Leanings on Learning

I was at a conference on e-fundraising last week and it has me thinking about “learning curves.”

(Well, experiencing learning curves, more accurately, but also thinking about the process.)

Traditionally, I’ve thought of a learning curve in terms of an end point: you acquire an initial onslaught of information, put it to use and then work to fine tune its application. The curve flattens as the fine-tuning progresses. (Not the effort mind you, but the results; in fact, it takes far more effort/cost to go from 90% to 95% than from 85% to 90% … but that’s another post!)

So, what does this have to do with fundraising?

I was at this same conference in 2008 and am struck by how dramatically e-marketing has advanced in just the past 12 months. What was proficient a year ago is no longer so. And the pace of change promises to continue. Even accelerate.

Which means there’s a greater need than ever for marketers to hone their skills.

How do we do that?

Conferences and workshops. Books and webinars. Professional associations … all those traditional tools people are cutting back on right now.

But also mentoring. Seeking out new perspectives. Looking for ways to do things differently. Challenging ourselves and our colleagues with new ideas.

Being excited enough to share successes. And especially, being open enough to get excited!

What should I expect email response to be?

My initial forays into email marketing were to qualify (or requalify) subscribers to an international b-t-b publication audited by BPAI.

It was great; initially we saw responses of nearly 20% or better for newly qualified subscribers and up to 30% or better for requalified (renewing) subscribers.

In the nearly 10 years since, email responsiveness has fallen considerably and today those sound more like open rates than response rates. (A recent Convio Benchmark report puts average open rates on fundraising appeals at 20%, click-throughs at 2% and response rates at .13%.)

Obviously, the results of any individual effort can vary widely from these averages … and will, based on how involved your audience is, what you’re asking them to do, how expected/unexpected your request is, etc.

As evidence, in the past year, one of our clients saw:
  • a fundraising appeal to a list of appended addresses have an open rate of only about 5%
  • a holiday greeting to a broad cross-section of the house file have an open rate of about 30%
  • a viral message to a select group of prior responders have an open rate of almost 60%

It’s important that you track all emails so that you can establish benchmarks against which to judge the success/failure of individual efforts.

In addition to open rates, click-through rates and response rates, three other key stats to follow include:
  • forwards (can indicate level of involvement/agreement with your audience)
  • unsubscribes (conversely, can indicate that you are out of touch and/or out of favor)
  • forward opens (can indicate level of appeal beyond those folks already involved with you)

Email response is a moving target. A quickly moving target. And unless you stay on top of it, you may miss your target all together!