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Are My Fundraising Appeals Working?

cartoon of man scratching his head with question marks

This is a question every fundraiser asks themselves when creating communications. One of the most challenging aspects of the annual giving world is manipulating the art and science of solicitations. How does fundraising data factor into the equation?

“Data-driven decisions” is a phrase that is thrown around a lot, but the tangible reality of this concept can be nebulous.

There is more to annual giving data analytics than simply looking at retention rates and number of donors. Dive deeper into your information to find out why your donors are behaving the way they are, and determine what you can do to achieve your goals.

Historically, it has been difficult to determine the actions of donors with appeals. Did a donor actually receive your mailing? Did they open it, read it, or just throw it away? Are your prospects screening your calls or simply not available? These questions leave a lot of room for error and it can be difficult to strategize around.

Fortunately we are now in a time where there is a plethora of fundraising data available at our fingertips. With online fundraising taking the starring role in many annual strategies, there is plenty of information to leverage for success.

What’s in Your Toolbox?

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The first step in using fundraising data for your annual strategy is to take a look at your tools.

Two of the key systems you will want to look at are your email platform and Google Analytics.

Google Analytics is a powerful system that can help you visualize how your prospects are interacting with your content. You can set up a free account and learn more about how to use the system here. There is a lot of information in Google Analytics and it can seem overwhelming, but we’ll point out the most important areas to look at.

Start with setting up a “goal” connected to your thank you page URL. This will allow you to look at how many people actually completed the giving form and made a donation. Set another goal to look at the landing page of your giving site. By setting up tracking, especially on giving pages, it will make it easier to understand what is attracting or deterring prospects.

Most email servers are set up to precise data about your constituents, such as open rate, click rate, and conversion rate. Dig into your system and find out where these reports live; they’ll be critical to the analysis of your communications. We’ll go over these data points and more next.

Using Your Data

Now that you have your tracking set up and know where to find fundraising data, what exactly should you be looking at? It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of information available, but by focusing on a few key areas, you will be able to make impactful changes with ease.


cartoon of a computer with an email image on the screen

The first thing to take a look at is the performance of your email communications. There are nearly 320 billion emails sent world-wide, per day. Are your emails standing apart from the rest?

Open Rates

The first metric to consider for emails is open rate. This indicates the percentage of people that open an email compared to how many it was delivered to. Last year, fundraising emails for non-profits had an average open rate of 14%. While this is the average, segment will influence how many people open communications. Not surprisingly, non-donors open fundraising emails less frequently than loyal donors.

How do your emails stack up?

If you are struggling to get your emails opened, there are a few things you can try mixing up. An A/B test is the best way to determine if changes are working.

  • Try testing different subject lines. This is your first tool to entice your reader, so make your “intro” interesting!
    • Avoid: helping, fundraising, charity, donate
    • Try: thank you, urgent, important, alert
    • Keep it short, under 15 characters is ideal
  • Be mindful of your sender. Sometimes it may be appropriate to use your office as the sender, but it does not feel as personal. People react to people. Carefully consider who this communication is coming from. Are you using a name that is familiar? Does it resonate with your audience? While a chancellor’s name and title holds weight, a well-known and loved professor might be more interesting to alumni.
Click Rates

When creating emails, you should have a desired outcome. Once the reader has been compelled to open the email, intentions should be clear and actionable. Click rates indicate the percentage of people that click on a link compared to those that opened the email. Rates average 0.44% for non-profit fundraising communications. The more clicks on email content, the more people are being driven to the giving page. Formatting can help increase the number of clicks generated from your emails.

  • Make sure your email is mobile-friendly. Most people read emails on their mobile devices, so make sure it is equally stunning on a phone and desktop computer.
  • Keep it short and readable. If it has to be longer, break it up with subheadings so your reader can scan the content. Check out our blog post about email content if you need inspiration.
  • Use bold and italics strategically. Bold 3-5 key elements, including short phrases that would tell the summarized story of your overall email.
  • Most importantly, you need a clear call-to-action. Create a button with strong action words, such as “Give students meals now” or “I want to save the turtles”. Empower your donor to take action. Don’t muddy the water with multiple links throughout the email content, it should all be focused on the one thing you want to happen: a click to donate.

