Do-It-Better Takeaways: 2016 M&R Benchmarks Study
Every year, I look forward to the findings released in the annual M&R Benchmarks Study on online fundraising, advocacy, and list building. They’re fantastically useful for fundraisers as guidelines against which to assess results and prompts for data-fueled experiments to doing it better.
The just-released 2016 Benchmarks X study, co-produced with NTEN, features insights on what’s working and what’s not in “typical” nonprofit organizations, based on 2015 data. True to form, this rich data set suggests some concrete ways to improve your email fundraising results.
Caveat: To truly benefit from these benchmarks, you must track and regularly analyze your own results via your donor management software and email service provider. If you aren’t doing this yet, that’s your first step to increased donations and donor loyalty.
Finding: More email, but fewer responses per email.
Organizations are sending more emails to each subscriber. An average of 49 emails (including 19 fundraising appeals, 12 advocacy messages, and nine newsletters) were sent to subscribers in 2015. (p. 8) Fundraising appeals were defined as asking only for a donation (vs. including other links, like an e-newsletter). This increase implies that strategies and the nature of organization—prospect/donor relationships—have changed.
Recipients were less responsive to each email. Open, click-through, and response rates fell in 2015. The average fundraising email response rate was .06%, down 8% from 2014. (p. 22)
Definition of response rate: The number of individuals who take the main action requested by the email (for example, donate now) divided by the number of delivered emails. This rate is influenced by open, click-through, and donation landing page conversion rates.
Finding: Ask more, get more.
The top 25 revenue growers—organizations with largest year-over-year growth in total dollars raised online—averaged 27 fundraising appeals per subscriber last year, or about one additional ask per month. (p. 17) Other organizations averaged 16 appeals in 2015.
Recommendation: Send more emails to more people to generate more donations—but read on to do even better.
Finding: Email list size continues to grow.
Nonprofits across causes increased their email list size 14% in 2015, slightly less than the 16% growth seen in the previous two years. (p. 22) New names include recent subscribers, new donors, and fresh converts to our causes. The repetition of year-over-year growth implies solid supporter interest.
Finding: List loss (aka churn) is still significant—and still scary.
Over the course of the year, organizations lost an average of 11.8% of subscribers who were with them at the beginning of the year. (p. 12) Of those losses, 6.2% were unsubscribes and 5.6% were bounces.
Finding: But the list churn rate is decreasing.
List churn dropped a minimum of 25% for every one of the 100-plus organizations surveyed. M&R researchers attribute this decline to better segmentation of email lists by nonprofits. They prioritize segmenting out inactive names (individuals who haven’t opened an email in X months or a year) and stopping or reducing emails to that group. Inactives are 24% of subscribers on average. (p. 11)
Finding: List growth exceeds churn rate, for a net increase and more names!
Recommendation: Continue to build your list. Segmentation begets success. If you don’t already segment, start now. A good email service provider and substantial nonprofit donor management system are musts for effective segmentation.
Begin by segmenting out inactives—individuals who haven’t opened an email in X months or a year—and keeping them in a separate list. Stop or reduce emails to inactives to increase all email metrics.
Don’t focus on your list churn rate. A good deal of that is going to happen no matter what you do. Instead, focus on welcoming new subscribers with a welcome email series built on relevant content and consistent (thus recognizable) branding.
Email Is an Effective Way to Get People to Give Online
Finding: Email revenue rate is growing quickly.
Email revenue increased by 25% in 2015, exceeding 19% growth of online revenue overall.
Finding: Email fundraising is more important than ever to fundraising success.
Email giving represented 29% of all online revenue. (p. 8)
Finding: Giving amount per email increased.
For every 1,000 fundraising emails sent, nonprofits raised $44 on average vs. $41 in the previous year.
Recommendation: Decrease list churn and increase gift size or frequency. Here’s how:
- Personalize your fundraising emails by including the donor’s most recent donation amount or date, which campaign generated that gift, or other personal data.
- Boost relevance by segmenting your people (easier to do with existing donors) by area of interest, top wants and values, what they’ve responded to in the past, or the like. Then, customize content to match each segment’s profile.
Both techniques “continue the conversation” and make donors feel that you know and care about them. You need a robust donor database software and email marketing tools in place to do it right.
Integrate Email with Social Media and Other Channels to Generate Even Greater Giving
Finding: Email fundraising revenue is growing faster than other online revenue.
Nonprofits reported 25% growth in email revenue vs. 19% growth in other online revenue. (p. 15)
Finding: But email giving is still eclipsed by that other online revenue.
“Non-email” routes to online giving—getting to an online fundraising page via search, social media links, website, or others—represent 71% of all online revenue. (p. 8)
Finding: The number of prospects and supporters participating with organizations on Facebook, Twitter, or other social channels is increasing.
Your people are there! A greater percentage of your email list is active on your social media platforms than it was a year ago. (p. 46) The percentage of Facebook fans per 1,000 email names increased 25% in 2015; the percentage of Twitter followers grew 18%.
Recommendation: Don’t rely on email fundraising alone. Experiment with integrating social, email, search (SEO), website content, and Facebook or Google ads to drive your donors to donate online.
Read Benchmarks X for yourself to gather the stats that matter most to your organization and leadership and to determine your direction. You’ll get further quicker. Promise.