A year-end fundraising strategy is not defined by the number of last minute emails (beware of the trap), but when planned in advance the last week of the year can yield big results for nonprofit organizations.

The last week of any year-end strategy will always receive attention due to our innate ability to procrastinate. And unless there is a dramatic change to our DNA make-up in 2013, our donors will continue to put off today what they can do tomorrow.

To understand this further, our analytics team wanted to know just how much procrastination impacted email performance over the last couple of years. Last November and December, we wrote three posts following a year-end email performance analysis: Is Your Year-End Communication Up to Snuff?, It’s Not Too Late Make Your Year-End Communication Plan Impactful, and Increase Your Email Revenue by 20% on December 31st.

The analysis examined Luminate™ Online fundraising email messages between December 26th and December 31st and then compared 2011 to the 2009 and the 2010 reported results. In short, we learned additional emails helped increase the total number of transactions without compromising open rates.

But our year-end report would not be complete without a review of 2012 email performance.

What We Did

We examined Luminate™ Online fundraising email messages between December 26th and December 31st. Then, to understand change in the success of email, we 1) “ignored” results for organizations implementing source codes (donation tracking is not accurate for these appeals) and 2) compared 2012 to the 2011, 2010, and 2009 reported results.

What We Learned

Despite the trend that additional emails have helped increase the total number of transactions without compromising open rates, the 2012 results told a slightly different story.

First, the number of nonprofit organizations sending at least one email message remained the same, but the total number of individual messages delivered was up 10% over 2011. And even with the additional email sends, the open rates also rose by more than 12% for all messages (opt-outs & opt-out rate remained the same).

Unfortunately, this is where our storyline takes a downward turn. Despite 10% increase in messages delivered, the number of donations declined 12% (total donation revenue also declined 6.25%) in 2012 over 2011.

What This Means For You

You may be wondering why the decline in donations and revenue for 2012 when the data was trending upward. Unfortunately, there are no simple answers, but what is clear is that the number of emails sent on December 29th and December 30th – Saturday and Sunday, respectively – declined.

If we look at previous years, December 30th was the second most successful day with the total number of donations. However, in 2012, the number of donations fell 50% on the 29th and 53% on the 30th compared to 2011. And over the same two day period, donation revenue also fell 62% and 45%, respectively, impacting heavily the final week of the year.

We cannot surmise that the decline is due to a large number of organizations suspending their email operations over the weekend, because it could be the difference of one large emailer not sending email, but if the weekend played a part in overall fundraising this would’ve been a costly decision.

Overall, year-end email fundraising performed well in 2012, and will remain an essential part of the annual communication plan, but from our analysis we saw fewer emails sent on December 29th and 30th.

Our review of data during the last week of the year only reinforces the need to plan early, be strategic about your communication plan, and test what you think you know – because your donors will probably surprise you.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chas  Offutt is a senior fundraising and marketing professional with more than 10 years experience in the nonprofit sector. He joined Convio, now Blackbaud, in 2008 and has worked with more than 75 clients across all verticals to develop and implement acquisition campaigns, fundraising strategies, and integrated marketing programs. Prior to his current position, Chas was the Director of Internet Strategy at American Rivers where he was responsible for the management and execution of all online programs.

Chas has spoken at the Association for Fundraising Professionals (Greater Atlanta Chapter), Convio Customer Summit, NTEN, Blackbaud Conference, Forum One Communication’s Web Executive Seminar, and other public speaking engagements on a variety of topics including mobile fundraising, generational giving, and online marketing strategies.

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