Is ECOA worth the money?

Following up on my previous post on the perceived and actual value of enhancing constituent data via email append, it seems only natural to review a similar tactic: the ECOA, or Email Change of Address.

An ECOA is a process by which a data company (generally the same companies providing email append services) matches an existing email address with a more up-to-date email address on their file and returns it to you for a fee.

This is a new tool for digital fundraisers to consider. The question is, is it worth the hype (and potential risk) or a waste of money?

While there is some risk involved, as there is with any data service1, I believe it is worth the investment to run an ECOA for certain segments of your email file.

Think about it: let's say you have an email file of 200,000 addresses, but 40,000 of them haven't opened a single one of your emails in over a year. This means that 20% of your precious email file is dead weight! Depending on what email service you use, you are paying to keep these "dead bodies" on your system. How can you update and re-engage as many of these folks as possible before jettisoning them?

With a re-engagement series combined with an ECOA.

For one client, whose email file included upwards of 100,000 email addresses that hadn't opened in a year, we recently did a three-email re-engagement series. At the end of the series, 6.04% of these non-openers had re-engaged and are back in the regular communication stream. For the remaining 94,000, we will consider doing an ECOA before culling them from the list.

In addition to non-openers, two other groups are worth sending to ECOA: hard bounced emails and AOL email addresses. The former is a no-brainer. If the email address is hard bouncing, then none of your emails can ever be delivered to them. Try replacing them with a new email via ECOA before cutting them from your list.

AOL addresses are a little trickier. There are some diehards who will stick with their AOL email address until death. But another group has changed over from AOL, and those are the ones worth getting new addresses for. Chances are, if you send your entire list of AOL email addresses to ECOA, you will only get new email addresses back for the ones that have actually changed over to a new service.

Now for some results.

Back in November, we did a compiled ECOA for twelve clients, at a total cost of just under $45,000. Seven months after the email addresses were updated in each client's email system, the income per dollar sent for a representative sample of clients is as follows:

Client Income Per Dollar Spent
Animal Welfare $0.40
Civil Rights $1.29
Science/Health Research $0.95
Wildlife Conservation $2.63
Social & Human Services $1.53

This represents an additional $32,687 for these five organizations. The overall ROI to-date for the five representative organizations listed is $0.27.

Because the last client listed (Social & Human Services) is one of my own, I can give you a little more detail on the specifics of their ECOA. The input included 285,026 records, made up of hard bounces, AOL addresses and people that hadn't opened an email in more than a year. We received 26,179 new email addresses (9.18% return). Of the new email addresses returned, 164 donors have made 338 gifts since their email addresses were updated. That is a 0.63% response rate.

The ECOA has already paid for itself one and a half times over, and the ROI currently stands at $0.53, having brought this organization an additional $23,444. Not bad for a bunch of "dead weight!"

1There is always the risk of replacing a "newer" email with an "older" one, of replacing an email associated with one person with an email associated with a completely different person, etc. The companies providing these services aren't always willing or able to tell you exactly where the data they are selling comes from, after all. However, based on my experience, the rewards outweigh the risks by a significant extent.

Carrie Miller


Carrie Miller