Maybe we aren’t measuring the most important email metric

If you’re like most nonprofit marketers and fundraisers, you send lots of email. Though peer to peer fundraising, crowdfunding, social media campaigns, and other tactics have become popular in recent years, email is still king when it comes to fundraising (my colleague Tim Kachuriak wrote about this here).

But we’ve recently been doing some testing that suggests that we might not even be measuring the most important metric of all.

Let me take a step back here.

Fundraising campaigns consist of a basic premise, over and over again. 

  1. Explain the initiative you are trying to undertake
  2. Talk about why it’s relevant now
  3. And finally, present the donor with an opportunity to support it. 

Not all fundraising campaigns do this, but most conform to some loose interpretation of this.

So when we go to measure success, we look at the metrics that show us how many people did what we asked them to do, and how much they gave. We look at open rate, clickthrough rate, conversion rate, average gift, and total revenue.

And rightly so — it’s a fundraising campaign, right?

Often, these metrics are all bundled up into something we call “response rate”. But what if we actually measured our emails by the real response rate: how many people replied?

People don’t reply to fundraising emails…do they? Maybe we aren’t giving them the chance.

In recent tests with nonprofits, we’ve been sending emails that sound like they came from a human being. Sure, we send out tens of thousands of them at once, but we put them through an important sniff test: does it feel like the sender (a real, breathing person) sat down and wrote this to me? Are there things in this email that look like it came from an email marketing machine? Get rid of them. Is it in some sort of weird template that no one would ever personally use? Delete it. 

The results have been astounding.

And, it’s created a whole new issue — people are replying. To marketing emails sent to thousands of people. Why? Because it sounds like an email written by a human being, to another human being. You probably do this hundreds of times a day — but you might never do it with a fundraising appeal.

But in our marketing and fundraising emails, we forget that it’s a two-way communication vehicle. We command our donors to do our bidding, often with a complete lack of empathy or concern for what they think.

We use a different tone. We use a reply-to address like “”. Might as well be blunt, right? We use our organization’s name as the sender. That way, they know it’s authoritative…and they won’t reply, because people don’t reply to organizations.

If we want email to foster more personal relationships, we have to give it the chance. Send a fundraising email that you might actually send to someone. Write it in your own voice. Put your email as the reply to, and see what happens. 

Oh yeah —make sure someone is answering all those replies 🙂

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