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6 Things I Learned By Signing Up to Get Emails from 152 Canadian Charities (Part 1)

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By: Brady Josephson, Vice President of Innovation and Optimization at NextAfter

Working for a fundraising research lab is pretty cool. I get to learn a bunch from real-world experiments, discover what is actually going on in the charitable space, and get a better picture of what goes on in a donor’s brain, all of which which are incredibly valuable. The reason I only said ‘pretty’ cool is because, well, research is a crap ton of work (Side Note: crap ton is an official unit of measurement. It’s more than a ‘boat load’ but less than ‘oodles’. I think there are 10 crap tons in an oodle).

I discovered this the hard way when I signed up to get email updates from 152 registered charities as part of research for The Canadian Online Fundraising Scorecard. Through this study, my hope is that we can shed more light on the current best practices (or lack thereof) and facilitate a more informed discussion where all organizations can see where they can improve their online fundraising.  

Signing up for emails was just the first of four key areas that our research will look at — along with email communication, donation experience, and gift acknowledgement — and with that part done, I wanted to share some early lessons learned.

3 of the 6 Things I Learned from Doing 152 Email Signups to 152 Organizations

Let's start with the positives.

1. Organizations were “pretty good” at making the email signup quick and findable

It took me more than 10 seconds to find the email signup for only 17% of organizations compared to 24% in the original Online Fundraising Scorecard. For 75% of organizations, I could sign up for their emails in less than 2 clicks from the homepage — compared to 64% in the original Online Fundraising Scorecard. And, in total, 67% provided an email signup within 10 seconds and less than 2 clicks.

While that is "pretty good" (relative to the original Online Fundraising Scorecard) it also means that for 33% of organizations, it either takes more than 10 seconds or more than 2 clicks to signup for an email. Being able to easily find out how to sign up for emails — for those rare people who are seeking that out — should common practice so I think there’s still some room to improve here.

And... that concludes the positive part of this post.

But before things get more negative — and I share some GIFs from me live tweeting this experience — let me just say that I love the charities and nonprofits working to change and impact our world for good. Truly. I wouldn't do what I do if I didn't believe in them and the sector overall or devote all of my professional life to work with, for, and alongside them.

On to the more negative section (but also full of GIFs).

2. Not every organization wants to get and send emails

25 out of the original pool of 152 organizations (16%) either provided no way to sign up from the website or had a broken form and did not respond with a way that I could sign up within 5 days after I reached out to see how I could get their email updates.

I was expecting some of the later findings, but this one truthfully took me by surprise and I found this quite shocking. My thinking was that even if email wasn't the number one source for online donations for these organizations — as it is for many nonprofits and a lot of our clients — I thought it was generally recognized that capturing and sending emails was a useful thing to do when it comes to online fundraising. Apparently not.

And many of these organizations weren’t new, hyper-local, or small either. There were some pretty major organizations (revenues over $50M) that were in this group. I suppose there may be some reasons for not allowing or wanting email signups — like being a national entity with local and provincial chapters — but even then I don’t believe they are good enough to not allow or want people to engage with you in a high-value channel like email.

3. You really can get a crappy newsletter anywhere

Well, I guess based on #2 above not anywhere... but almost anywhere.

For this report, to assess the value proposition associated with an email sign-up offer, I tried to rank the appeal and exclusivity of that offer. For appeal, I tried to assess whether or not, as a donor, I would be highly interested in the offer, somewhat interested, or not interested at all. For exclusivity, I tried to determine if the email offer was something I could find nowhere else, somewhere else, or anywhere else. This is the same method we used in the original Online Fundraising Scorecard.

Here are the less than ideal results:

  • Only 6% of organizations offered something with ‘high interest’
  • Only 8% of organizations offered something people couldn’t get anywhere else
  • In total, only 10% of organizations had an offer that scored over 2
  • The average score was 0.48 and the median score was… 0

Instead of harping on the negative here — and there is a lot to be negative about — let's think about the other side of the equation and all the opportunity! Just by simply starting to offering something that is appealing and something that is even somewhat exclusive means you can quickly and easily stand out from all the other newsletters out there.

So…

That’s the first 3 of 6 things I learned from all the email signups. Stay tuned for part 2 of this post where I’ll share the other 3 things I learned and provide an infographic summary of the initial findings. 


About the author:

Brady is a charity nerd, entrepreneur, digital marketer, professor, and writer. He’s the Vice President of Innovation and Optimization at NextAfter — a fundraising research lab and consultancy on a mission to unleash the most generous generation in the history of the world. Brady lives just outside Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada with his wife Liz, dog Melly, and cat Thor. You can follow him on Twitter @bradyjosephson.