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Are email appends getting less effective?

When I started in the digital fundraising business, appending email addresses onto your offline donor file was a hot new trick. Ten years later, organizations are beginning to ask themselves if this tactic is even worth the money and time anymore. Some very respectable folks in the industry, including some who spoke up this June during the Target Analytics Benchmarking meeting, feel that email appends are no longer a worthwhile investment. Some have abandoned the email append entirely because they are getting fewer and fewer responsive addresses. Theories to explain this change abound, but one widely accepted hypothesis is that that consumers are getting smarter about using several addresses and having one for real mail and one for junk mail.

When I first learned of the increasingly negative opinion regarding email appends, I was not surprised. I even agreed, because at least anecdotally, evidence seems to be building up against email appends as a useful tool to increase the size of your active digital donor file.

Then I looked closer at the data.

For one human services client, the data tells a different story. Between 2005 and 2012, we did multiple appends of this organization's offline donor file. In the early years, when issues about "poaching" donors from direct mail were often a concern, we focused our appends on super long-lapsed offline donors, people who last gave between 5 and 10 years ago. Not surprisingly, digital response rates of these long-lapsed donors were not impressive. As time went on, we began appending more and more recent offline donors, and then we cautiously began expanding to include active offline donors as well. A quick look at results for all offline donors whose email addresses were appended between 2005 and 2012 shows that since March 2013, this group donated online at a rate of 0.55%1. This is nothing to sneeze at, since the median email fundraising benchmark as reported by Blackbaud in their 2013 Online Marketing Benchmark Study for Nonprofits is 0.5%. The 2014 NTEN Benchmarks Study lists an average email response rate of 0.07%.

Since the early years of email appends are behind us, we have gotten smarter about just whose email we choose to append. In the spring of 2014, we did another append for the same organization, but this time, the selection was more targeted: donors (HPC >= $10; <=$10,000) who made one or more offline gifts since July 1, 2012, and didn't have an email address on file. In this case, the new email addresses had only been in the system since April 2014, and their digital response rate was already 0.3%. To date, the append has already paid for itself almost 3 times over, and the current ROI is $1.71.

Take Aways:

  1. Keep doing appends, but be smart about whose email you append. If they haven't donated offline in 10 years, it might not be worthwhile.
  2. Never underestimate the value of an email address. Just because your donor isn't converting online, the fact that you can communicate with them via email gives you another way to keep them in the fold and up to date on your activities – activities that you know they have supported in the past because they originated on your file as an offline donor.
  3. Track who you appended – you may be surprised at how much extra money they bring in. The offline donors appended by the organization described above have brought in an extra $262,380 since March 2013 alone!

1Please note that this 0.55% response rate is the rate at which the segment in question gave online in any capacity, and is not limited to response to email appeals alone.

Carrie Miller

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Carrie Miller