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Katie Chun of Harvard Family Research Project describes new studies that help nonprofits assess the success of their online and text-messaging strategies.

In 2007, The Evaluation Exchange featured the eNonprofit Benchmarks Study, a research effort by M+R Strategic Services and the Nonprofit Technology Network that developed metrics to measure the effectiveness of nonprofit online advocacy and fundraising efforts.1 Recent releases from this effort and others offer new findings on benchmarks for electronic communications.

2010 Nonprofit Social Media Benchmarks Study
This study by M+R Strategic Services helps nonprofits develop meaningful metrics for their social media efforts. It focuses on Facebook and Twitter as the most popular social media platforms. The Facebook analysis looked at the activity of five well-known nonprofits.2 The Twitter analysis examined data on 10 diverse organizations that are among the most successful based on their number of followers.3

Highlights include:

  • Organizations posted on their Facebook pages an average of 6 times per week; they "tweeted” 4 or 5 times a day.
  • An average of 2.5% of an organization’s Facebook fans responded to posts (“liked” or “commented”) each week.
  • Facebook metrics can include fan-base size and growth, fan churn (number who come and go), posts by organizations, page views, and fan actions. 
  • Twitter metrics can include organization tweets, number of followers, and follower churn.

2010 Nonprofit Text Messaging Benchmarks
This first-of-its-kind report from M+R Strategic Services and MobileActive.org offers benchmarks for text messaging and describes how nonprofits are using this medium. The study looked at list size, broadcasts, fundraising, and advocacy data from six organizations.4 Key findings include:

  • More than 80% of text subscribers joined by entering their mobile phone number on sign-up pages on a nonprofit’s website.
  • Organizations studied sent an average of 1.6 text messages per month.
  • The response rate for advocacy text messages that asked recipients to promote an issue with key decision makers was 4.7%, nearly six times the response rate for emails that make similar requests.

2009 eNonprofit Benchmarks Study
This study from M+R Strategic Services and the Nonprofit Technology Network updated findings from their original study on online messaging, fundraising, and advocacy. Data reported in the new study are from 2007–08 and were submitted by 32 leading nonprofit organizations (the original study used 2003–05 data).

The 2009 study responded to questions about, for example, the effects of the financial crisis on online fundraising and email response rates. Data were collected from key national nonprofits and major providers of nonprofit online communications and marketing programs, as well as from an online survey of the broader nonprofit community.

The new data show that the 2 years before the study’s release were a time of exponential growth and innovation for online activism. Many nonprofits, for example, tried to capitalize on the success of popular social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter. Many also tried to emulate the online strategies used by the 2008 presidential campaigns.

Other highlights from the study include:

  • The rate at which recipients opened fundraising, advocacy, or newsletter emails and clicked on links within them decreased slightly from 2007 to 2008. However, email response rates (i.e., the rate at which people completed an action requested by an email, such as making a donation) did not drop significantly; the authors suggest that, over time, email subscribers become familiar with advocacy and donation landing pages and do not feel the need or have the curiosity to click on a link before responding to the message in the email.
  • Email lists continue to be an effective way for nonprofits to reach supporters. Despite the growing popularity of social net-working sites that compete with email (35% of U.S. adults now have an account with one or more social networking websites5), response rates for fundraising and advocacy emails remained relatively steady from 2007 to 2008.
  • The number of online gifts to nonprofits increased 43% in 2008 over 2007, while the total monetary amount increased by only 26%. Even though more people donated to nonprofits in recent years, the average gift size in 2008 was $71, which is $15 less than in the previous year.

To learn more about these studies and to access new reports as they are released, go to: www.e-benchmarksstudy.com.

Katie Chun
Graduate Research Assistant, Harvard Family Research Project
Email: katie.chun@post.harvard.edu

1. Matheson, K. (2007). The eNonprofits benchmarks study: Diving into email metrics. Evaluation Exchange, 8(1), 25. Retrieved July 20, 2009, from: www.hfrp.org/evaluation/the-evaluation-exchange/issue-archive/advocacy-and-policy-change/the-enonprofit-benchmarks-study-diving-into-email-metrics.

2. Human Rights Campaign, Oxfam America, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Easter Seals, and the League of Conservation Voters.

3. charity: water, CARE, AcumenFund, LiveEarth, Red Cross, Greenpeace, Brain Line, Oxfam, Human Rights Campaign, and NARAL Pro-Choice America.

4. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, NARAL Pro-Choice America, The Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, and Human Rights Campaign.

5. Lenhart, A. (2009). Adults and social network websites. Washington, DC: Pew Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved July 23, 2009 from: www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2009/Adults-and-Social-Network-Websites.aspx.

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