Study: Each Email Delivered Worth 1.7 Cents

April 9, 2014       Mark Hrywna      

Email lists and online donations continued to grow for some of the most active nonprofits on the web but open rates and response rates declined again last year, according to a new study.

The 2014 M+R Benchmarks Study, released today, analyzed data for some of the largest nonprofit online programs. This year, 53 nonprofits volunteered to share their data and results in the 56-page report were based on 2.1 billion email messages, 5.6 million donations and 7.5 million online actions.

“The big picture for nonprofits online in 2013 is that organizations reached more people last year through emails, their own websites, and social media,” said Sarah DiJulio, principal at M+R Strategic Services in Washington, D.C. “It’s the little picture that nonprofits should be looking at when they assess how their online program is doing and what can be done better in 2014. How your experience tracks with the benchmarks will help you ask the right questions to strengthen your program, whether that means adjusting your fundraising strategy or pursuing a new approach to advocacy,” she said.

Co-sponsored by the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) the eighth annual study collected data for 2012 and 2013 from this year’s participants where possible, and all comparisons to 2012 are based on these rather than the data collected during past years’ studies.

Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines in November, had a big impact on the spike in giving to international relief organizations. On the flip side, rights organizations saw fundraising flatten, following a boost from the 2012 electoral campaigns.

Online giving jumped by 14 percent compared to 2012 among the participant organizations. The largest gains were by international (32 percent) and wildlife and animal welfare groups (20 percent). More gifts are coming in online and more of those gifts are via monthly giving, which grew 25 percent last year and accounted for 16 percent of total online giving.

The average one-time donation amount to a nonprofit was $68 last year. Overall, average online gift size grew 2 percent from 2012 to 2013, driven largely by international groups (9 percent), while the other three categories fell: wildlife and animal welfare (-5 percent), environmental (-3 percent), and rights (-2 percent).

Email response rates were down, for both fundraising and advocacy messages. Email lists grew and revenue , however, continues to account for a third of online fundraising revenue, as email lists still grew, up 14 percent over 2012. Small groups had the highest rate of list growth, at 26 percent.

Email open rates were down 4 percent, to 13 percent, while response rates were down for both fundraising emails, 11 percent, and advocacy emails, 25 percent. Click-through rates for email fundraising messages was down 13 percent, driven by drops in rights and environmental sectors while advocacy click-throughs were down 17 percent overall. Response rates for advocacy emails from environmental groups (4.2 percent) were more than two times higher than overall response rates for advocacy emails (2 percent), which were down 25 percent from 2012.

The average churn rate in 2013 was 13 percent, down 3.5 percent from 2012 while unsubscribes dropped by 9 percent. As nonprofits sent more emails, unsubscribe rates went down, according to the study, showing that high message volume did not necessarily lead to mass abandonment of an email list.

Average revenue per 1,000 fundraising messages delivered was $17, accounting for a third of organizations’ online fundraising revenue. In other words, nonprofits received 1.7 cents for every fundraising message delivered. International groups led the way at $59 per 1,000, followed far behind by environmental ($18), wildlife and animal welfare ($16) and rights groups ($12).

Monthly website traffic grew by 16 percent last year for the 53 organizations. On average, 0.69 percent of visitors to their websites made a gift, bringing the average value of a visit to $0.60. Visitors to a nonprofit website’s primary donation page converted at a rate of 15 percent.

Social media audiences continued to grow faster than email or website traffic, with 46 percent growth in Twitter followers and 37 percent growth in Facebook. For every 1,000 email subscribers, nonprofits had 199 Facebook fans, 110 Twitter followers and 13 mobile text subscribers. Post frequency is consistently among nonprofits of all sizes and sectors on Facebook but there’s more variance on Twitter. Nonprofits post on Facebook an average of 1.2 times per day while tweeting an average 5.4 times daily.

The study included data from such nonprofits as American Cancer Society, International Rescue Committee, Oxfam America, Audubon, Feeding America Operation Smile and Mercy Corps, among others.