A recent report from Experian Marketing Services noted a couple of trends that bear watching.
Email volume continues to grow, up 12.7% in Q3 2013 over Q3 2012. The Q2 report showed a 17.9% increase and, if my In Box is any indicator, Q4 will be up as well.
While open rates were up, click rates also fell by 15% from the prior year (Q2 also saw an 8% decline).
Revenue per email fell 18%.
Those findings aren't shocking. They're very similar to Blackbaud's findings as reported in its annual Benchmark Study for Nonprofits midyear which noted that open rates were consistent but click through and response rates continue to decline.
So, what does that have to do with holiday fatigue?
One of the reasons cited in the Blackbaud report was "a saturated channel with undifferentiated messaging and campaigns."
Over the past few weeks, retailers and nonprofits alike have bombarded our In Boxes with holiday offers and year end appeals. Very few of these stand out from the clutter. I expect they will only exacerbate those trends.
Anecdotal evidence we're seeing appears to support this. In some of the year end campaigns we're watching, open rates are up and unsubscribe rates are down - both positive trends. However click through and response rates have also fallen. One client is seeing a drop of almost 35% in revenue per email sent.
I'm not an alarmist. December giving is strong and I expect the year to end on a positive note. For that same client, other online giving is up ... and that's where the lion's share of the revenue comes from anyway.
But the point is, direct response to emails is falling. For most organizations the response seems to be to send more emails. And I think that's accelerating the trend.
I think we're seeing a shakeout in giving patterns as online usage habits mature. I believe email will continue to be an essential tool for donor development. But it will show its greatest value when it is used more to cultivate relationships year around rather than simply to collect the reward at year end.