Tag: email campaigns

There are trees, and there is forest. There are anecdotes, and there is data. There are the pinprick pixels of our individual experiences, and there is the vast picture they paint together of the world we share.

The M+R Benchmarks Study is our annual attempt to bridge that divide. This year, we have collected an extensive array of data points from 154 nonprofit participants. Each of them marks a single digital interaction with a supporter: an email opened, a donation made, a petition signed, a website visited, an ad clicked, a Facebook post liked, or tweet retweeted. All told, these add up to 4,699,299,330 email messages, 527,754,635 web visits, and 11,958,385 donations.

NTEN is proud to partner with M+R once again for the latest Benchmarks report. Explore or download it here.


This article first appeared on Jo Miles Digital and is republished here with permission.

You probably don’t want to think about year-end fundraising right now. Here in DC, it was in the 90s this weekend, the sun is blazing, and November feels far away. But winter is coming, and now is the time to prepare.

You’re no sweet summer child. You’ve seen year-end fundraising before, and you know that, however busy you are this summer, you’ll be busier come year-end. Anything you do now to set yourself up for stronger fundraising will help you succeed when it matters.

And the good news is, like the farmers of Westeros socking away extra food, many of your fundraising preparations are things you should be doing anyway. They don’t even have to take away from your current work. Here are a few projects you could take on now to save yourself some pain when winter (and year-end) arrives:

Tend your infrastructure

Is your Google Analytics set up to track donations? Are you tracking conversions on Facebook ads? Do you have the data you’ll need in your CRM? Now is a great time (especially while your coworkers are on vacation) to make sure your systems are all talking to each other and that your data is being stored correctly.

If you have time, do an audit of your data systems, paying special attention to fundraising-related data. If you notice something broken, during an audit or your daily operations, fix it now.

Set up your pilot projects

Remember last December when you said to your teammate “I wish we could…” but it was already too late to try it during that campaign? Maybe you wanted to take donations directly over SMS or Facebook, or thought you could finally apply for that Google Grant, or had a cool interactive content idea. Dredge up those project ideas now and decide which ones you want to tackle for this year-end.

Implementations often take longer than you expect, so an early start could be the difference between having it ready for year-end, or not.

Gather your stories, photos, and videos

Great stories are often the key to great fundraising content, but finding the right stories isn’t always easy. The same goes for great visual content. Start keeping an eye out for the stories you want to re-tell during year-end, and when you find a good candidate, record it. Get in touch with the subject, do a write-up, and get photo and video if you can. That way, it’ll be easy to repurpose when you start creating fundraising content.

Grow your list

You should be growing your audiences all the time, but the second half of the year is especially important. Now is the time to step up your recruitment, and get as many new supporters as possible onto your email list so you can build a relationship with them before a big flurry of fundraising asks.

Test your forms

Testing is another task that, ideally, you should be doing regularly. If you’re not, think about your donation forms and the experience they’re providing your supporters. What questions have come up in internal discussions about your forms? Now is the ideal time to undertake some testing to prove or disprove your hypotheses about what drives donations, and it’ll boost your conversion rates down the road.

It took me three months into my social media dream job to realize why the word “online” was part of my job title. It was 2010, and I had finally found a job that had social media marketing at its heart, at a small AIDS nonprofit that planned to use Facebook, Twitter and dating apps to connect with people living with and at risk for HIV.

Even before my first day, I’d had a run-in with our horrible, outdated and very difficult website, but I knew there was a web developer on retainer and I figured it was his problem. Or maybe it was the Executive Director’s problem. Or perhaps the office administrator. I don’t suppose there was someone on the board who could help? A volunteer? Bueller?

As anyone who works in digital marketing or fundraising knows, your organization’s website is at the crux of how people relate to your organization and its work. When something is wrong, it hurts your ability to attract, engage, and convert the people you need to make your work a success. As it turned out, our website was my problem, and to solve it, we needed to build a working digital strategy.

What is a digital strategy?

