Email marketing

Data and Advice on How to Better Engage With Donors and Raise More Money

During the pandemic, donations to food banks and animal-welfare charities skyrocketed, bringing the charities a new type of donor, according to two new reports from the fundraising firm RKD Group. The reports note that it will be crucial to focus on retaining newfound donors.

Another new report on email marketing from Neon One shares data on how well email works for fundraising and offers advice on improving email communications to better engage with donors and raise more money.

New Donors Emerged During Pandemic

The “2023 Food Bank Benchmark Report” found that food banks are still raising double the amount they did before the pandemic, while the “2023 Animal Welfare Benchmark Report” shows that donations to animal-welfare nonprofits have steadily increased since the pandemic as well.

The reports analyzed 77 and 88 nonprofit clients in their respective categories from 2018 to 2022. Average gift size and gift frequency increased for both types of charities since Covid.

“Individuals who are giving to [these organizations] for the very first time are choosing significantly higher amounts than we’ve seen people choose in the past,” says Steve Caldwell, RKD Group’s senior vice president of data and analytics. There are a lot of reasons, he says. For example, some donors have a personal connection to the cause, while others are giving more because they’re worried about the impact of inflation on the organizations they support. “They see a different expectation in terms of what they believe is going to be a value-add to a nonprofit.”

The shift indicates this is a new type of donor who gives more and sometimes more often, the reports say. That means charities must get to know these donors better and figure out how to retain them.

“We’ve got new relationships to steward,” Caldwell says. “We’ve got to understand how they care about advancing those causes so that we can continue to be able to find ways that they’d like to get involved. What we are trying to do is to create highly valuable relationships with donors where individuals feel led to be as generous as possible.”

When thinking about cultivating these relationships, digital presence will be an important factor. “A lot of the new donors that are arriving and giving to nonprofits are expecting a stronger digital presence and a rich digital experience,” Caldwell says. “That’s somewhere that nonprofits are going to need to continue to invest.”

Email Can Help Engage, Retain Donors

One part of digital presence is email. “The NonProfit Email Report: Data-Backed Insights for Better Engagement,” published by Neon One, offers insights designed to improve donor engagement and retention. The report provides benchmark data on the best days and times to send email, open rates for nonprofits, and how many fundraising dollars come in through email campaigns.

Nonprofits, on average, raised $5,598 per email campaign, according to the report. However, small nonprofits raised about half as much ($3,522) per campaign as large nonprofits ($6,513). The report analyzed data from nearly 1,500 groups that used its platform and sent more than 150 million emails during the analysis period. Even with big nonprofits doing better over all, organizations with smaller email lists raised more money per contact, with small lists raising $6.15 per contact and large lists raising only $0.88 per contact.

“For smaller nonprofits, it means that they have higher-quality lists across the board because people care more,” says Tim Sarrantonio, Neon One’s director of corporate brand. “They’re successful because they’re treating these lists as close to a one-on-one conversation as possible. The issue is that as things scale, they lose that emotional connection. And that’s why the numbers are going down across the board.”

As lists get bigger, Sarrantonio says, it’s important to segment them to try to get to the donors who care most about the cause. Some nonprofits send appeals to their entire list — which may include service recipients — rather than just people who are likely to donate. By segmenting based on behavior — for example, people who open a high percentage of your emails or who have volunteered before — better results occur. “If you’re talking to everybody, you’re not actually talking to anybody,” Sarrantonio says.

The report suggests making certain changes to emails, including segmenting lists, using specific language and emotional cues, and sending at certain times. Taking these steps can make a big difference in nonprofits’ fundraising, Sarrantonio says.

“A lot of it is just listening to your community,” he says. “If they don’t understand what people care about, then it can take time. If it’s that the data just hasn’t been properly used, I’ve seen very quick results.”

Sarrantonio says this report’s data is important because it’s based on charities, rather than for-profit companies.

“We cannot make decisions based off of for-profit data; donors are not the same as consumers,” he says. He notes that typical for-profit benchmarks suggest sending emails on Tuesdays and Thursdays for optimal engagement. But that’s not true for nonprofits. “We’ve found it’s actually Wednesdays and Fridays, with Fridays being the best day of the week. You would never find that in consumer data. But donors think about motivation differently.”

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