2009 email fundraising and advocacy benchmark report just released

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It’s May again, which means that the latest update of the annual M+R and NTEN eNonprofit Benchmarks Study has just been released.

The study, which provides cause-specific benchmarks across a range of email metrics is based on data from 32 US nonprofit organisations, but I’ve always found the results to be a good steer for European nonprofits too.

The headline take-out is that despite the recession most of the organisations taking part in the study saw their online fundraising up overall from 2007 to 2008, driven by more donors giving online but at lower average values than seen previously.

Beneath this overall trend is a wealth of data across both fundraising and advocacy activities that anyone involved in email communications is bound to find useful.

You can download a free copy of the 2009 report here.

The eNonprofit Benchmarks Study was first released in 2006, so it offers the potential to examine the latest data in the context of previous years to illustrate some multi-year trends. Unfortunately the latest report doesn’t provide much insight beyond the 2007 to 2008 comparisons, but you can still download the 2008 Report and also the 2006 Report (there wasn’t one in 2007) to look at the trends yourself.

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Don’t let Twitter anxiety cloud your focus on key online priorities

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If you’re feeling lost or left behind in the whirl of hype that has grown-up around the micro-blogging service Twitter over the last few months then don’t worry – you’re not alone.

In the same week that internet traffic monitor Hitwise announced that UK Internet visits to Twitter are up 6-fold since January (making it the 5th most popular social networking site in the UK), analytics firm Webtrends just released results of research confirming that most marketers remain reluctant to use the service.

Based on interviews with 300 online marketing managers across the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and Australia, Webtrends reports that so far just 2% of businesses have adopted Twitter as a means of communicating with customers. No surprise that email remains far and away the most popular means of engaging with customers online, while 6% are apparently now using blogs and podcasts.

The majority of respondents to the survey said of Twitter that they are simply “not sure how to use it, and even if they could they wouldn’t be sure of what to say, and who exactly they would be saying it to” – which seem to me like very good reasons to hold-off on adding it to their digital marketing mix.

Don’t get me wrong, as I’ve mentioned previously I do believe that Twitter has the potential to be a useful addition to the range of ways charities can engage with certain groups of consumers. However, in the light of another recent research report by website usability expert Jakob Nielsen, highlighting basic shortfalls in charity websites that directly impact on donations received, I also believe that most should have a lot of things higher-up on their digital ‘to do’ list.

My advice would be that you do keep an eye on Twitter, because it’s not going to go away. But don’t worry that you must get out there and start Tweeting immediately – especially if such Twitter anxiety clouds your thinking in terms of what your main online priorities should be.

It’s no use bringing people to your website, through whatever means, if you know that the vast majority don’t engage the way you want them to – with a donation or some other action. So, your first priority must be to optimise your site to ensure that your conversion rates are as good as you can make them. Simple improvements to things like site signposting and the all important donation page itself can make double digit improvements in conversion figures – so that has to be where you start.

And if you don’t actually know your current conversion figures, then you’ve got another top priority action – sorting-out your site analytics and reporting.

When you really understand the basics of what people are doing on your site and you have a plan for improving their experience – and thereby your results – then you can widen your thinking to consider new ways to get people to come to you. First-off, how well are your ‘traditional’ online activities working – email, natural search and online advertising?

Then, once you feel you understand these and have a plan for each, you can safely start to think more widely – into the Web 2.0 world of blogging, micro-blogging, online communities and the like.

Such prioritisation doesn’t necessarily mean a long delaying in thinking about what opportunities Web 2.0 approaches like Twitter might offer you  – but it will help ensure that when you start testing them you’re far more likely to be successful.

Great results from email fundraising appeal by Ecojustice Canada

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With so much buzz these days focusing on Facebook fundraising and Twitter campaigning, it’s nice to hear of a good-old email campaign delivering great results for a nonprofit – in this case for Ecojustice Canada (pointed-out to me by old friend and former colleague Lynne Boardman, now at Harvey McKinnon Associates in Vancouver).

Born out of a desire to help protect an endangered community of Canadian west coast killer whales, the appeal highlighted their plight by explaining that only 83 of the whales remained and asked supporters to take action on their behalf by becoming one of the first 83 people to give a gift to the Honour an Orca Campaign. In return for a donation of $50 or more the donor would not only be supporting a lawsuit to help protect the remaining 83 but they, or a nominated friend or loved one, would also receive a holiday season card and set of wildlife postcards.

