As fundraisers, we put a lot of stock into email housefiles. The larger the donor file, the greater the number of dollars raised.

It’s simple math: constituents in = dollars out.

For years, we believed online revenue correlated to the number of emails on file. And there’s certainly truth with that statement – the 2013 Benchmark Report is broken up by not only NTEE verticals but by revenue band and email tier – but the sheer size of an organization’s email file is starting to mean a lot less.

For the last seven years, the Benchmark Report measured total and usable email housefile size. And during that time, there has always been growth. This is a good sign, but the growth of an organization’s email file is not a tell-all sign to the quality of their housefile. The growth could be attributed to event donors, targeted acquisition campaigns, and/ or email appends, which are all good, but when an email file size is viewed as a standalone metric you’re not getting the full picture of the housefile health as each source has unique characteristics.

The size of an organization’s email housefile is not a predictor to success, just as open rates are not a predictor to constituent engagement. As I had written for the Donor Acquisition eBook, Engage Your Housefile: Why Size Doesn’t Matter, these are vanity metrics. (more here, Don’t be Fooled by Message Open and Click-Through Rate)

But there’s a rub..

Executive teams, board members, and even foundation officers want to see how many folks were reached, which typically translates to how many individuals were emailed. If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. However, just as media impressions may be an outdated metric for the advertising industry, the success of a message is not measured by the size of an audience but by how many were engaged by the campaign.

Simply, it’s quality over quantity.

An engaged constituency is one that is opening emails, taking action, volunteering, raising money, donating money, recruiting friends and family, and generally becoming ambassadors for your organization [I would be remiss not to insert Seth Godin’s Flipping the Funnel here – it’s a must read].

What good is an inflated housefile of largely inactive emails?

Seriously, if you think about your own experience, as well as how many email accounts you own, my guess is if you haven’t opened an email in 12+ months the chances are that you won’t open it again.

And if that’s true, why do we still include these folks in our broadcast emails?

To be honest, housefiles have gotten bigger over the years because we do a less than ideal job of scrubbing email lists to craft a more dedicated pathway for the comatose and near comatose constituents on file. If you’ve ever received the directive prior to a broadcast email, “just send to everyone”, now is the time to push back.

Paring your email housefile helps to increase your deliverability.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy article, More People See Charities’ Emails After Groups Pare Address Lists, highlighted the growing trend of “gray-listing” by large ISPs such as Google and Yahoo. In other words, the folks who haven’t opened email in 12+ months are not only pulling your metrics down but could be hurting your overall deliverability. In short, your dead weight is now jeopardizing your ability to fully engage your constituency and more accurately measure the impact.

If you’re wondering what to do next, follow these steps –

  1. Take the non-openers out of your email sends to improve the chances of your message reaching the inbox. If you’re using Luminate Online, that means using the query tool and Engagement Factors to create groups of non-openers.
  2. Suppress the group of non-openers from your regular email sends and develop a specific communication pathway that looks to resuscitate (err, reactivate) them.

In conclusion, don’t we all want to talk to folks who are listening to us? Pare your housefile today to increase your deliverability and begin engaging your constituency.

 

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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