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The Loyalty Letter

E-news that helps you keep donors connected (and giving)
to your cause.


July 2009
Published by Lisa Sargent

Dear Reader,

Two emails led me to reschedule this month's nonprofit website walk-through; I'll run it in August.
 
The first was an email I received about a rush job, and the second, an email that I wrote for a client.
 
Both resulted in the articles below... articles important enough to preempt the website walk-through because the subject matter, although widely covered in this herky-jerky economy, cries out for an objective look. 
  
Be sure to email me with questions. And thanks, as always, for being a subscriber,



Lisa Sargent
Sargent Communications

P.S. Article number two isn't meant to offend. The real-life request behind it, however, happens far more often than you'd think. That's why I'm running the story... and why I offer a solution.

Nonprofit Benchmarking: Bad Numbers, Big Trouble?

The fundraising statistics that can cost you, the nonprofit benchmark basics that can protect you

Average nonprofit email open rate: 16%. Average click-through rate: 2.4%.*
 
As fundraisers, we live and die by the numbers no matter what the economy... but current conditions have us eyeing industry averages with near-morbid fascination.
 
Don't get me wrong. Nonprofit benchmarking is useful, for everything from goal-setting to telling us how (and if) we measure up to our non profit peers.
 
Quickest of all come online fundraising statistics: you know -- and can compare -- how your latest email newsletter or e-appeal is doing hours after you send.
 
But relying on blanket averages like those above to gauge your performance is a huge mistake. Why?
 
Because those industry benchmarks may be all wrong for your non profit... which means you could incorrectly label that email appeal as a wash-out (or a winner).
 
And that can cause a solid campaign to be scratched prematurely, or mask problems with an underperformer.
 
Over the long-term, misguided benchmarking can cause you to set online fundraising goals too low or too lofty, leading decision-makers down a dead end.
 
Two true stories clarify.
 
For years I wrote the weekly email newsletter and regular email appeals for a US-based animal welfare nonprofit. Month after month, our open and click-through rates trumped the aforementioned averages. 
 
Still, we kept on testing, due, in part, to this statistical tidbit: general industry benchmarks don't work for animal welfare nonprofits.
 
At the time, average email open and click-through rates for animal welfare nonprofits were much higher: 27% and 11%, on average. And for email appeals, click-through and response rates were 2% and 0.82%. (And we did quite nicely against those, too.) 
 
Back then I relied on the 2007 version of Convio's Online Marketing Nonprofit Benchmark Index (TM) Study, which shows how “average rates” vary by sector, from animal welfare to environmental to health. (You can get the executive summary of Convio's Online Marketing Nonprofit Benchmark Study (TM) for 2008 here.)
 
True story number two: A series of event email appeals that I wrote recently for a major nonprofit pulled an open rate of around 8%.
 
Choking on your coffee?
 
Not once you know this: virtually every address on the list was an email append -- and appends garner far lower response rates than opt-in email addresses. (Read as: yet another reason to get sign-up boxes on every page of your nonprofit website.)
 
Now the takeaway... 
 
Four Things You Must Know About Nonprofit Benchmarks:

1. Know the averages for your vertical. If you're in animal welfare, or public affairs, or public broadcasting, it matters: in Convio's report, vertical averages swung 12% or more from the industry median. (And the type of communication matters, too: appeal, e-news, etc.)
 
2. Know your historical averages. If your email appeals typically pull a 5 percent response rate, and you test a new version that everyone loves, but pulls 1 percent, the old way wins.
 
3. Know that your open rate isn't the end-all. In fact, most sources recommend treating it like a ballpark average. (Want the scoop on multiple opens, unique opens, and more? A good, fast primer on email open rates here.)
 
4. Know your list. Are they opt-ins? Appends? If you can segment, you'll get a much clearer picture of how your creative is performing. (Considering an append? Read this sage and sobering advice on email address appends from ClickZ.)

*From the 2009 eNonprofit Benchmarks Study, by M+R Strategic Services and NTEN.

Why Can't You Just Write the Letter?
Take This Fundraising Quiz and Find Out

Warning: this quiz may ruffle creative feathers... but it points the way to a document more critical than any fundraising appeal

Surprise! You've been asked to write a fundraising letter.
 
And for this quiz, your one-and-only task is to predict how well your letter will perform. 
 
Ready? Here's what you know...
 
The letter is to accompany a major nonprofit's calendar mailing, and should highlight all the good work of the organization. Oh, and it should also ask for additional donations. (As the copywriter, you'll have to dig around for examples of the good work on the organization's website.)
 
One more thing. Your letter is due in 48 hours.
 
Now for what you don't know: You don't know if this letter is one page or two or twenty. You can't access a copy of the other package elements. You don't know who the signer is, or if the letter will be personalized. You also don't know anything about the target audience, what the Ask amount is, or if the Ask in your letter is a soft ask or a hard one.
 
You're also not allowed to ask for more detail, because when you do, the response comes back: Why can't you just write the letter?
 
Time for The Question: How will your letter perform?

I sure hope you wouldn't bet your bottom line on it. But these days, some nonprofits would: tighter budgets mean more rush jobs in a frantic attempt to pull in funds.
 
But slapdash letters like these can be catastrophic, because they don't just not raise money, they snuff out donor relationships like wildfire.
 
Rush job or no rush job, you can't just write the letter: if you want success, you need a plan before you “create.” 

That plan is called a copy platform. Or a marketing concept. Or a creative brief.
 
Whether you outsource or insource your creative, it's the best way to stack the odds in your favor.  
 
Essential for projects with deadlines that are two days, two weeks, or two months away, the creative brief tells you what you're writing, why you're writing, and to whom you're writing, among other things.
 
Now for my offer to you:
 
Any subscriber to The Loyalty Letter (that's this e-news you're reading), is welcome to a copy of the creative brief that I use for new projects. It's long-ish, but fear not: after awhile, you'll find that you don't need to ask all of the questions all of the time.
 
To get yours, be a subscriber first, then email me here.

P.S. Subscribing to The Loyalty Letter is easy: scroll up for handy sign-up form at the top of this page.   

Your creative brief or mine? This copywriter can work from either:
lisa@lisasargent.com.

Or call: 1-860-851-9755.

On Skype: lisa.sargent96.



 
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