For many nonprofits, technology adoption isn’t hard. We’re smart people, and we’re perfectly capable of finding the tools we need to help us perform particular tasks. But what often happens is that an organization will accrue a slew of tools, all of which maybe do what they should perfectly, but still aren’t getting the results that you need them to. Perhaps your content strategy is bringing scores of people to your website but you aren’t capturing them in your email list for fundraising campaigns, or you’re gaining lots of Instagram followers but none of them know about your online forum. A good digital strategy will knit your tools and aspirations together into a cohesive plan to meet your goals.

We’re here to help. NTEN is producing two conferences this fall—in New Mexico and Oregon—and both are designed to help you develop and refresh your digital strategy. The program includes case studies, workshops, panels, presentations, and tactical sessions, to help you formulate the best strategy for your organization, and show you how other nonprofits have done it.

That seems like a big task. Where do I even start?

I am a people person and NTEN relies on members to survive, so I like to start with personas. What are the groups of people that want to engage with your organization, how did they find you, what do they want to know, how do they want to engage, and what do you most want them to do? Plot their journey from an unconnected community member to engaged part of your inner circle, donor or member. What’s their ideal journey? What roadblocks are in the way right now? How can you clear them?

Identify the top handful of actions you really want your constituents to take—for example, donate, advocate, join or inform others—and consider the technologies they need to do that easily. Find data that can tell you how you successfully moved them to that action (or “converted” them, in marketing-speak). How many touch-points do you need? What’s the story to tell them, and where and how is it best told? Which are the channels that net you the most success, and why do you think that is?

Like me, when I finally realized the website monster was mine to tame, you will have a lot of questions. But it’s only through considering the (sometimes difficult) questions that you can build a digital strategy, pulling together your organization’s disparate parts and making them work better, for you and the communities you represent.

Best of luck! We hope to see you in the fall.

For nonprofits and membership-based organizations, volunteer management can feel overwhelming. There are often too many people and not enough time to maintain a personal touch with every person.

Automated “drip campaigns” are the perfect intersection of technology and volunteers and can be a simple way to stay in touch, nurture relationships, and even weave together requests for time and cash contributions.

What is a drip campaign?

Email “drip campaigns” (also know as drip marketing, automated email campaign, lifecycle emails, autoresponders, and marketing automation) are automated series of emails scheduled to go out at a predetermined time (either a specific date and time or at specific intervals), depending on how you set them up.

In the marketing world, drip campaigns are used to nurture a prospect and ultimately make a sale. In the volunteer world, they can be used to automate and simplify communications and reinforce behavior on the part of your volunteer supporters.

As opposed to individual personal emails or group email “blasts,” drip campaigns are fully automated. Once you design a campaign, you can set it and forget it. Your readers then complete an online form and/or are “tagged” in your email system. Once a contact is tagged, the email series begins.

Four different volunteer management email drip campaign types

You can use drip campaigns for a variety of reasons throughout the volunteer lifecycle: to build an interested fan base, to increase the trust or skills of newcomers, to share updates and program changes, to keep supporters engaged over the long haul. Below are a few ideas:

  1. Volunteer Recruitment – To follow up on inquiries from the community, or to let volunteers who have submitted an application know the next steps in the process.
  2. Volunteer Onboarding – To help volunteers transition from their orientation training to consistent service by providing helpful tips, resources, and encouragement as well as gathering suggestions.
  3. Volunteer Skill Building – To help volunteers learn online, over a sequence of steps; this can either be integrated into your onboarding or be sent separately.
  4. Event Volunteers – To share event updates and logistics to ensure that event volunteers follow through and show up for the shift(s) they have committed to.

Can you use drip campaigns to re-engage lapsed volunteers or members?

You might be tempted to reinvigorate the participation of someone who hasn’t “shown up” or participated lately by sending them an automated series. You might to impress them with your organization’s progress, share what others are doing, and even asking for a donation.  It might re-energize them…or you might be wasting your time.

