Winners/Losers in Annual Benchmark

Blackbaud released the annual Luminate Online Benchmark Report this week, "nine years strong and more vibrant than ever."

It is must-read material; I encourage you to download and wade through the detail. It's a one-of-a-kind perspective, based on the activities of 685 organizations that sent out 6.3 billion emails and raised 1.5 billion dollars.

Yes. With a B. In Both cases.

(Or, you can cut straight to the chase and use the new "interactive benchmarking tool that visualizes your nonprofit’s performance within the industry.")

First, the good news.
• Housefiles are growing: median file size up 11.82%
• More of these constituents are giving: 15.19% of active addresses up from 15.08% last year (because organizations are "presumably doing a better job of cultivating their support.")
• Revenue is up 8.89%: number of gifts up 7.01% and average transaction up 2.05%.
• Fundraisers are hearing the retention drum beat. For the fifth consecutive year, first time gifts dropped as a percent of total online revenue. While revenue from first time giving was up 1.76%, revenue from repeat gifts was up 15.4% and from sustaining gifts up 16.85%.

But now the bad news.

Houseflies may be growing, but:
• Median online revenue per usable email address fell 2.89% (from $12.77 to $11.77)
• The percent of organization supporters who advocate fell by .69%

I would contend that both of these are tied to another, seldom-discussed factor: the report notes almost off-handedly that "industry-wide emails grew at a modest 2.9%."

Bear with me for a moment ...

I've been paying attention to these reports for a while. The report from nine years ago is a reflection of 30 Convio customers who agreed to share data, so that's not really a fair comparison. Let's just go back just five years, to the 2010 report.

That data was based on 499 organizations (compared to 685 this year) that sent 12,287 fundraising messages (compared to 425,575 appeals this year). Consider – from 24.6 appeals per organization per year to 621. That's a 25-fold increase.

While we have more people receiving email, they're also connected to multiple organizations. Which compounds that "modest growth" substantially. 

Look at how some of the key metrics compare across that five year period. Open rates are down. Click-through rates are down. And, as more organizations seek to build involvement through advocacy, the percent of advocates who donate is falling as well.

Yes, online revenue is growing, and will continue to do so. Still, I think we have an industry issue, but I'm not hearing anyone step forward to address it. It's called clutter. And it's an easy trap to fall into.

It's not hard to calculate how much additional revenue one more email in the Year End stream might add. It's only a little more difficult to project additional opt outs. It's almost impossible to know how many people will simply stop opening our messages. Or clicking through. But it's not hard to imagine that may suppress future response.

And that may be well worth considering!