Okay so maybe you’re not the person in your office who deals in the day-to-day decimals and data points of digital do-gooders. Or speaks in mind-numbing alliterations. Me neither! (Despite what I just said).

Sure, our Benchmarks Study is a big, numbers-driven snapshot of online metrics using data gathered from a wide variety of nonprofits (84 this year). But reading it is also nearly as satisfying as reading the Guide to Getting It On for the first time as a tweenager: Everything. Is. Explained. With charts!

“But,” says you, “I’m a comms director! My digital people do the digital thing!” Well this post is for you, my friend. Here’s the stuff that I think might make you want to take a stroll through our big, beautiful report:

#1 – Opens, clicks, and shares = eyeballs, eyeballs, and eyeballs. And ears. And brains. And you need those.

Your message only matters if people see it. See it, read it, think it, and act on it.

With email, we know whether that’s happening because of open rates, click-through rates and response rates. No guessing. You know, like it or not.

And here’s what you should know: email is a channel that’s growing. Lists are still growing, albeit a bit slower than in previous years, and people are opening your email. Open rates were up 5% for fundraising and 9% for advocacy for our study participants last year. On the other hand, response rates have gone down, but the jury is out on what that means. It could very well mean that people get your email but then respond from somewhere else – social media, web marketing, memory, etc.

If you’re looking to improve the reach of your messaging, ignore these metrics at your peril.

#2 – We all want to know if we’re talking loudly enough.

Digital response people are curious about a lot of the same things I get curious about, like what would the world be like if humans had tails? Do dragons really love tacos? What’s the average number of friends adults have in America? And this:

  • Are we sending out too much email? Across sectors in our study, groups sent an average of 48 emails per year per subscriber, with an average overall email open rate of 14%. That’s a benchmark that tells you if you’re normal. But it doesn’t tell you if you’re sending too much email. Better question: Are we sending too much *bad* email? Try chewing on that one.
  • Are we posting enough on Facebook? Post frequency saw some variation among sectors, but for the most part, nonprofits in our study posted once a day to Facebook, and not much more. Wildlife groups were slightly ahead of the pack (haha, see what I did there??), posting to Facebook 1.8 times per day.
  • Do we have a normal Twitter following? For every 1,000 email subscribers, study participants had 285 Facebook fans and 112 Twitter followers. And while Facebook fans outpaced Twitter followers in every sector that had data for both platforms, Twitter audiences are still experiencing high growth, increasing by an average of 37% across sectors.

#3 – Website = $$$

Chances are, your organization’s website is run out of your comms shop. Groups in our study raised $612 for every 1,000 website visitors they welcomed. Nearly EVERYTHING you do on your website can impact that number, so if you want your web budget to grow, this is one number to watch like a hawk. Or…an owl? Wait. I just lost 10 minutes Googling animals that have especially good eyesight.

Let’s get back on track with your new best friend…

#4 – Web marketing: learn to love it.

Web marketing is a pretty big deal, and it’s only getting bigger. Because it’s working – it’s bringing in activists, donors, volunteers, campaign storytellers, and just about everyone else.

By web marketing, I mean: paid search, retargeting, and text/display ads* (including Facebook, reward/incentive sites, and mobile ads). Three quarters of your peers are investing at least a little in different kinds of online advertising.

Of the organizations that reported on this area –

  • 76% invested in some form of paid web marketing in 2014.
  • Smaller groups in our study invested less; Large groups invested more. Shocker.

Basically, the internet is opening up a ton of new and super exciting ways to reach your audience. You can use ads to test messages to a sample of your audience before launching the winning message wide and far. (Data for the win!) You can also use ads to solicit stories to help build your story bank – after all, if you want to find someone who has a personal story about coping with Alzheimer’s, or had a really great (or terrible!) experience in a taxicab, why not just put an ad out? Answer: you should just put the ad out.

BONUS: There’s a glossary in this year’s Benchmarks so you can decode your digital colleagues when they start speaking in tongues. Don’t worry, we’ll have you saying “website donation page conversion rate” 10 times fast soon enough.

#5 – Sometimes it’s better to be small and mighty.

It’s becoming more and more common for organizations to stop emailing subscribers that are otherwise deliverable because they are huge jerks haven’t engaged with your organization recently. One of the main factors behind the trend is that email service providers basically hate it when you send email to deadweight.

When we asked groups about their “inactive” segment, 47% responded that they suppress inactives in some way.

So your list might be smaller than it used to be – but that’s a good thing if you don’t want to be blocked from emailing it at all (which would probably happen during a really critical time when you’re sending more emails than usual!).

This also means that next time you find yourself saying “Let’s get it out to the list!” you should stop to think about who on your list most needs to hear the news you want to share. Organizers have their list of super-activists who they’ll send a lot more emails to. Fundraisers have their lists of donors at every level, and you probably have your own ~fancy~ list too. Make sure these VIPs are getting the content they want.

Speaking of VIPs, we have a special copy of Benchmarks just for you – go walk the virtual red carpet of the Internet to snag your copy right here.

If you have questions, or want to tell us about another way you’re using our report in your work, give us a shout on Twitter @mrcampaigns or email us at benchmarks@mrss.com. Or put up a custom ad on Facebook that targets us. That would be really creepy but also very cool.