Before giving this a shot, check to see if the majority of your lapsed volunteers are at least opening your emails. It is highly likely that they are disengaged across the board. Don’t expect an automated email series to perform miracles. In this case, a phone call or personal email will be a better use of your time.

For excellent insights on what you might put in an email be re-activate someone (in this case in an online community) check out this FeverBee blog post.

Sample new volunteer onboarding series: what to include

Below is an example of an onboarding drip campaign you might use to welcome new online community members or volunteers. Be sure to include a signature with contact information (and an unsubscribe link) at the bottom of every email.

Check out tools like Animoto and Powtoon to make quick and easy videos that look good. Most email campaign software will allow you to embed video in the email itself.

Opt in [web form or tag]
  • Your audience can either fill in a form on your website that then tags them, or you can tag them manually in your system
  • Collect at least a first name and email address (you can then give your communications a personal touch by using the merge fields in the email subject line or the salutation of the email)
  • When possible, use a double versus single opt-in to make sure your emails are delivered (set your system to send an email with a confirmation link versus a simple sign up)
Welcome to our team (or community)! [sent immediately after confirmation link is clicked]
  • Thank them for joining
  • Let them know they can expect to get a series of emails over the next few weeks
  • Emphasize that you hope to save them time by focusing on the most important “need to know” info
  • Let them know they can unsubscribe at any time if the info isn’t helpful
Our story [send two days later]
  • Use photos and/or video to show and tell your story
  • Focus on the history of your organization, why it was started, where you are now
  • Keep it brief!
  • You can include quotes from volunteers, community members, or those who have benefited from their service
What we stand for [send three days later]
  • This is a “manifesto” of sorts, where you share your values and beliefs (either in text or video)
  • Don’t beat around the bush
  • This is a good time to weed out people who aren’t aligned with you – better now than later
Free tips & downloads [send every 2-3 days]
  • Send a minimum of three, but you can send more
  • Each should be focused on one critical skill you want your audience to know or be prepared to do (e.g., how to log into our community, how to access our online training, how to sign up for a shift, customer service skills, who to call for what, etc.)
  • Keep it brief!
  • Offer all tips and instructions in a printable format
Call to action: Sign up for a shift (or complete your online profile) [send three days after last Tip Email]
  • Focus on a simple step you want your reader to take
  • Provide a link and super simple instructions
  • If possible, have your system tag them if they click on the link in the email to track who is following through
Thank you! [send three days later]
  • Volunteer appreciation should start early, so why not now?
  • Express your gratitude; include quotes and photos of paid staff members and why they love volunteers (or make a video!)
How is it going? (feedback survey) [send 1-2 months after joining]
  • Include 3-5 questions only
  • Ask the net promoter question: How likely is it that you would recommend volunteering (or joining) to a friend or colleague?  
  • Ask for specific suggestions (e.g., tell us one thing we could do to make your experience even better)
  • Ask any other questions that get at things you are trying to improve

More tips for better volunteer management email campaigns

Here are a few tips to make sure your automated campaign is successful.

Send an introductory non-automated welcome email from your personal email account

Let the volunteer know that they should be expecting a series of emails from you and include a confirmation link (most email services can generate a link for you) that the volunteer clicks to confirm it’s OK to hear from you via email. If you don’t do this, emails may end up in their spam folder or, worse, they’ll be marked as “unresponsive” and your email distribution service provider won’t send to them.

Make sure you use a compelling email subject that describes a benefit

Generic subject lines like “Update from XYZ Nonprofit” can feel boring or like spam and are likely to get deleted. Describe what’s in it for the volunteer of the read it. For example, “Our Volunteers’ Share Their Top 5 Tips With You” Try CoSchedule’s headline analyzer or another tool to determine if your subject line needs work.

Write naturally and conversationally

The email is coming from you, even if it is automated, so write to volunteers as a human being, not a robot. It’s OK to convey emotions. To make it even more personal, include an image of your handwritten signature at the bottom of each. If some volunteers respond to your emails, you know you’re on the right track.

