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Email Marketing Precedents

Associations & Organizations

Associations and organizations can be largely categorized as to whether they engage primarily in email campaigns for fundraising purposes or utilize email for communications to their far-flung membership, volunteers, sponsors, et al. The criteria to evaluate the effectiveness of an email outreach campaign are considerably different from commercial email marketing implemented by corporations that are sales-driven. A fully informational email campaign often makes no note whatsoever of fundraising, fee payment, paid membership, or any other form of financial contribution solicitation; while fundraising email newsletters are purely focused on incentivizing and encouraging the reader to make a financial donation.

Take note in the Associations & Organizations’ Content Type section of this guide that almost half of all regularly scheduled email newsletters and missives studied consisted of a hybrid of the two approaches, combining informational content with a fundraising solicitation.

A summary of statistical data gathered in a variety of recent studies on the email marketing metrics of North American associations and organizations can lend perspective to the current state of affairs. The first study analyzed shows that the weakened economy has dampened donations by supporters and compelled associations and organizations that are reliant on fundraising to work much harder than before the recession. Overall response rates for email fundraising that were conducted on generally unqualified new prospects were a fairly disheartening 0.13% while the response rates for email advocacy came in at 4.00%. The days when an impulse donation would average in the low three figures are apparently gone. The average value of a one time online donation in this 2010 study was $81.33

Associations and organizations with smaller email lists of less than 100,000 subscribers tended to have a higher open and click-through rate and were able to record a fundraising response rate that was double that of the larger list holders. The detraction was that the smaller email lists had a proportionately larger unsubscribe rate. The email file churn was above 17% in the statistical survey. Various associations and organizations reported that fully 28% of all email addresses became unreachable within a 12 month period, thus a great deal of effort in expanding subscription lists is required just to compensate for this elevated churn rate.

When associations and organizations are reviewed according to their sector, they average just under 4 emails per month to each subscriber. The lowest average frequency is found in Healthcare with only 2.1 emails per month, while Environmental concerns email their subscribers 5.2 times per month. It is important to note that these figures involve communications emails that cannot be termed “newsletters” as they often contain personalized content that deals with an individual’s membership or responses to particular queries. When only the “top-down” email campaigns are considered, it is discovered that they constitute a proportionately smaller number, as is seen in the Associations & Organizations’ Sending Frequency section of this guide.

From a fundraising standpoint, Environmental associations and organizations raised 96% of all their online revenue from donations bestowed on a one time basis, a much higher percentage than any other category. This statistic supports the impression that high profile requests that resonate to the subscribers can yield considerable results, albeit short term impulse ones. The inability of the Environmental sector to secure permanent, long term funding sources is a factor that can be of considerable concern, since it ties these associations and organizations into what is an effectively endless cycle of fundraising effort and expenditures.

Health nonprofit associations and organizations are in far better fundraising shape than the Environmental sector as fully 50% of their online revenue is garnered from a variety of event, tribute, and other forms of gifts, which allows these entities to be able to spend less money and resources on constant fundraising.

International associations and organizations were the leading sector in regular monthly achievement of funding, as more than 25% of the online revenue was tracked to these types of sources.

Environmental nonprofits in our study raised 96% of their online revenue from one-time gifts. Health nonprofits, on the other hand, raised 50% of their online revenue from "other" gifts (including event giving) and tribute gifts. International groups lead the way through monthly giving, which made up more than 25% of their online revenue.

A second statistical study found an array of insightful information on the state of the email campaigns conducted by associations and organizations. It discovered that the median yearly amount of funding raised online is $362,485, and that the median rate of growth in online fundraising is 27%. In its associations and organizations research study (which was just one of the data sources correlated to arrive at the complete findings included in this guide) the researchers found that the median open rate for the entities reviewed was 22%. They also state that the median click-through rate (CTR) was a fairly low 4%, but that may be due to the fact that they were studying a specific type of organization and the sampling, stated as the one that was committed to regular email newsletter sends, was fairly small at only 23 associations or organizations. When larger sampling is examined, the CTR statistics are considerably higher. It must be noted that a CTR in the terms applied by associations and organizations is not necessarily financial conversions, but only requests from an email content link to view a landing page that in many cases is strictly informational in nature and makes no solicitation for financial contribution.

It was also found that associations and organizations with very large email subscription lists of more than 100,000 addresses raised approximately 250% more online than those with smaller subscriber lists. The median rate of growth in email subscriber lists was 47%, and associations and organizations with email subscription lists composed of less than 50,000 entries grew at approximately twice the average rate for all associations and organizations. It is important to note that in this particular study, the median subscription list size was 70,141, but that the fairly small sampling of 30 entities was somewhat skewed to larger and more national or international scope associations and organizations.

Another study reviewed showed that individuals who tend to donate online have a younger median age and considerably higher household incomes than the donors who contribute via a direct postal mail campaign. The direct mail donors have a heavy concentration in the senior citizen 65 years of age and older demographic sector, and contribute 28% less than online supporters. In the three years covered by this study, it was found that the online donors’ median cumulative growth was 110%, which dwarfs the comparative growth in the non-online donors sector of just 6%.

Yet another study found that associations and organizations that were able to generate the most elevated levels of online advocacy actions shared a number of characteristics: they tended to have larger email subscription lists; their online advocacy programs had been established the longest; their online communications budgets were more sizeable; and they sent a greater volume of email missives focusing on their advocacy efforts.

A considerable number of studies have been correlated to arrive at the findings in this guide and have been combined with direct approaches to various directors and managers of associations and organizations around the United States and Canada. These findings seek to uncover as complete a picture as possible of the current state of email outreach communications at the beginning of 2011. The information included on these pages has been meticulously collected and exhaustively cross-correlated to provide a considerably larger sampling than many of the source statistics incorporated in the utilized research studies.

A number of these studies had samplings that were below 100 associations and/or organizations and presented some skewed statistical conclusions which may not have been applicable across the entire spectrum of entities in this sector. This guide attempts to rectify this situation and provide a coherent and comprehensive bird’s eye view of the current state of the email communications and online outreach programs being implemented by associations and organizations.