Fifteen years ago this month, I was appointed CEO of a wonderful nonprofit. This organization ran a nursery and kindergarten. What made them special?

They were the first of its kind in Israel to have kids with and without disabilities learning together.

It was a wonderful experience for me to be CEO and tell donors, supporters and others about the amazing work being done by a team of dedicated professionals.

Of course, being CEO meant being involved in the day-to-day operations, fundraising, hiring and firing, Board meetings, budget discussions and everything in between. I learned a ton during my tenure there and today I want to share with you one of those lessons:

Big numbers lie.

When Big Numbers Lie

If you’re a nonprofit professional, you know how much CEO’s and Boards LOVE big numbers. Especially when it comes to fundraising!

“We had a great year last year and we raised a lot of money!”

I’m sure you’ve heard that. It all sounds good until you actually dig into the numbers.

  • You raised more because you received one extremely large donation.
  • Your attrition rates? Horrible.
  • Conversion rate? Abysmal.

See where I’m going with this? The big number doesn’t tell the whole story. Fundraising success shouldn’t hinge on whether you raised X dollars. That’s short-term thinking! (Which I know the sector suffers from but that’s for a different post.)

The same goes with your social media metrics. Lots of Likes on your Facebook page and a ton of Twitter followers don’t necessarily move the needle. It’s how you engage and connect with your followers that matters. Positive interactions help encourage people to take action and work with your organization.

But when you reduce social media to a numbers game, it’s a recipe for disaster.

I bring this up because…

Number Of Email Subscribers

Have a look at this tweet:

I am a subscriber to the Morning Brew enewsletter (and 3 of its offshoots). I LOVE their enews and how it connects with readers. The two founders have built a successful empire with their two hands.

But I also understand that number of subscribers, no matter how large, doesn’t tell me the whole story.

Which is why I reacted like this:

Having a large subscriber list doesn’t mean people will open your emails, read them, click your call-to-action (CTA) button and take action. But those last two items are EXACTLY what matters!

Want to know if your email fundraising and marketing efforts are successful? Check your CTR, click-thru-rates. Are people clicking on your CTA’s? And when they do, are they taking the desired action you want them to on your website (conversions)?

Yes, you should grow your email subscriber list. Always a positive to bring new people onboard. But like with fundraising, it’s about building relationships. Are you working hard to connect with email subscribers?

Your enewsletter is a one-to-one communications tool. Use it effectively and you’ll see a rise in your CTR. You’ll convert more people into donors. Your donor retention rates will go up. You’ll see a higher donor lifetime value.

But when email becomes a game of having the largest subscriber list and not concentrating on the metrics that move the needle, you’re wasting time and energy. And let’s not forget the almighty dollar as most ESP’s (email service providers) charge based on the number of subscribers you have.

Lots of subscribers but little action is costing you money every single day.

invitation to subscribe

Photo by alleksana:

What’s It Worth?

I’ve seen nonprofits who have been boasting that their open rates have been higher over the last few months, which they take as a sign that they’re email fundraising and marketing efforts are paying dividends.

First, read this. I’ve seen articles which have estimated that open rates are higher now by as much as 10% because of the iOS security setting.

Open rate is another one of those email metrics I don’t put a lot of stock in.

So let’s consider the charity that has a large subscriber list but people don’t click and conversions are very low. It would be wrong to automatically assume your list is worthless. It’s not! But it IS time for you to figure out ways to better connect with subscribers.

  • Run a subscriber survey to see what content they want to find in their Inbox
  • Check your data to analyze which types of content ARE getting high CTR and conversion rates
  • Make sure that you are sending a variety of email types to your subscribers, not just ones with a donate ask
  • Segment your list so your monthly donors are receiving a different email than your annual donors who are receiving a different email than your volunteers who are…

When you craft your email fundraising and marketing strategy, data has an important role to play. You just have to know which data points matter and which don’t.

Number of subscribers? Doesn’t matter.

Tell your CEO and the Board.

Does your organization want to upgrade its email fundraising and marketing? Are you considering using email to build relationships with supporters but don’t know how to get started? Contact me today and I’ll help your nonprofit use email effectively to help move your mission forward!