Reference volunteers’ “pro-social” behavior

Reinforce the norms you are striving for by sharing messages that reflect your expectations. For example, “95% of people who request a volunteer application complete it and turn it in within one week” or “the average volunteer donated 6 hours last month, helping us reach our goal of serving 45 youth.”

Whenever possible, include actual photos of your volunteer fans

Social cues are even more powerful when they are demonstrated through photos. A picture is truly worth a thousand words, and photos will increase the perceived truthfulness of your testimonials.

Be sensitive to the timing of other digital communications

If there are e-blasts that go out to your audience on certain days (e.g., e-newsletters on Wednesday), don’t schedule your drip emails to go out on those days. Also, you may want to consider waiting to send donor solicitations until after a welcome campaign is over (with many systems you set them to remove a tag once the campaign is complete; then, you can sort accordingly.

Be sure your software tracks your open rates

You need to know what’s working for your specific audience. If you’re wondering what a passable open rate might be, Check out MailChimp’s stats on average open and click rates by industry. For non-profits, the open rate is about 24.9%. That means about one in four people will open your email.

“Listen” to your users

Include helpful information in your emails by providing tips that help alleviate some of the common problems experienced by your volunteers or community members. Also, if you hear complaints about getting too many emails or see rising unsubscribe rates, you may need to space out or consolidate your email campaign.

Want to learn more?

If you’re interested in learning more about what triggers volunteers to act and how you can better work with human nature, check out tips and the free VolunteerPro e-Course Better Volunteer Recruitment in 6 Easy Steps.


How many emails is the right number to send to your constituents? What kind of fundraising appeals are most effective? These are the questions that keep nonprofit marketing and development staff awake at night.

This year, NTEN is again teaming up with M+R on its Benchmarks Study: an in-depth look at nonprofit data, strategy, and trends. The study helps nonprofit fundraisers, organizers, and marketers make smart decisions based on the experiences of their peers. But we need your help.

Will you take part in the 11th Benchmarks Study in 2017? By adding your data, you’ll help make Benchmarks more useful. Your investment will be just a few hours of effort to collect and report your data to M+R, which will confidentially roll it up into the final study.

Complete the expression of interest form to take part.

For this month’s Connect theme, a number of speakers are previewing the great breakout sessions they are preparing for the 2015 Nonprofit Technology Conference in Austin, TX March 4-6. Following is a preview of one of over 100 breakout sessions.

I work with a wide variety of nonprofits around the country. They all tend to have one thing in common, though: organizations are having a harder and harder time reaching their supporters’ inboxes.

In part this has to do with the wild success of email activism and fundraising. With it being such an effective medium for activism and fundraising, everyone has ramped up their programs (sometimes to excess). In the campaign world, as we’ve seen this past election, campaigns have also used and abused their lists. This can have trickle down effects to other organizations. The kinds of people who sign up for your email list don’t live in a vacuum: they are likely to be on several other email lists. There can be a “tragedy of the commons” effect, in which people get burned out on entire segments of email based on patterns of organizing.

There’s not much you can do about how others use their lists, except to keep to the highest standards for joint online organizing, and to avoid partnering with organizations that do not treat their lists well. However, there are several steps you can take with your own list to get the best performance.

Over the years, the major email providers (e.g., Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, etc.) have changed the way they evaluate whether an email is spam or not. They take a look at whether individual email recipients are engaging with an email—opens and clicks, for example—to decide whether the message is spam and therefore whether to deliver to the rest of the recipients. You can’t know ahead of time from a tool like Spam Assassin whether people will engage with your email or not, meaning this can be close to impossible to predict ahead of time. Once you hit a certain threshold of non-responders, the mail servers begin treating all email from you as “bulk” or “spam” mail, meaning none of your emails will go through.

This can tank your response rate and, as mentioned before, it can catch you unprepared.

How to Handle It
1. Make sure you are handling bouncing emails appropriately: that your mass email software is automatically disabling hard and soft bouncing emails. You’d be surprised, but this isn’t always automatic. If you find out there’s a big chunk of bouncing email addresses on your list, disable them immediately and put into place the steps to make sure this is handled automatically going forward.