The appeal was emailed to just 4,900 supporters and other contacts but returned over 160 donations – beating the 83 target within three days – with an average gift of over $90, raising some $15,000 in total and helping make 2008 the best year yet for Ecojustice’s online fundraising programme. Not only that, they also received a great response to a direct mail campaign sent at the same time, assuaging fears that increased online income might cannibalize offline donations.

Looking at the email, I was reminded of the old direct mail appeal checklist that I often used to use when both briefing and reviewing fundraising appeals for clients:

  1. Need – do you clearly explain the need you want to address?
  2. Solution – do you offer a specific soution to that need?
  3. Cost – what is it that the donor can do to help deliver that solution?
  4. Urgency – why should they respond now and not later (or not at all)?
  5. Donor Context – why is this appeal particularly relevant to this donor?
  6. Donor Benefit – what does the donor receive if they respond to your appeal?

The idea is that unless you can answer each of the questions, then there is something important missing – and this goes for email as well as snail-mail appeals.

The Ecojustice campaign ticks every one of the boxes – with a very real need; a specific response to that need which required donations to make it happen; urgency based around both the plight of the whales and the timing of the law case; the context of this being a unique Canadian whale community; and the benefit of the holiday tribute card as well as knowing that you’ve done something specific to help protect the whales. All this was presented through a simple but well thought through email, that included links to the latest information on missing whales and details of the landmark lawsuit against the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Job done!

Thanks to Deanna Bayne of Ecojustice Canada for letting me share some of the details of her appeal as a guide for anyone looking to develop their own email fundraising in the future.

New pet lovers social network launches with talking pets viral campaign

At the moment it seems like there’s a new niche social network launching every couple of weeks, and this week its the turn of UK animal welfare charity The Blue Cross to enter the Web 2.0 world with a re-launch of its existing All About Pets information website as a new social network site. Developed by DVA, the site offers most of the basic community site features as well as providing access to the wealth of quality pet care information the charity produces.

The Blue Cross is a client of the agency I work for and as part of the site launch we’ve developed them a fun viral campaign that lets pet lovers upload photos of their pets (or use the cute ones provided), animate them to say any message they want to type in, and then email their talking pet message to their friends or upload it to their Facebook profile. Just click on the image above to see what I mean – and go to talkingpets.org to send your own messages (remember to turn your volume up).

Added to this we’ve also developed what is apparently a world first for online advertising, with ad units that scrape the web page they appear on, identify the H1 tag, and from this make the animated dog in the ad read-out the headline from the main story on the page. Readers can then type their own message into the ad to see the dog speak again before clicking-through to the talkingpets.org microsite.

All great fun and, from the first few days data, a campaign that is certainly resulting in a whole lot of talking pet emails flying into people’s in boxes – and hopefully lots of pet lovers signing-up at the All About Pets site.

I must admit that usually when I hear that a charity is developing a ‘viral campaign‘ I’m a bit sceptical, as for every great example that spreads like wildfire (like Macmillan’s virtual coffee morning) there are a great many that never get far beyond the charity’s staff and their closest friends. The truth is that providing the type of content that lots of people want to send to lots of their friends just isn’t that easy for most charities – given that, in the main, the viral momentum generated through generating shock or offence simply doesn’t fit with most charity brands. In the case of talkingpets.org it’s a combination of surprise, fun, and an extremely high level of personalisation that lie behind the strength of the campaign – or viraliciousness as JWT’s Colvyn Harris describes it in his post on what makes a viral ad.

If you’ve worked-on or seen any other really effective charity viral campaigns then do leave a comment to let me know about them.

Insights, tips and tricks for online fundraising – it’s this week’s Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants

Welcome to this week’s Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants, a weekly blog carnival drawing together some of the best nonprofit news, advice and resources on offer across the blogosphere.

Each week a different host blogger sets a topic for this carnival and other bloggers submit posts on that theme – with the best seven being highlighted on the host’s blog. This week it’s my turn to host and the topic I chose was ‘Insights, tips and tricks for online fundraising’.

So, without further ado, here are seven online fundraising insight, tip and trick posts for you…

1. Starting off with some tips on how to evaluate and utilise Website architecture and and design to boost online fundraising from Jim Killion and Amanda Wasson of is7.

