Benchmarking for Beginners

Consultant’s Corner is a new column in AFP DC’s DConnections newsletter where you can submit questions to be answered by knowledgeable consultants and get advice on your burning fundraising questions. Read on to see the first question answered by Impact’s very own Kathy Swayze! To submit a question to be answered in a future newsletter, click here.

Question: How do I know if the results I am getting from my annual giving/direct response campaigns are good?

Kathy Swayze, CFRE: Benchmarking is on everyone’s minds these days. As with all questions, the answer begins with “it depends.” You have to consider all of the variables that may influence your results including the size of your organization, how your donors were acquired, your brand recognition, and whether your issues are in the news, to name just a few.

Now that we have dished out all of the disclaimers, let’s discuss some results you might expect to see. For starters, you may want to look at the most recent M+R report on online fundraising and digital advocacy. M+R does a great service for the whole sector in producing a yearly benchmarking report for online fundraising results. Did you know that in 2017 online revenue was up by 14% over 2015 totals?  Or that for every 1000 fundraising emails sent, a nonprofit can expect to raise about $36? These are good things to know.

For results in direct mail, here are some general guidelines. For smaller nonprofits who have acquired their donors in multiple ways but not primarily through direct mail, you can expect about a 3-5% response rate on appeals to current donors (0-18 months) and about 1-2% from their lapsed donors. Larger organizations with established direct mail files may see responses rates on renewals as high as 10-15% and 5-8% on appeals.

And what about acquisition you say? We often tell our clients to think about acquisition as an investment. There should be a clear expectation at your organization that acquisition is not about revenue today, but where you build your pipeline for future revenue. An excellent response rate is considered to be about 1%.

And the final thing I’ll say is that direct response is a science with many proven techniques. Most of us weren’t born knowing how to do this! Don’t try to go it alone. Seek advice from outside experts – and remember the AFP community is a great resource.

Photo credit: © Louis du Mont Used under a Creative Commons (CC-BY-2.0) license.

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