2. Segregate records that have shown no response for 6 months or a year. Send one last email to them, something to the tune of, “We miss you. Do you still want to hear from us? Reply back if you’d like us to change your email address, or click here if you want to keep receiving emails,” which requires them to take some action to show proof of life. Disable all records after a week or so that show no signs of life. These dead records may be driving down deliverability to the live records on your list. More list cleaning tips are available from the PowerThru blog.

3. Keep track of people’s areas of interest, and try not to send them emails in the future that they won’t be interested in. Also try to be sensitive to peoples’ ever-increasing amounts of email in their inboxes overall; try not to email more than once a week and hopefully less than that, unless you have breaking urgent news. You don’t want to wear out your welcome and drive people away from your organization. (Note: you also don’t want to go silent for too long and have them forget about you, so aim for at least one email a month to keep them engaged.)

4. To get yourself out of “spam jail” with any one mass email provider, be sure to send only the best performing emails to that provider for a few weeks—and only to the best performing records (segregate out the people who rarely open your emails). Only send along emails that will have an above-average number of opens, clicks, and so on. Once you see average open rates to that provider creep up, you could start sending a wider mix of emails and to a wider audience on that network.  Here are more email deliverability tips.

Be sure to attend our 15NTC session, “The Secret Science of Email Deliverability,” in March to hear more from the email deliverability wizards at NationBuilder, NGP VAN, and Salsa Labs. Bring your burning questions, and we will have answers!

For this month’s Connect theme, a number of speakers are previewing the great breakout sessions they are preparing for the 2015 Nonprofit Technology Conference in Austin, TX March 4-6. Following is a preview of one of over 100 breakout sessions.

Running A/B tests on your email list is crucial if you want to get to know your supporters better and figure out what makes them engage. It can be a heavy lift to get your testing program off the ground, but it’s well worth the effort! To help make the process smoother, here are a few pitfalls to look out for when you’re getting started.

1. Testing something that your organization will never adopt

Picture this: You run a test and get significant results, which you excitedly report back to your team. But when you propose changes to your programs based on this test, they’re met with resistance. Maybe it’s because the test version doesn’t fit with your organization’s branding, or maybe whoever’s making the call just doesn’t like it. Either way, it’s frustrating to realize that the work you put in will not go to good use.

The way around this is to make sure that your test copy is approved by all relevant parties before you start. Until you get buy-in that what you’re testing is a good idea, hold off on running your test!

2. Calling a test too early

Have you ever sent a subject line test early in the morning and chosen a winner, only to go back hours later and find that the one you chose is no longer in the lead?

Test results can be deceiving early on; that’s why it’s important to hold off on making a call until you have significance. But when that’s not possible, here’s another trick: try segmenting your early send to people on the east coast only—that way more people will see your email by the time you’re ready to send to the full list later that morning or afternoon.

3. Not enough results!

You set up an A/B test on a fundraising email, and you’re excited to see which version brings in the most money. But after sending the two variants to 10% of your audience each, the results are, well… lacking. One version gets 7 gifts while the other gets 6.

Obviously, you don’t yet have a winner on this test—it had far too small of an audience! Here’s how to avoid this in the future: Before you start your test, figure out if you’ll get enough conversions to generate significant results. You can do that by looking at what your average donation rate is, and then calculating how many conversions you’ll need for significance, based on your audience size. (Here’s an A/B testing calculator you can use.)

If you won’t get significance by doing an initial send to 10% or 20% of your list, then try splitting your test in half and sending everything at once. Sure, you won’t be able to optimize on this particular email, but you’ll get better results that you can learn from in the future. If need be, you can even run this test several different times and add up the results until you find significance.

