In January of last year I wrote up a quick summary on how some of our clients’ end-of-year online fundraising campaigns did vs. the prior year, and I thought it’d be nice to repeat the exercise to see how nonprofits fared in 2011.

The results below come from aggregate data from 14 organizations we work with – a big thanks to them for letting us include their data in this post. These aren’t necessarily the same organizations we included in our write-up last year; this analysis compares two years of data for these 14 groups.

So without further ado, here’s the scoop:

A lot more money – Every organization in this data set raised more money online in 2011 than they did in 2010.

A ton more gifts – 93% saw an increase in the number of gifts made. Overall gifts in this group increased by almost 25% over 2010.

Lower average gifts – 79% had lower average gifts in 2011 vs. 2010. Compared to last year’s report, this is the one downward trend. Last year, this figure was pretty much split down the middle with half having higher and half having lower average gifts than the year before.

Better response rates – 71% had the same or higher response rates to their email appeals than last year. Of the organizations that had higher response rates, a majority (63%) had larger lists and sent to more people. Last year, most organizations saw lower response rates compared with the prior year.

More emails – 71% sent more appeals this year vs. last year. Last year this figure was 85%, so this trend may be slowing a bit.

Overall, this performance feels sunnier than last year’s. I’m particularly encouraged by the response rates to email appeals. When you look at M+R’s eNonprofit Benchmarks reports, industry-wide fundraising response rates have been falling regularly year over year. I don’t want to jinx it, but after looking at this data set, I thought, could the trend finally be halting or maybe even reversing? We’ll have to wait until the new eNonprofit Benchmarks report comes out in April to know for sure (you can enter your email on the right to sign up to make sure you receive the report as soon as it’s released) – but fingers crossed!

Things that helped…

So what played into the generally good performance? When I polled our staff who work with these clients, here is some of what I heard:

  • Other email drove revenue – several advocacy organizations used actions during December that landed action-takers on a year-end donation form. Some organizations also used surveys earlier in December which landed respondents on year-end donation forms. These types of emails helped pad the bottom line figures.
  • Compact appeal schedule – a few staff believed that a more aggressive scheduling of appeals in the last week of the year helped boost overall response rates. Last year we saw early December appeals do pretty poorly. As a result, some clients pushed their appeals later this December while others kept the earlier emails but used them as a vehicle for other engagement devices like actions and surveys.
  • Matching gifts – the most successful campaigns in this group offered matches. A few organizations kicked it up a notch this year by ratcheting up the match – either doubling or extending the amount – in the final days of December.
  • “Donor as hero” copy – a few of us felt our clients benefited from messaging that framed the donor (or potential donor) as the hero of the appeals. Don’t miss the free webinar we’ll be leading on February 8th with NTEN and the Ad Council on storytelling and fundraising (based on the super-popular Storytelling and the Art of Email Writing). My friend and colleague, Sara Wolfson, and I will share tips on how to use the “donor as hero” approach in your fundraising appeals.

Things are looking up

Overall, this data makes me hopeful that whatever ongoing challenges our economy is facing, people are feeling a bit more secure psychologically and are more responsive to appeals for money (though maybe we just write really amazing copy :-)).

Here’s what I’d suggest you think about when it’s time to plan your 2012 year-end campaign. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that inboxes are becoming increasingly crowded each day, so prioritize testing whenever you can. Even small improvements in open and response rates can make a huge difference when you’ve got a large email file. Beyond testing, push yourself to step out of the box when writing appeals, whether that means trying something completely new, or psyching yourself up to advocate for more emotionally vivid language.

I’d love to hear how your end of year campaign went. If you want to share, shoot me an email at sdaigneault AT mrss DOT com, and depending on the response I might do a follow-up post with readers’ submissions.