Despite all the attention that continues to be devoted to Social Media across the nonprofit world, I don’t know many fundraisers who wouldn’t acknowledge that the primary means of engaging with their donors online is actually through email. Sadly, I also don’t know of many who are really pleased with the fundraising results they receive through their email programmes.
And this underperformance seems to be getting worse not better as time goes-on – as highlighted in last October’s Luminate Online Benchmark Report, which (as reported by Mike Snusz of Blackbaud) showed email appeal volume up over 70% among the 794 nonprofits surveyed, but the all important email appeal conversion rate down by 25%.
So, what is going wrong with Email fundraising? Is it simply that donors don’t like to respond to email appeals?
I don’t think so. From discussions I’ve had with fundraisers all around the world (and from what I see in my own inbox) I think the truth is that very few organisations really take email fundraising seriously. Certainly nothing like as seriously as they take their direct mail fundraising.
It may be because email programmes are not run by fundraisers; or because of problems integrating offline and online donor data; or simply because low results have led to ever lower expectations. But what I see time and again is that email fundraising programmes are being run with none of the direct marketing rigour that even the most junior direct mail fundraiser would recognise as DM101.
In a channel where the potential exists to offer content-rich, personally-targeted digital engagement and asks, most fundraisers still send one size fits all email appeals and e-newsletters with no sophisticated segmentation and minimal testing – and just accept the resulting dismal income returns.
To be honest, I can’t think of any other direct response channel which is so badly under-used by fundraisers.
So, that’s why I’ve put Getting Serious About Email Fundraising as second in my 2015 Digital Fundraising To Do List (just behind Fixing your Conversion Rate Optimisation).
I’d encourage anyone involved in online fundraising to invest some quality time thinking through how they might improve their use of this key digital channel by applying some good-old offline direct mail techniques.
To help kick-start your thinking, here’s a list of common email marketing mistakes from my old agency colleague Jeff Brooks over in Seattle. Alternately, seek-out the keenest direct mail fundraiser you can find and ask them what old school direct marketing nous they can share to help improve your email programme.