4. Taking your results too seriously

Yep, I said it! It’s best not to take your test results too seriously. When you start a testing program, you’re probably going to test into some things that are not best practice. For example, maybe you’ll get higher open rates when you change your sender line to first name only. But does that mean you should always sign emails with just a first name? Probably not. What works on a one-off test sometimes isn’t the best for your organization’s credibility if applied over the long term. Besides, if you use this same offbeat practice every time, you’ll lose the novelty effect, and it will eventually stop working. So make sure to implement results like this sparingly, rather than creating a new best practice for your team.

5. Forgetting about your results

Your testing program is only as good as your implementation—but applying your test results isn’t always easy. So how can you make sure that you and the rest of your team remember to act on your learnings? Here are a couple of quick tips:

First, you should always write into your plan what you’ll do if the test wins, what you’ll do if it loses, and what you’ll do if there’s no clear winner at all. This will help you avoid the awkward “er, what now?” scenario when your favorite variant wins but not significantly. Then, every month or so, take a look at your results and figure out which results have yet to be implemented. If you got significant results on a test but haven’t implemented any changes yet, bring it up with your team again at your next meeting. This will help everyone to get in the habit of implementing the great things you’ve learned through your awesome new testing program.

As someone who loves seeing nonprofits succeed, I have to say this is my favorite time of year. This is the time when nonprofit organizations seem most open to testing because even small improvements can have a significant impact during a time of year when organizations raise up to 50% of their revenue. But successful testing programs don’t hinge on a few weeks of one-offs. They require a robust approach that builds upon itself year-round.

Fundamentally, testing is all about math and data after the segments are created, the packages sent out, the creative is done and the send button is pushed. It’s a way to analyze the effectiveness of your communication with constituents, your practices for inspiring donors and so on — but this post is not about what you should be testing. Instead, it covers proven practices on testing execution itself. It’s easy to let go of testing fundamentals, which too leads to inconsistent program growth, unclear next steps or even lack of basic insight into what appears to be working.

1) Every test needs a hypothesis or “theory” it is aiming to confirm or dispel.

Write your hypothesis for each test idea and make it as mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive as possible. “Which subject line works best?” is not good enough. Ask yourself: Does this test a larger learning objective such as increasing open rates? Increasing clicks? Re-activating a very specific segment? One-off testing is like driving your car without an ultimate destination and asking “Where am I going?” at every intersection.

2) Tests should be cumulative when possible, informing the next set of tests to fully leverage the findings of the first set.

“Extraordinary success is sequential, not simultaneous.”* Translation: Trying to capture lightning in a bottle is a 99.9% losing exercise. The odds are against you. But making a 3% incremental improvement once a month, every month for a year will get you a 38% improvement over where you started — and that’s success by any standard.

Defining a testing plan on an annual or semi-annual basis allows for the kind of learning that moves programs forward. So you must set up your test to get the learning you are seeking and plan how tests will build upon each other. This may seem obvious, but it is actually a very complex issue.

Let’s take a welcome series as an example. Welcome series are considered an industry-wide proven practice — once someone raises their hand and says, “I want to hear from you,” it makes sense to welcome them and create mission stickiness. But how do you tell, after investing the time and effort into a series, if it’s actually working?

First, that is too broad a question. Clarify what “working” means. Is it overall series opens that indicate engagement? Overall improved long-term value to the organization from the donor or supporter? This must be pre-defined, as it not only will impact the length of the test and its evaluation period but also will define how you have to set up the learning aspect.

So if we ask, “Is it working?” there is a parallel question: “Compared to what?” When testing a welcome series, it might mean creating a holdout group that doesn’t get the same welcome experience. It also may mean planning ahead for future communications to both groups to be consistent, and tracking the subsequent performance of both groups to fundraising and engagement outreach. That way, you can compare and contrast.

Similarly, deciding at what point to take stock of how these audiences are performing compared to each other is crucial to determine ahead of time. Twelve months in? After three opportunities to donate? Planning and test set-up can be daunting, tedious and complicated to track both offline and online and, to be honest, it might not be possible to perfectly execute. But understanding the fundamental test set-up is key to then reporting back on “Did it work?” and any potential factors that should be considered as impacting the result.

