; 2 – Susan G. Komen; 3 – WEAVE; 4 – American Red Cross; 5 – Volunteers of America; 6 – Salvation Army; 7 – River City Food Bank; 8 – St. John’s Shelter

Benchmarks have really been on my mind this week, including reporting the median number of unique website visitors for small-to-medium sized nonprofits from a recent study.  Today I’m thinking about Facebook benchmarks.  A little over a year ago, someone asked me, “So what’s a good number of Facebook fans for a local nonprofit?”  I blogged about my unscientific survey in a post here.

The organizations I chose to examine then were suggested by United Way’s Steve Heath as larger, active nonprofits.  I noted that the two with the largest fan bases had big initiatives underway: the Crocker was working on its big expansion, and Loaves & Fishes had undertaken a big capital campaign.

This week, I took a look at the same nonprofits to help get at the question, “So what’s healthy growth for Facebook fans?”  NTEN’s 2011 Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report found that the average fan base grew 161% between 2009 and 2010.  Although the study was based on information provided by more than 11,000 nonprofit professionals representing organizations of various sizes, the findings weren’t broken out by organization size, so it’s of limited use to our small, local nonprofits here in Sacramento.  I did find it interesting that 89% of nonprofits in the study reported they have a presence on Facebook.

In the chart above, I excluded the Crocker because they are so far above the norm and put a ton of resources into promoting their new expansion and opening.  They grew from a fan base of 4,561 in March 2010 to 9,952.  Yay, Crocker!  (I also want to acknowledge that the decline in Facebook fans I report above for the American Red Cross makes me wonder if they had a different page name/type a year ago.)  So, some data observations:

  • Four organizations had fewer than 500 fans 15 months ago.  Their growth ranged from 122%-347%.
  • Three organizations had between 500 and 1,000 fans.  Excluding American Red Cross, their growth was 117% for Susan G. Komen and 169% for WEAVE.
  • Loaves & Fishes and the Crocker, our stars a year ago, are still growing.  They grew 78% and 118%, respectively.
  • The organization with the fastest growth was St. John’s Shelter, with that whopping 347% growth.  Go, St. John’s!

I noted a year ago that there was little apparent relationship between the number of posts per week and the size of the fan base.  I still think that’s true based on some other sleuthing I’ve been doing.  Based on my reports earlier this week about the importance of content in generating engagement, and the value of timing, I’ve begun investigating the value of links to/from partners and other organizations, which show up on a fan page as the organization’s “likes”.  I’m also looking at the relationship between the number of photos and videos posted and fan engagement, and the relative prominence of the Facebook badge or “like” button on the organization’s website.

I used to work with a crusty former reporter who always looked for the “so what” in a news release.  “If that’s so, she said, then so what?”

The “so what” for me, in this case, is that local nonprofits — for the time being — should strive for at least 5-6% growth per month in new fans.  Shoot for 10% growth per month and you’ll be in the neighborhood of 185-200%* growth over the course of a year.   That would be aggressive, and if it were me, I wouldn’t commit to it unless I knew that there would be promotional dollars and resources to support a campaign.  It won’t happen by just posting away on Facebook.  (*I refused to pull out my Texas Instruments calculator to look at compounded growth, but my chicken scratchings should be close enough for targeting.)

At some point, the market for Facebook “fanage” may diminish, and it won’t be realistic to target growth in the 100%+ range, but for now, adoption still seems to be growing.  Local nonprofits should also be cautioned against simply adopting a growth target.  Benchmarks for should be chosen in the context of the average fan base of successful peer/similar organizations or industry-wide averages.

You should also keep in mind your end game with Facebook presence.  Besides the number of fans, active fans, new fans, etc., you should be tracking the number of Facebook referrals to your organization website through a tool like Google Analytics.  You want people engaged for a reason:  volunteer, donate, etc.  Your website is your involvement center.  (Google Analytics is free and makes it very easy to examine how visitors got to your site.  People who looked for you directly through your URL, and organic search through Google, will likely be the top two sources, but after that you should look for Facebook referral traffic… it may be down in the data details a waze.)

As a side note, Twitter adoption by nonprofits seems to have leveled off at about 60% according to the NTEN benchmarking study.  I don’t know if that’s a reflection of Twitter fatigue, or just that the consensus seems to be that there is better return from Facebook resource investments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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8 things I learned about Facebook Causes at NTC 09

Our local United Way just launched its "Live United" campaign on Facebook Causes

Our local United Way just launched its "Live United" campaign on Facebook Causes

With nearly three-quarters of nonprofits having a presence on Facebook, I was curious:  so what’s the big deal?  Susan Gordon, Senior Nonprofit Coordinator for Causes, the free Facebook application, enthusiastically offered best practice tips during the very last time slot of the recent NTEN Nonprofit Technology Conference in San Francisco.

