So, how did the end of year season turn out for non-profits? With final results in, we decided to compare our clients’ end-of-year 2010 results to their 2009 figures. Here are the top findings on looking at aggregate stats from 13 clients we work with who conducted fundraising campaigns this past December as well as last December:
- More Money – 77% raised more money this year than they did last year.
- More Donors – The number of donors grew by 12% this year.
- Lower Response Rates – 85% saw the same or lower email response rates than they did last year.
- More Asks – 85% sent more solicitations this year vs. last year.
- Average Gifts Unchanged – No real trend on average gifts – 54% had a higher average gift this year than they did last year, while 46% had lower average gifts.
These findings mirror many of the trends we’ve seen over the past several years when compiling our e-Benchmarks report which tracks online giving performance. Response rates to email solicitations continue to fall, but non-profits are reaching larger audiences, and overall are converting more donors. Average gift sizes have been falling over the past few years, but this end of year season we saw several organizations buck that trend, mostly by trying dramatically different and more aggressive tactics to inspire donors to give more.
What Worked? Some Surprises
As usual, we ran many tests this year, and found a few surprises. Hopefully these findings can help you plan your own tests and upcoming campaigns:
Positive vs. Negative: Typically we find appeals that focus on negatives – problems, threats, urgent needs – perform better than more positive appeals. But this year, when we tested a positive vs. negative frame on an Oxfam America email, the positive appeal performed better. I wouldn’t take this one to the bank – it’s probably influenced by the specific issue, the specific economic moment, the 2010 election, etc. – but it’s worth testing on your list.
Video or No Video: Is it better to include a video in an email appeal or not? We tested this for two clients by showing an image of a video player with a still shot vs. not. For one organization, using a video depressed click-through-rates and revenue for existing donors but had the exact opposite effect for non-donors. The other organization saw no statistically significant impact on click through or response rates.
Start with $25 or $35: In a down economy, should you start your gift string with a smaller dollar amount? One organization found that for their existing file of supporters, a gift string that started with $25 raised more revenue, had a higher average gift, and even converted more donors than one that started with $35.
Not Surprising but Still Notable
Deadlines: Across the board, we found that messages that were very close to the 12/31 deadline and those that mentioned being close to reaching a dollar goal performed best; in some cases, more than 5 times better than the worst performing messages.
Matches: Appeals that mentioned a match also performed better than those that didn’t have one. Although matches are common, and their impact seems to be waning, they do still increase response rates. One organization’s appeal that announced a match early in December performed almost twice as well as the appeal they sent on December 31st without a match.
What About You?
Overall this is still a very challenging climate for fundraising. The economy still hasn’t fully recovered, and the online fundraising space is becoming increasingly crowded. In order to succeed, organizations will need to work throughout the year to make an impression on their supporters. Our take is that organizations need to focus on showing impact, being authentic and personal, and testing tactics and messages that help refine how best to ask for a gift.
How about you? How did your end of year campaign perform, and did you have thoughts on what you might do next year – OR – what you wish M+R would test before end of year to help you prepare? I’d love to hear!