3) Avoid Sample Bias. Make sure the control and test cells are reasonably equal across all possible variables and that they are representative of your target audience.

What kind of results are valid and how does segment size impact statistically valid results? There are loads of tools out there to make testing set-up and segmentation easier, but they cannot fix some challenges that some in our industry frequently face.

If you have a smaller file, it may not be possible to get a valid result in one test, even by splitting the file 50/50. Nine responses compared to 11 is not a valid result, even if it happens four times over. Clients in such a situation often ask, “Well, what should we do if we don’t have a big enough file? Not test at all?” No — everyone should test! But your approach might have to be more broad and creative.

For example, if you don’t get a valid number of responses to measure donation rates, expand to the next most measurable metric, such as click-through. Consider expanding the testing period — if your site has little traffic, you might run a donation form test for three months to get a valid result. Yes, this means having discipline. And yes, it means results might come slowly. But it also means you’ll have reliable results that will be the basis of future tests.

The list above is by no means comprehensive of testing proven practices, but with these points in mind, fundraisers and marketers can arm themselves with a data-driven approach to learning what’s working and what’s not.

And one last note on a reminder I often give not only clients, but myself. Testing is, frequently, all about failure. It is based on an educated guess or an indicator in the data or something that worked for someone else — of what might work for your constituents and program. It’s OK if a test doesn’t work. Or if a series of tests doesn’t work. That gets back to the whole point of testing. If the outcome were certain, we wouldn’t need to test! So don’t get discouraged. Try to understand why the test may not have worked, move on to the next one or improve the test that didn’t work.

* “The ONE Thing” by Gary Keller. http://www.amazon.com/The-ONE-Thing-Surprisingly-Extraordinary/dp/1885167776

It’s kind of our favorite time of year: our annual dose of data about email and online advocacy and fundraising activity.  With the analytics and campaign expertise of M+R Strategic Services, we are excited to release the 2013 eNonprofit Benchmarks Study!

So: What’s going on with nonprofit email, fundraising, and social media?

In short: Online revenue is up, monthly giving is booming, and social media audiences are growing too. But there are also some bitter truths about last year that you need to know about.

We analyzed the results of:

  • 1.6 Billion email messages that were sent to
  • Over 45 Million subscribers; as well as
  • 6.5 Million online gifts totaling
  • $438 Million raised; and
  • 7.3 Million advocacy actions

You can get the complete report — including important reference information like definitions of terms and metrics — for free.

Don’t forget: you can also attend the webinar on Tuesday, April 23rd, to hear from the report authors and some of the study participants.  Reserve your webinar spot online now.

And for a quick reference, take a gander at the 2013 eBenchmarks Infographic:


Supporters communicate with your nonprofit through multiple channels but engage differently with content depending on its delivery method. You must not only create a compelling message, but also optimize it so that it is received effectively across multiple channels frequently enough to resonate with your audience.

In “How to Write Successful Fundraising Letters,” Mal Warwick describes how he tested different lengths for the letter used in a direct mail campaign. He determined that the longer the letter, the more successfully the piece performed. Try this approach with email or social media, however, and your audience will tune you out. By taking your multi-channel messaging through the following simple, three-phase approach, you will effectively repurpose your content to reach its audience without adding more hours to your day.


First, you need to plan your messaging calendar, making sure to include all the channels through which you will broadcast your content. Prioritize your calendar based on the channels that are already the most successful for your organization, but don’t be afraid to explore new channels as part of a larger plan to see if you can drive new contact points with constituents.

For example, the nonprofit Paramount & State Theatre in Austin, TX, uses a multi-channel messaging approach during its fundraising campaigns. They typically rely on their tried-and-true channels such as direct mail, email, website home page, website donation pages, social media (Facebook, Twitter), organizational blogs, press releases, physical signage, and telemarketing. Yet they’ve recently added a new channel to their marketing mix – a custom tablet app. This application is certainly a new point of contact with constituents – and likely an area in which the organization will be testing its message.