But wait (you say)!  Didn’t I just read a big article that Causes is no good for raising moneyShouldn’t I spend my resources on something with a better return?

After the dissing of the article died down (blogs abuzz…), many users of Causes at the NTEN conference spoke to the value of Facebook as a part of their marketing mix.  Look, no nonprofit has a lot of time OR money, so when these fundraisers tell me it’s a critical part of their toolbox, I listen.  Many believe that people learn about them through Causes, begin to care about the cause or organization, and give through other channels.  By the way, Causes takes a fairly hefty cut  (Facebook takes a small cut of donations, and there’s a transaction fee charged by Network for Good, which processes the money) — but you’re likely acquiring new donors that you wouldn’t have reached any other way.  For small donations, it compares fairly well to the administrative cost of mailing appeals, sending thank you’s, etc. (postage and cost adds up for snail mail donor acquisition, too).

But wait (you again?)!  Doesn’t it take too much time to keep up with Causes?  Angela, who maintains the “Save Darfur Coalition” Causes page (along with a lot of other responsibilities), says she only spends 10 minutes a day on Causes — and they have 1 million Facebook friends.  She says she takes a hands-off approach, checks out new users (and thanks them), and does a little moderation of members’ posts.

Without further adieu (now that you’ve stopped interrupting), here are Susan’s best practice suggestions:

  1. Get the name right.  The name should use an active verb and grab attention, like, “Educate girls in Africa,” or “Stand up for hungry children!”
  2. Find the exclamation point key and use it often.  Susan says that part of the culture of Facebook is enthusiasm.  Exclamation points sell!
  3. Turn it into a campaign.  Set an achievable goal – like raising $10,000 — and find a creative way to engage people to invite their friends.  The “Power of Ten” campaign asked 10 people to invite 10 other people to send $10 each.  One of Susan’s co-speakers, Ryan, noted, “Always have a fundraiser up” (not just a generic cause/organization page).
  4. Consider an incentive, like a drawing to attend a conference, a free downloadable CD, etc.
  5. Use the announcements feature and keep followers in close touch.  Susan says you can’t announce too often, but make the content different each time (and short) – oh, and with exclamation points!
  6. Post on the wall.
  7. Activate your offline network.  Tell people what you’re doing by email and at events.
  8. Reach out to the hall of famers — those that recruited the most friends to the cause — and message them on the Care Wall.  Facebook is VERY careful about not allowing you to message people you don’t know, but Causes found a way to allow nonprofits to communicate with followers through the Care Wall.

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Chicken or egg dilemma for nonprofits – what’s first: website, email, Facebook, Twitter?

 

Kathy Gill tweets - what's first?

Kathy Gill tweets - what's first?

I listen when the universe sends me the same message twice in one day.  Yesterday morning, I saw the Twitter post (pictured) from Kathy Gill, University of Washington’s social media senior lecturer.  Attending NTEN’s “Effective Online Communications,” John Kenyon, consultant, asked (and answered) the same question about which online communications component should come first.

Here’s what he said:  “Your website and email are the foundation of your online strategy.”

Here’s what I had tweeted back to Kathy earlier in the day:  “For commercial co, optimize website 1st, then blog and newsletter.”

Came across a summary of a new study (hat tip:  Mack Collier) that suggests blogs are going to play an even bigger role for commercial enterprises going forward.

For a nonprofit, I agree with John.  Make the website sing, and build off of that!  (Kathy, if you happen to see this post I want to know what answers you received from your Twitter followers!)

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How much email is too much when it comes to fundraising appeals?

Screen shot of Common Knowledge's home page

Screen shot of Common Knowledge's home page

Jeff Patrick, president and founder of Common Knowledge, a consulting firm, promised that one of the four case studies he would present at NTEN’s Nonprofit Technology Conference yesterday would be “a juicy one,” but all four went a long way toward satisfying one’s appetite for solid results.  Here are some of the delicious tidbits that appealed to my palate:

 
You can’t send too many email appeals.”  Knowing that fundraisers and direct mail experts assume that more frequent email appeals will wear out donors and lead them to unsubscribe from email lists, Jeff worked with a national veteran’s group to test whether high frequency email (2 direct appeals and 1 cultivation email with a “soft ask”/month) performed better or worse than low frequency email (1 appeal/month) in combination with printed direct mail materials.  The suprising result:  over a three month period, 23% more was donated by the group that received high frequency email.  (Test groups of equal size received either the low or high frequency email campaign.)  It’s true that the % of those opening these solicitation emails was a little lower among the high frequency group, and their average gift was lower, BUT because they were asked more often, more was raised.  Jeff’s tip:  don’t evaluate a tactic based on a one time experience; run the test over a time period.  He concluded, “Asking more (often) is okay as long as asking more has cultivation in it” — that is, information and stories that develop interest and relationship with potential donors.
 
