Raising Money Through Email

Organizations are focused on increasing online revenue. They develop regular new content on their social media channels, create an engaging website with updates on programs and services, and they add potential donors to their email blasts. All of this activity is leading to increased online giving but it is also leading to a decrease in the number of emails opened by donors and potential donors.

According to a recent study of fifty-three diverse nonprofits, the number of online gifts and the total amount raised online both increased in 2013. The 2014 eNonprofit Benchmarks Study (56 pages, PDF) recorded the largest increases in donations to international causes due mainly to large disasters and the press coverage associated with them. While environmental and wildlife and animal welfare organizations also saw gains, giving to human rights organizations remained constant. The study also documented a two percent rise in the average size of online gifts, but only international aid organizations actually realized these gains thanks mainly to donations in support of Typhoon Haiyan relief efforts.

Growth in online giving may be due to an increase in the size of email lists. That same report identified an average of a fourteen percent growth in the email lists of diverse organizations. Unfortunately, the increase in online email lists led to an eleven percent decrease in the percentage of people opening and responding to email communication. Consequently, the amount of dollars raised per email decreased by 1.7 cents. The decrease in opening was seen for both fundraising and advocacy messaging. Even with this drop, email continues to account for one third of online fundraising revenue.

Additionally, it is not only the wealthy that donate. The April issue of Philanthropy reports that between 70 and 90 percent of all Americans donate and the average total of these gifts is between two and three thousand dollars.

Clearly, the growth in online revenue is dramatic and organizations need to focus on expanding their email lists as well as increasing social and website traffic, but most nonprofits are local and will rarely experience the media coverage international aid organizations receive. What can these small organizations learn? What are the next steps to expanding individual giving online?

The local nonprofit organization does not compete with national aid organizations. Their message rarely resonates with national funders or donors interested in these causes. Instead, of focusing on trying to engage Bill Gates and his Foundation, local nonprofits should focus locally on donors and volunteers that experience their programs and services everyday.

A local focus begins with a community lens. Donors and corporations interested in their community read local newspapers. Organizations with these missions, should build strong relationship with journalists and bloggers connected to these media outlets. Additionally, nonprofits should create local more intimate events showcasing important work, engaging local volunteers, and targeting local corporations. More and more corporate giving programs look to their employees for grant suggestions. Corporate grants follow employees as they volunteer and engage in the communities they live in.

Volunteers are more invested in the work once they see it first hand. For many, their time is more valuable than a monetary donation. Once they understand the need, a donation will naturally follow often from an email ask or through a face to face meeting. What is the online cultivation process? We will cover that in the next post.

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