The eNonprofit Benchmarks Study provides a snapshot of key metrics and benchmarks for nonprofit e-mail communications, online fundraising, and online advocacy, primarily taken from an in-depth review of statistics from 15 nonprofit organizations, six environmental organizations, six civil/legal rights organizations, and three international aid organizations.
Key findings of the study include:
- Greater Online Advocacy Results: Organizations generating the most online advocacy actions had several key characteristics in common, including larger e-mail lists; longer-lived online advocacy programs; larger online communications budgets; and sending a higher volume of advocacy e-mail messages.
- Investment Pays Off: Not surprisingly, organizations with larger online communications budgets built larger e-mail lists, generated more advocacy activity, and raised more funds online.
- E-Mail Open Rates in Decline: E-Mail message open rates among averaged 26 percent between September 2004 and September 2005, a decline from the previous 12-month average of 30 percent. Average response rates to e-mail advocacy appeals were 10 percent, while average response rates to e-mail fundraising appeals were just 0.3 percent.
- E-Mail Lists Continue to Grow - and Shrink: List churn (where e-mail addresses becoming undeliverable or unsubscribed) is a considerable problem for organizations. Nonprofits studied recruited on average more than twice the size of their existing e-mail lists over a 12-month period, yet their overall list growth was only about 73 percent as some new recruits are offset by heavy email list loss.
- Online Actions Speak Louder Than Dollars: Not surprisingly, more e-mail subscribers took online action than made an online donation. Between September 2004 and September 2005, an average of 47 percent of all e-mail subscribers took at least one online action, while just 6 percent of subscribers made an online donation. There were significant discrepancies among issue areas; international aid e-mail lists are made up of just 37 percent activists, but 17 percent of their subscribers made an online donation. On the other hand, environmental organizations have lists made up of 61 percent activists, while just 3.6 percent of their subscribers made an online donation.
- A Rise in Online Fundraising: Despite modest online donation rates, by September 2005, online annual fundraising totals increased by 40 percent on average from the year before, likely driven (in part) by the public's overwhelming response to the Asian tsunami disaster. Participating organizations averaged $2.5 million in online donations last year, with a $97 average gift. International aid organizations led the way, with an average of $9.7 million raised last year and an average gift of $121.
While the size of an organization is not necessarily the prime measure for success on the Internet, a robust and strategic use of funds and other resources to sell a nonprofit's message to legislators, business leaders, potential donors and the general public, using all the online tools at one's disposal-even in conjunction with other communications media, like direct mail-is mandatory. As demonstrated by the case studies illustrating many of the key points of this report, nonprofit organizations of even modest size can meet the challenges of advocacy, public education and fundraising by using innovative and aggressive tactics to spread their word, expand their subscriber base, and market themselves online. What is especially key is being able to measure the successes (and failures) of online initiatives through proper tracking of key metrics, such as e-mail message open and response rates, in order to maximize the benefits of the Internet as a key tool to a nonprofit's communications success.