2. Staying with website design, Katya shares some tips from the latest study by Donordigital on what makes a great donation page.

3. And still on websites, for anyone at the early stages of website planning Jason King has posted the handy presentation he gave at the Connecting Up conference in Brisbane on Planning your non-profit’s website.

4. The Care2 folks over at Frogloop have reported on a recent survey that suggests that ‘51% of donors are not at all interested in Social Networks. However, apparently around a third of donors are somewhat or very interested in keeping-up with nonprofits through Social Media – rising to 40% for high level donors. Handy insight for social network fundraisers.

5. In her Nonprofits blog, Joanne Fritz shares some tips derived from UNICEF’s use of social networking and video-sharing sites.

6. For email fundraisers, here are Ten tips from Network for Good to help prevent your emails being deleted.

7. Finally, over at onLine, Garth Moore examines the potential of the new generation of ad funded click-to-donate applications.

That’s it for this week. You can keep track of the Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants as it travels around from site to site by subscribing to the Carnival feed.

Online Fundraising and the Hype Cycle

The other day I got chatting with a colleague about the ‘Hype Cycle’, used by technology consultancy Gartner to illustrate the adoption of technologies through the lifecycle of hype, disappointment and (in some cases) the eventual delivery of practical benefits. As shown in the chart above, the Hype Cycle comprises 5 phases:

1. Technology Trigger: the breakthrough, product launch, or other event that generates significant press and interest.

2. Peak of Inflated Expectations: A frenzy of publicity typically generates over-enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations. There may be some successful applications of a technology, but there are typically more failures.

3. Trough of Disillusionment: Technologies fail to meet expectations and quickly become unfashionable. Consequently, the press usually abandons the topic and technology.

4. Slope of Enlightenment: Although the press may have stopped covering the technology, some businesses continue through the ‘slope of enlightenment’ and experiment to understand the benefits and practical application of the technology.

5. Plateau of Productivity: A technology reaches the ‘Plateau of productivity’ as its benefits become widely distributed and accepted. The technology becomes increasingly stable and evolves in second and third generations. The final height of the plateau varies according to whether the technology is broadly applicable or benefits only a niche market.

In the light of all of the current discussion about the potential for Social Media (aka Web 2.0) to deliver real benefits for fundraisers (aka Community Fundraising 2.0) this got me thinking about just where different aspects of online fundraising are on the Hype Cycle – a useful thing to consider if you’re in the process of planning any mid to long-term online fundraising activity.

On the ascendancy between technology trigger and peak of expectations we have things like Twitter – the micro-blogging social network that is generating a load of discussion at the moment but not, as far as I can tell, as yet being linked to any significant fundraising activity.

Just past the peak and on the brink of tipping into the trough of disillusionment there is fundraising in virtual worlds. I still remain convinced that at some point in the future some form of 3D virtual environments will become commonplace for everyday transactions like retail and fundraising. However, despite the interest in the American Cancer Society Second Life Relay for Life and various other Second Life non-profit initiatives last year, I think we’ve got quite a long way to go in the meantime.

Then, some place between the peak of expectations, the trough of disillusionment, and the slope of enlightenment (depending on who you ask) we have fundraising widgets and social networks. Anyone still needing convincing of the fundraising opportunity offered by the latter need only take a look at the Hitwise data from last year which shows how social networks are taking over from email as the primary drivers of traffic to key sponsored event fundraising site justgiving.com. There’s still a lot of testing to be done, but I don’t think it’ll be too long before widgets and social networks arrive on the plateau of productivity and begin to significantly out-perform the ‘old school’ of email as the drivers of online fundraising income.

Online fundraising benchmarking study – how well is your email activity performing?

The 2008 eNonprofit Benchmarks Study has just been released by M+R Strategic Services and the Nonprofit Technology Network, and contains a wealth of data which will be of real interest to you if you’re involved in online fundraising or campaigning.

Covering everything from click-through and conversion rates (by cause) to how much you might expect your email list to churn, it provides some really valuable data to help benchmark your own organisation’s performance. As an update of an equivalent report released back in 2006, it also provides insight into how performance against key metrics is changing over time.

The findings are based on the analysis of data from 21 US nonprofits involved in online fundraising and campaigning, but seem to tally well with the equivalent data I see for the range of UK charities I work with.

The report is free to download here.