This post was written in collaboration with Bryan Snyder, Senior Marketing Analyst for Blackbaud.

If we compare year-end giving campaigns to the gastronomical equivalent of a seven course meal, December 31st would be the dessert. The best is always saved for last.

Let’s review: we crunched timely year-end data before Thanksgiving and provided five communication tips last week to make your year-end campaign even more impactful. However, before you grab the brandy to finish off your holiday meal, it’s time to focus on the days leading up to December 31st – our final post in the series.

Year-end email is showing no sign of sluggishness as sends in 2011 increased 27% over 2010 and total deliveries increased 42%. The competition to get the attention of donors is only intensifying as organizations are sending more email in December.

But let’s keep things in perspective. Though an increase in email sends has helped increase the total number of transactions without compromising open rates, this is not a blank check to bombard your constituents with more email.

If simply sending more email is not the answer, how do we get an edge on our competitors?

The hour in which your email lands in your donor’s inbox may be one way to separate you from the pack. The End of Year Email Performance Analysis revealed that the “early morning” bump in open rates appears to be vanishing in favor of mid-day. There are a lot of factors at play determining when your messages will be delivered (remember, schedule early!), but the trend that is constant is that messages sent mid-day (10am to 3pm) outperformed messages sent early morning (6am to 9am).

We know there’s more to learn, but seeing lower open rates during the rush hour time slot (6am to 9am) may suggest difficulties in capturing opens on mobile devices. Or, simply, early morning messages are reaching inboxes at a time when our donors are least “ready” to view and/or “able” to act on them. (By the way, what’s your year-end mobile strategy? Though a worthy topic, not something we’ll cover here. We do suggest though reading npENGAGE’s many mobile focused posts.)

Trends help us to be strategic, but they don’t always tell the full story. There will always be outliers; we work in an environment that is constantly evolving. One organization that has bucked the trend is Project Hope.

Case Study: Project Hope

Project Hope EmailsOur response will always be to test, test, and test again when determining best time of day to send email, but Project Hope’s year-end campaign provided some interesting insight to the time of day question.

Project Hope’s campaign was immensely successful as total year-end online fundraising increased 58% year-over-year. And, during the final days of the year, there was a 30% increase in total donations as well as an 18% increase in number of donations. A concerted effort was made during those final “tax-deductible” days to drive response rates.

Project Hope sent three emails on the final two days, one on December 30th and two on December 31st (AM and PM). The morning email had a .07% response rate that drove more than half of the total email revenue over those final two days. The late afternoon email – to the same audience group – had a .06% response rate that represented a 20% increase in email revenue on the final two days.

Though email performance appears to be trending to mid-day, Project Hope learned that not only did their morning send perform best but a follow up email later that day to the same audience provided an added boost to their total email revenue on December 31st.

Conclusion

The use of email at year-end continues to grow in importance. As email volume has increased, the total donation revenue has also increased without compromising performance. But, as we’ve said, this should not be a blank check to send more emails.

As you apply the finishing touches on your year-end campaign, remember that the tax-deductible service your organization provides is a benefit to your donors and requires a concerted effort to succeed. Don’t let the final days of the year fade into the background of your multi-course year-end meal. As you plan, segment, and test at year-end – what is saved for dessert may just surprise you.

* This blog post refers to the Analytics Team report, End Of Year Email Performance Analysis. To view the full report, and learn more about how we can conduct a comprehensive review of your email performance, please contact Andrew Shoaff, Interactive Strategy Manager.

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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