Depending on the email server and gift processing site connection, there may be the option to track conversions. This number indicates the number of people that finish the donation form compared to the number that click the call to action. The industry benchmark is a 14% completion rate. This step of the process is largely determined by actual page content, which we explore in the Google Analytics section next.

Google Analytics

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Google Analytics has endless information about users, interactions, and performance, but we’ll focus on a few key metrics to consider.

Getting to Know Your Audience

In order to tailor your content to the people you are communicating with, it is important to see who you are actually reaching. This can be helpful to see who is already on your site, but can also shine light on gaps. If you are reaching out to a group of people with vastly different ages but only those in the 20-25-year-old age range are showing up on your site, it could indicate a messaging issue with the other age ranges.

Audience Tab
  • Demographics: Overview – age and gender
  • Mobile: Overview – what devices people use on the site (desktop vs mobile)

Aside from knowing who your users are, you also have access to information about how users found your page. This is a great way to analyze your different communication channels to see what is working, and what needs improvement.

Acquisition Tab
  • All Traffic: Channels – how people are coming to the site (from email, social, search, etc)
  • All Traffic: Source/Medium – what exact communications drove people to the site (if you are able to create different URLs for different solicitations, you can see their performance here)
What is Your Audience Doing

Once you have discovered who is coming to your donation page, you can learn about what they are doing on the page itself. Understanding the behavior of donors allows organizations to make changes that support their goals.

Behavior Tab
  • Overview – This gives you a snapshot of how people are interacting with your site, how many views are on the page, time spent, and bounce rate.
    • The bounce rate captures information about people coming to the page, taking no action, and then leaving. This is an important aspect to keep an eye on as it can be an indicator of a problem on the page. If your bounce rate is too high, take a look at page load time, headings, clarity, and calls to action. An average rate should be between 41 and 55, but it is only worrisome over 70%.
  • Behavior Flow – This visualization allows you to see the flow of interactions on your page. The charts indicates steps users take after landing on an individual page. Behavior flows can be used to determine donor interests or compelling calls to action.
    • Example: If this page is set up for a giving day with category tabs, the program manager could look to see where people navigate. This could be an opportunity to do additional outreach based on a frequently clicked project category after the giving event.
Conversions Tab
  • Goals: Overview – If you are not able to track your completions through your email system, you can analyze it on this tab. Compare the landing page to thank you page visits to see how many people are completing the process.

Bringing it Together

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There is much to be learned about audiences and their interactions with content by digging into digital data. Paying attention to the metrics will help create a more informed digital strategy and help you tweak along the way to improve results. There is exponentially more fundraising data and metrics to look at, but by starting with these elements you will be well on your way to a data-driven approach.

Katie Haystead

Katie Haystead

Senior Vice President, Partnerships

With over a decade of experience working with K12 schools and higher education institutions’ fundraising efforts, Katie Haystead now oversees the partnerships team at Community Funded. Her passion for partner success and satisfaction aligns with Community Funded’s priorities and Katie’s unique background is well suited to manage the day to day operations of our partnerships team as well as new market acquisition.

Prior to joining the team at Community Funded, Katie served many roles within the Fundraising Division at Ruffalo Noel Levitz. Her experience ranges from working onsite and remotely with clients executing phonathon programs, developing annual giving strategies, onsite consultations and also developing multichannel strategies allowing for strong synergy between annual giving channels and creating strong major and planned gift pipelines.

Katie is based in Metro Detroit and is a graduate of Central Michigan University, where she worked for the phonathon for 3 years while working towards her History Major.

Kim Jennings

Kim Jennings

Senior Generosity Strategist, Generis

Kim Jennings, CFRE is a skilled fundraising leader who believes in the power of Christian education to raise up thoughtful, strong, committed leaders who can make our world a better place for all.

Kim Jennings

Todd Turner

Director of Digital Strategies, Generis

In addition to his 11 years overseeing Chuck Swindoll’s Insight Living Ministries communications department, Todd Turner has worked as a digital strategist for faith based organizations across the globe..

Kim Jennings

Jennifer Perrow

Senior Generosity Strategist, Generis

Jennifer is a skilled fundraising and communications professional who helps ministries articulate vision, communicate mission, and raise abundant funds to advance Kingdom priorities.