Next, consider the timeframe for the campaign. Give yourself enough time – many campaigns fail because they are too short. If you believe conventional wisdom, which says that it takes three, seven or even more impressions before a message is remembered, then a longer campaign allows for the greater possibility of reaching your target audience and generating results.

At the end of this phase, you will want to have a complete calendar that shows all the content you will need to generate and a plan for when and how you will be delivering that content. It should reflect when the message is expected to arrive in front of your audience (i.e. direct mail arriving in mailboxes) in addition to when you are sending it out.

One national human services organization, Volunteers of America, follows this strategy by sending a direct mail piece at the beginning of the month asking members to renew. Before that mailing is expected to arrive, an email is sent informing the member that the renewal request will be arriving by mail soon. Following receipt of the first direct mail piece, another email is sent reminding members that the renewal should have been received. Social media may be incorporated featuring corresponding posts.


Start small. The first piece of content you create should be a purpose statement. Summarize your message in a single sentence. While it may sound difficult, this will be a litmus test for everything else you generate, ensuring that each channel you use communicates the core purpose of the campaign. Your message should be digestible, repeatable, memorable, inspiring and actionable.

Then, go long. Your most copy-intensive channel, if you are using it, is usually direct mail. Start here to elaborate fully on your purpose statement. Whether you are planning one or a series of letters, this channel usually provides enough space to say everything you want about the topic. You’ll then be able to come back to this well and repurpose its content, applying the best practices of each medium.

TIP: Make an organizational rule that any content written and approved in direct mail is considered approved for use in other channels. This will allow you to move quickly on the remainder of your content generation.

Now rework your text and incorporate images and other assets to better fit each channel in your calendar. For email, stick to a single story or idea per message. For social media, reduce this even further to single facts or teasers delivered over a succession of posts.

One national health organization ran a social media campaign for its ‘awareness week’ by posting a “sharable” image featuring a factoid and url each day. Facebook fans were encouraged to click, share, and comment. These interactions propelled the organization’s Facebook engagement rate ‘people talking about this’ by nearly 60% over the course of the campaign.

Tip: Send it again! One client I’ve worked with increases their total email open rate by more than 30% while maintaining the same unsubscribe rate by re-sending certain messages to those who did not open it the first time.

All the content you have planned should also be repeated on your website. Convio’s 2008 Wired Wealthy report tells us that the majority of major donors review the website before making a gift. The more recent 2013 Charity Dynamics & Nten Nonprofit Donor Engagement Benchmark Report tells us that for all donors, visiting an organization’s website is the prefered method to get information on the charity they most support. The credibility of your campaign will be diminished in the eyes of a supporter who, after receiving a message calling for important action, visits your website and finds no mention of it anywhere else.

Finally, review all of your content to ensure it is consistent with your one-sentence purpose statement and that all the content contains a consistent and appropriate tone. A recent npEngage article argues that maintaining consistent brand tone maximizes the impact of integrated campaigns.


With your calendar and channel plan in place and your messaging generated, you now only need to execute accordingly. Another Convio study shows that donors who give through multiple channels (e.g., both online and through direct mail) give more than those who give only through a single channel. Not following through on all of your planned channels could cost your campaign money or reduce overall engagement.

Tip: Make sure your direct mail piece has a URL directing the reader to more information or an online donation form.

Once your message is heard (i.e., once you’ve received a donation or driven someone to take an advocacy action), there is still one more thing you should do. Prompt your supporter to take another action. Make it easy by employing eCards, tell-a-friend tools, or social share components. By displaying this type of call to action on your ‘Thank You’ pages or other post-action redirect pages, you can simply and effectively extend the reach of your message.

A clear and consistent message over an appropriate amount of time will better engage your supporters and make a lasting impression. Thinking about your communication plan holistically, leveraging the technology available to you (both new and traditional), and strategically tailoring content to fit your communication channels will produce a manageable and successful campaign for your organization. Good luck!