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The 2013 eNonprofit Benchmarks report was published a little over a week ago. This study, produced by M+R and NTEN, is an in-depth analysis of both email and social media trends across five different non-profit verticals. In addition to providing response metric averages, such as click through and open rates, the report also gives year-over-year comparisons.

One of the biggest surprises is the dramatic decline of email response rates compared to 2011. Click-through rates are down over 25% in some areas, and open rates are down as well. There are a wide variety of factors that are likely affecting these metrics (broader email usage on mobile phones, image filtering by email service providers, increased amount of emails being sent, etc). What we know for sure is that the nature of engagement is changing. The question now for nonprofit organizations is what are we going to do about this? How are we going to adapt?

Our answer is somewhat simple: If the way donors engage is changing, then your organization must be willing to change how you engage your donors!

The organizations we work with that are experiencing the most success in their email programs are those that are agile in their approach. Through a commitment to testing and optimization, they have developed a process of measuring results, quickly analyzing data and making appropriate, strategic changes to messaging and tactics. This process ensures that the focus of their communication is on deepening donor engagement. These organizations are not content with results that are “good enough,” and they are constantly looking for ways to improve.

Here are 3 easy suggestions of where to start this process:

  • Modify the amount of content you are sending in your email. This is one of the first tests Pursuant runs with our clients. It allows us to determine if donors need more copy to be interested in a cause or less copy because they want to get to the landing page to act.
  • Simplify your email designs. Many people don’t download images anymore so highly stylized emails have a greater chance of being ignored, filtered or deleted.
  • Test responsive design in your email messaging. Responsive design allows you to cater your message more appropriately to your donors’ behavior. It is good to note that responsive design can significantly increase the time it takes to produce an email. So be sure that you plan your timelines accordingly, and be sure to test your design across multiple platforms.

There are always metrics that can be improved, and there are always multiple tactics that are worthy of testing. Your donors’ tastes are constantly evolving, which means donor engagement will continue to change. A well thought-out testing plan and a nimble approach that enables quick changes to be made is how your organization can stay ahead of the negative curves seen in this year’s non-profit benchmarks.