FYI Blog

Takeaways from Blackbaud’s 2016 Online Benchmarks

2016-luminate-online-benchmark-report cover image Page 01

Blackbaud’s 2016 Online Benchmarks report is out—fascinating as ever, confirming that we’re on the right track, and giving us some ideas and reminders to run with in the new year. The report analyzes data from June 2015 to July 2016, with year-over-year comparisons to the previous fiscal year. Below, the takeaways I find most relevant to our work:

1. Year-over-year email list growth slowed down to 10% this past year, which may not be a bad thing. The ever-changing algorithms of ISPs demand increased quality, driving the trend for slimmer but more engaged lists. The focus has moved from quantity to quality, which is good news for us as fundraisers, because we know that growing an email list is just the first step in converting those names to donors. Having a huge list doesn’t mean much if the people on it are unresponsive. And although email list growth slowed, the proportion of constituents that donated increased by 13%—confirming that email lists are more productive. In other words, the work we’re doing to convert activists and supporters into donors, and to pinpoint those most likely to give now, is working!

2. Email is still gold, with each address worth $12.30 of online revenue in 2015. This value is bolstered by what looks like a shift of focus from quantity to quality. Again, building the file is important, but once you build your list, it’s equally important, if not more so, to focus on converting email subscribers to activists, donors, and ambassadors for your cause.

3. Healthy email appeal click rates suggest that organizations are creating strong content and targeting supporters effectively. Fundraising email click rates increased year over year 2.11%. This one’s a double-edged sword—even with the increase in clicks, conversion rates didn’t change. But the CTR increase is impressive, given the number of emails sent.

4. Total online revenue grew by 4.89% year over year, which, although much healthier than overall giving, is modest growth compared to previous years. During the same time period, the Blackbaud Charitable Index (which covers the full nonprofit sector) also shows slower growth, especially among larger organizations.

5. First-time giving decreased slightly year over year with 1.3% less revenue coming from first-time donors and the average first-time gift holding steady at $105.81—a 2.56% increase. Disaster and international relief experienced a significant decline, seeing over 19% less revenue from first-time gifts. These results aren’t surprising, given that there were no major natural disasters during the time period covered by the report.

6. Relationships rule, and this year’s data continues a positive trend of strong repeat giving performance, up 8.63% year over year. This is a direct result of nonprofits putting more effort into retention strategies and tailored digital communications. Cultivating online donors always pays off!

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January 30, 2017

National Museum of African American History and Culture – Successful Online List Building


Creating a multi-channel fundraising program for a Museum that members cannot yet visit presents a unique set of challenges. A targeted, multi-channel approach is the key to getting prospects to support this remarkably important addition to the National Mall.

Challenge: Avalon partnered with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) to build a file of Charter Members throughout the Museum’s construction and grand opening phases. As part of the Museum’s goal of attracting loyal and valuable multi-channel donors, we were tasked with expanding the Museum’s file of online donors and supporters.

Strategy: Avalon approached online list building from two angles. First, in 2015 we initiated a Membership Month campaign to recruit online members with a mission-based case for support for this critically important Museum. Next, after the success of Membership Month, we created an online list-building campaign through carefully targeted online advertising via remarketing and Facebook ads, as well as petition campaigns through Care2 and to engage and sign up new online supporters.

Results: The online list-building campaign was a tremendous success for NMAAHC—and ultimately over 10,000 people took action as a result. The remarketing program had click-through rates well above industry averages and targeted list-building ads that appeared on CNN, Huffington Post, Instagram, and Radar Online, to name a few. Notably, the remarketing and Facebook ad campaign delivered a cost per acquisition (CPA) that returned its investment in just six months, thanks to an integrated follow-up strategy designed to generate additional actions and added gifts.

We continue to work with NMAAHC to engage members across multiple communications channels to further bond members to the Museum, telling stories of what their support has accomplished, and the opportunities for continued partnership that lie ahead.

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July 26, 2016

How to Be an Acquisition Hero

List Roi Post - March 2015 - TJ

Do high up-front returns guarantee that a list has delivered valuable donors? Not necessarily.

We have all experienced the struggle to find viable acquisition lists and packages, as well as the exhilaration that comes from strong up-front performance and an influx of new donors. But there’s always the nagging question: Will those new donors stay with us and keep giving?

As my colleague Kerri Kerr has explained, donor retention begins at acquisition. Smart fundraisers balance quality and quantity to acquire donors who will keep giving for years to come—and upgrade their support along the way. How do we do this? With strong acquisition mail plans that prioritize the long-term quality of new joins.

This balancing act, between engaging donors on the front end and ensuring their long-term value on the back end, is all about measuring performance. We don’t give too much weight to a strong list that isn’t returning your investment, but we also don’t leave lists behind solely because they might cost a bit more on the front end.

Donor analytics are essential for finding the acquisition sweet spot. In particular, nonprofits should understand their list and package ROI. This sophisticated analysis digs into your long-term data to create a comprehensive picture and extract actionable information. It connects the dots between up-front list performance and return on investment, as well as other key donor-level metrics in a five-year period, such as retention and donor value.

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March 23, 2015

Perception vs. Reality in List Rentals

List Bazaar - DMAW 2014An important topic at this year’s DMAW List Bazaar was how to bring list industry guidelines and disclosure in line with actual practice… Despite setting Standards of Conduct for Non-Profit List Rentals & Exchanges back in 2008, the language in List Rental Agreements (LRAs) has not kept up with today’s commonly used industry practices. (Photo: DMAW website:

For instance, most LRAs expressly forbid the data from being transferred to a third party, or the retention of any of that list information by any party. In reality, lists are often sent to third party vendors for the purpose of additional demographic overlays or modeling. And the use of finder files and match-back files requires the data to be kept beyond the initial usage of the file – not to mention the fact that most merge/purge vendors often retain data files indefinitely. These practices make donor data more vulnerable – especially when written agreements involving data security are not part of the transaction.

Right now, penalties for violation of these terms are large – not to mention the damage and lack of trust incurred if your donors’ personal information made it into the wrong hands. So rather than risk non-compliance, it’s time for LRAs and disclosure language to catch up with actual practices. These techniques are critically important and valuable tools for nonprofits and should be encouraged with the right disclosure and security.

The DMAW is planning on putting together an industry group to update the standards to reflect current practices. This group will consist of all the people who use lists: list brokers, list managers, non-profit organizations, agencies, merge purge vendors, modeling/data vendors, and direct marketing consultants.

Avalon will be an eager participant in the DMAW’s process, and we are well in front of this issue internally – proactively ensuring that our clients aren’t over-exposed under the old guidelines and disclosure language. 

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July 15, 2014