Convio has recently published its 2011 Non-Profit Benchmark Index Study and the findings shed considerable light on the state of association and organization email marketing in a difficult economy.

2010 Was a Rebound Year

There is little doubt that non-profit associations and organizations are definitely in a rebound stage. In 2010, total fundraising was up by a staggering 40% over the (albeit slow) 2009 year and the median growth rate of online donations was an equally impressive 20 percent, compared to just 14% the previous year. Nearly four out of five, or 79%, of all non-profit associations and organizations raised more money in 2010 than in 2009. The only sectors that saw a relatively meager growth rate in the single digits were Public Broadcasting Stations, Association & Membership and Team Events.

“Tiny but Mighty” Fundraisers Prevailed

Countering conventional wisdom that non-profit associations and organizations are split up into “a dozen corporate factories and several thousand masochists,” fundraisers with a subscription base of fewer than 10,000 email addresses enjoyed a 26 percent increase in online donations, making these small organizations the fastest growing sector within the non-profit group. This factor seems to be particularly significant given that the median total email subscription list for non-profit fundraising associations and organizations grew by 22% in 2010 to reach an average of 48,700 email addresses. It can confidently be said that the trend in fundraising is definitely turning to favor the “tiny but mighty” sector of non-profits.

The median donation size increased by more than 10 percent from $83.44 in 2009 to $91.94 in 2010, and fully 88% of all organizations witnessed an increase in the number of donations that they were able to gather as compared to the previous year. All of these heightened statistics may seem to indicate that email marketing efficiency is at an all-time high among non-profit fundraising associations and organizations, but paradoxically the opposite is found to be true in 2010. Website registration rates and email open rates both plummeted from the previous year!

Open Rates Down but Click-Through Rates Up?

Website registration rates are an essential conversion metric as it measures the rate at which the non-profit fundraising associations and organizations are able to convert visitors to their website to email newsletter subscribers. This critical statistic was 2.2 percent in 2009 yet dropped to just 2.0 percent in 2010, a drop of approximately 10%. The bad news continued in open rates as fundraising appeal opens were down to 17.6% in 2010 from 18.5% in 2009. Email newsletters fared just as badly, dropping from 20.4% in 2009 to 19.2% in 2010. The primary reason why this drop is so befuddling is that all other fundraising statistics seem to be up! The precise reasons why fewer people are registering for subscriptions and opening them once they receive the content, yet are donating so much more, must be left to the statisticians to ponder!

Haiti Was a Primary Driver

The primary reason may be that the click-through rates have increased from the previous year so that although fewer emails are being opened, more are being acted upon. Click-through rates increased 2.3% in 2010 and response rates also helped to offset the overall decline in email open rates by jumping up by 6.7%. Some experts attribute these anomalous statistics by pointing to the Haiti earthquake that occurred on January 12, 2010, thus impacting the entire calendar year’s results. Haiti relief was attributed for a significant uptick in overall aggregate fundraising with some statistics showing that it may have been responsible for up to a 63% greater donation level among major natural disaster appeals.

It is obvious from this statistical survey data that email marketing is becoming more successful for non-profit fundraising associations and organizations, as once the constituent actually opens the email the response to the call to action is greater than in the previous year. The onus must now shift onto motivating supporters to open and read their emails more often, as this seems to be the key to greater fundraising success for your ongoing campaigns.