A fast way to double your fun – well, almost – by using both online and offline channels in combination.  Jeff also presented a case study that demonstrated a way to jump start email list acquisition by using a company like FreshAddress to append household/address info with emails.   These list suppliers match your info with an email address and go through the work of getting people to opt-in to receive email; the non-profit only pays for email addresses they receive at the end of the process.  Remember that these constituents already know you, so you’re not spamming them.  They may unsubscribe at a higher rate (e.g. 1.5%) but they still give more just because you started communicating with them with an online channel.  Why acquire email addresses of existing donors?  Often, non-profits have large list of past donors with which they communicate by snail mail, but for whom they have no email address.  Jeff says that strong evidence points to the value of communicating BOTH online and offline.  Get this:  if you ask for donations both online (via email) and offline (via snail mail), organizations yield roughly 1 1/2 times the revenue than if they had used just one channel.
 
Got a new donor or contact?  Jeff recommends “rapid onboarding.”  Anytime someone shares the gift of their contact information with you, communicate rapidly and frequently with them over their first 30 days with you.  Jeff recommends sending cultivation emails twice a week for that getting-to-know (and love)-you period.
 
Jeff also did a show-and-tell of a Facebook Application he created for the Alliance for Lupus Research on Facebook.  I won’t explain it well but I hope that Jeff will blog about it in the next week or so, and if he does, I’ll share the link with you.  As he points out, Facebook is a great platform where people “meet up” in an environment that is almost SPAM free.  He effectively created a microsite for ALR within Facebook that went way beyond what you can do with Causes.
 
P.S.  Common Knowledge is also serving up a new white paper that looks interesting, Social Networks for Non-profits:  Why You Should Grow Your Own.  Check out the description about it here.  And just yesterday, Common Knowledge and its partners, NTEN and ThePort, reported that almost three-quarters of non-profits have a Facebook page, plus a whole lot more good data about social networks in the Nonprofit Social Network Survey report.

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Corporate communicators: transform or die

Corporate communicators need to be more like transformers (flickr credit: naladahc)

Corporate communicators need to be more like transformers (flickr credit: naladahc)

The role of emotion is going to have a huge impact in the next year.  We’re not very good at thinking fast, but we’re very good at feeling fast… The emotional substrata of all media will rise.”  – Clay Shirky, author, Here Comes Everybody, speaking at NTEN’s Nonprofit Technology Conference, April 27, 2009

Kind of a harsh title, isn’t it?  If you take comments by Clay Shirky to heart, this will be the year that social media — those irritating, buzzing pests that keeps strafing corporate communicators’ ears — will actually sting.  With tweets about swine flu up to 12,000 per hour (and rising), it’s clear that many people can share and collect “information” as quickly as they can type the # hastag symbol.

As I type this, I can hear the virtual “buts”, as in, “but my audience isn’t on Twitter*,” or “but we’ll lose control of the message if we start to just jump in on social media.”  Didn’t your mother tell you “no buts”?

Amy Mengel, a blogger who describes herself as “late to the party and trying to catch up”, asks “Are corporate communicators hopeless in social media?”  (Hat tip:  Tracy Campbell, CHA)  Her post was triggered by a cringe-inducing comment by Amber Naslund of Radian6 who said that if she had to replace herself, she’d recommend a grassroots rookie with lots of energy and a willingness to question old assumptions and approaches.

Many companies fear that their brands could be highjacked by the great chattering masses, according to Shirky.  The problem is, “The nightmare that you feared has already happened.”  I’m with Amy.  I think corporate communicators can transform.  We all need to get over the “buts” and adapt to the current reality.

PS Did you know the largest demographic on Twitter is 45-54?

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Highly recommended: two day workshop in S.F. on social media

NTEN, a great organization, and Beth Kanter, one of the great social media minds out there, are presenting a two day workshop in San Francisco on February 12th and 13th.  It’s billed as “The Social Media Starter Kit for Non-Profits“; based on what I’ve seen both NTEN and Beth do, I bet it will be worth every minute and every penny.  I would kill to attend this one but I am hosting an appreciation party for larger donors to a favorite non-profit of mine, River City Community Services.  Someone go and debrief me later!

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