Advocacy Email Response Rates Jump 28%

April 5, 2012       Mark Hrywna      

Email response rates, particularly for advocacy emails, were up last year, according a study released today (April 5). Advocacy emails were up 28 percent, but even overall, response rates for email were up 2 percent among 44 nonprofits surveyed in the 2012 eNonprofit Benchmarks Study, by M+R Strategic Services and the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN).

“You only ever see rates go down year over year, as email grows, everyone gets so much email,” said Sarah DiJulio, principal at M+R Strategic Services in Washington, D.C. “The efficacy of it has declined; it’s exciting to see those numbers leveled out and go up,” she said. There were some really big political fights this year that mobilized people, said DiJulio, but that wasn’t the only reason that happened; well over half of the groups in the study saw response rates rise for advocacy emails.

Nonprofits are doing a better job, being more consistent in writing compelling copy and explaining issues in a way that matter to constituents, DiJulio said. Charities also are getting better at targeting who on their file is most interested in a particular action as opposed to blasting everyone with messages.

Overall fundraising increased by 19 percent and the number of gifts increased by 20 percent, for all study participants. Fundraising responses rates in 2011 remained at 0.08 percent, with an increase of 2 percent on average, from 2010 to 2011.

Email-driven donor donation forms had a median completion rate of 17 percent. The median open rate was 14 percent last year, except for international where it was 10 percent.

Click-through and response rates were highest for advocacy emails. The click-through rate for advocacy emails was highest, at 4.2 percent, compared to 2.1 percent overall, and 1.6 percent for newsletters and 0.5 percent for fundraising.

The average nonprofit increased its Facebook fan base by 70 percent, with a total 31,473 “likes.” For every 1,000 members of their email list, the average nonprofit had:

* 103 Facebook fans;

* 29 Twitter followers; and,

* 12 mobile subscribers.

“Social media growing faster than email is not a surprise,” said DiJulio. Email continues to be the dominant way to communicate with people, DiJulio said, however, as many as 28 percent of those emails are read on a mobile device.

Mobile means different things to different organizations. “The stuff we see most of is that move to make emails mobile friendly and building mobile-friendly websites,” said Holly Ross, executive director of NTEN. Mobile phones accounted for 17 percent of email opens in the study, and as high as 24 percent on the day the email was sent. Mobile users, however, were less likely to click, donate or take action in response to the email.

One-time gifts continued to be the largest source of online revenue but monthly giving is growing at a faster rate. The average one-time gift was $62 while the average monthly gift was $20. The increase in monthly giving online means nonprofits are starting to understand that as a tactic, and embracing it, said Ross, which is more sophisticated. Six years ago, when the study first started, online monthly donors were practically impossible for mid-sized nonprofits to undertake because of the tools necessary to custom build, Ross said. “Those two things together, nonprofits are actually executing with mobile precision,” she said.

NTEN averages about 18 percent of its web traffic from mobile devices, Ross said, which is probably heavier than most nonprofits, but a significant portion of site traffic. In a test earlier this year, NTEN sent 15 different messages with mobile versus a nonmobile optimized template. Mobile was 2 percent better in 14 of the 15 experiments, Ross said.

“Most nonprofits have enough mobile traffic to focus on that optimization, leverage those tools to convert more folks,” Ross said.

Direct email appeals accounted for 35 percent of online revenue, with the other 65 percent from other online sources, like peer referrals or unsolicited web giving. “It speaks to how all these tools feed together,” she said. Donors may get an email, she said, but they click through from Facebook or get a text message.