You Can Never Have Too Much Data

If you were in attendance at this year’s BBCON festivities, it’s likely you heard the trumpets blare for the unveiling of this year’s online benchmark report. But have you had a chance to sit down, open the report and dig in? If you’re thinking TL;DR, then I’ve got you covered.

We’re talking LOTS of data points

This year’s annual Luminate Online Benchmark Report aggregated data from nearly 800 nonprofits - all of which are existing Luminate Online users that have been on the platform for a minimum of three years through June 2014. Roughly 80% are comparatively smaller organizations, raising less than $2 million per year online.

We’re talking LOTS of donations & LOTS of email

Collectively, over the one-year period covered in this report [July 1, 2013–June 30, 2014], these organizations raised $1.27 billion in 18 million transactions and sent 7.6 billion email messages.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “I have 16 things that need to be done yesterday, why should I spend time looking at OTHER organizations’ data??” Okay, but hear me out…

There are some good nuggets about nonprofit email performance averages, email file growth and donations in there! These industry trends can help guide decisions for your own organization’s digital strategy and areas for investment.

Plus, now you can casually drop this line at your next company holiday party: “There are a number of factors that may contribute to the stabilization of email open rates, such as  organizations’ dexterity at sending differentiated messages, the adoption of mobile, or how email providers display emails.” Mind. Blown.

Hold-up. Just one caveat before we dive in.

These benchmarks aren’t intended to be substituted for your organization’s own year over year averages. Nothing is better than having your own internal set of benchmark data points. But, they sure do help us get a better idea of the BIG-PICTURE.

Okay. Let’s. Do. This.  

The Top 10 Things You Need to Know:

1. The age old question - Does size matter?
I’m talking about the size of the average organization’s email housefile. Get your mind out of the gutter… I have to confess that one of the first things I looked into was whether nonprofits’ email files had grown, shrunk or stayed relatively the same. And survey says… the average usable email housefile increased by 13%. Note, I said “usable” emails, here - meaning valid and not a hard bounce. On average, nonprofits gained the ability to reach roughly 13% more people via email.

2. My inbox runneth over.
A whole heck of a lot of emails were sent.The median number of messages sent by the typical nonprofit throughout the year was 144(not to be confused with the total number of individual email recipients, which would be MUCH higher) - for a 60% increase in overall email year over year. Some were probably amazing messages, some were likely not-bad, others… well, we don’t have to talk about the others.

3. But seriously, my inbox runneth over with e-appeals.
My even bigger point is, there were 72% more e-appeals (read: donation asks) sent by nonprofits year over year. That’s a whopping increase in the number of solicitations sent.

4. More emails, more opens??
Across all email, Open Rates remained fairly flat with a range of 15-18%. Which is good news - this means the deluge of e-appeals didn’t drive people to completely ignore all email.

5. More emails, more donation conversions??
Ehhh, not exactly. Email donation conversion rates dropped by 25% for an average donation Response Rate of 0.5%.

6. Wait. WUT?
Sure, that last point starts to make me sweat a little too. Until I read that despite this decline in conversion, online revenue increased by an average of 8%. The decline in conversion didn’t mean fewer donations.

7. Number of donors is up. Whew. (wipes brow)
In fact, the average file saw 15% growth in number of donors.

8. More donors giving LARGER gifts.
You read that right. The average gift amount was up for all types of online donations (e.g. first time gifts, repeat gifts, sustainer gifts, one-time gifts).

9. And the icing on the cake.
I was especially stoked to see a lift of 17% in online sustainer giving (read: recurring donations or monthly gifts). Woot! Woot!

10. What’s an email address worth anywho?
The report indicates that on average, each usable email address has a value of $12.46. Sure, this is down from last year’s $13.90/email, but given the average 13% increase in file size - we’re talking about an overall incline in online revenue.

To boil it all down, nonprofit email is not dead. But, considering that 122,500,453,020* emails are sent into the interwebs every hour (combined nonprofit, commercial, personal emails), your organization’s emails have some SERIOUS competition.

More donors are online, but to effectively convert them - you need a strategy that’s comprised of more than just e-appeals. Think multi-channel, multi-touch, integrated campaign strategy. Sure, donors are more likely than ever to donate online, but you need to be driving them there from all directions.

How are you growing your email file? Are you collecting information about your new supporters that will allow you to reach them via channels beyond email?

* Scariest Email Facts. October 29, 2014.

Amanda Luther is a Senior Client Manager at