Lit vs. Let [It Go]: What Nonprofits Should Be Measuring

“We have a deliverability problem—what do you recommend?”

Our nonprofit clients ask me this all the time. And, look, I get it. Yes, we can help you improve deliverability if you truly have a problem with it. Streamline your email code and downsize your image files. Check. Suppress inactives (while building out a reactivation strategy to bring some of them back). Great. Now, ask your tech folks to update your email sender authentication. Cool! Worst case scenario? Upgrade your email service provider (ESP) and get on cleaner servers (shameless plug: the BSD Tools are great).

The next step? Stop worrying so much about email deliverability. This isn’t really just a deliverability problem. It’s a KPIs (key performance indicators) problem.

You see, if you spend your “worry time” on deliverability, you’ll end up optimizing your email program around inbox placements, rather than building a smart, strong, and effective email program that engages your supporters and drives action. I’d rather have 90% of our super pretty and effective emails land than 99.9% of a boring, graphic-less message. (But if your email deliverability is actually less than 90%, come talk to us.)

It’s easy to get hung up on flashy, easy-to-grasp metrics or steal metrics from other marketing or fundraising frameworks. But here’s the thing: most metrics don’t offer nonprofits real strategic value and won’t lead you to a powerhouse fundraising program. You should either ignore these completely or only monitor them occasionally in order to make sure things aren’t falling apart. Instead, let’s worry about KPIs that can actually tell you how well your program is tracking to your strategy — and that big, big, ambitious number you’re on the hook for.

(And if you want a handy PDF of these metrics, download our KPIs Cheatsheet here.)

So let’s talk Lit (🔥) vs Let It Go (⛄):

🔥 IT’S LIT: Click-to-Open Rate (CtOR), Donate-to-Open Rate (DtOR)
The CtOR is the portion of unique opens that resulted in unique clicks. Look at CtOR to see how effectively your content is getting those people who opened to engage further.

Similarly, DtOR tells us how effective our emails are at converting people who actually saw the content. When content is effective, then you want to make sure as many people as possible have the chance to see it. An email that has a high DtOR but wasn’t opened by many people can be upcycled and used as a Non-Opener Resend.

LET IT GO: Deliverability Rate, Unsubscribe Rate
See the beginning of this article. Send good, effective email and don’t let your deliverability rate (assuming it’s not abysmal) distract from those efforts. In that same vein, if you’re too scared of unsubscribes you’ll create boring, ineffectual, or too-infrequent content just to avoid rocking the boat. Don’t do that. Make people look forward to receiving your emails rather than trying to be inoffensive.

🔥 IT’S LIT: Revenue per 1,000 Email Recipients, Social Share Rate
Some emails are one-offs for special occasions; others are part of long-term campaigns. Some are full-list sends; others have detailed segmentation. Calculating revenue per 1,000 recipients is a decent way to compare performance across different types of email fundraising campaigns.

By that same token, we want to know the rate at which people seeing our content on social complete valuable interactions for us. Engagement rates are fine and dandy, but “likes” don’t usually lead to more dollars raised. What social can do is help reach new qualified audiences — so what you should really care about is shares. You want supporters to (a) validate the organization by putting their name next to yours when they share, and (b) use their credibility with their friends and family to tout our mission. So, let’s optimize social for shares when possible and appropriate.

LET IT GO: Paid Impressions
You pay for the impressions that you get, based on an agreed-upon rate. You want more impressions? Pay for more. Yes, I know this number is big and flashy, but it doesn’t mean much for your fundraising efforts. Try a cost-per-action (conversion, acquisition, click, etc) metric instead.

🔥 IT’S LIT: Non-Email Site Conversion Rate
If you’re doing it right, your email creative should convince your supporters to donate before they get to your website. For most other traffic types, however, you need your website to work harder. For example, social, with its inherent preference for pithy copy, can’t do the persuasive legwork that an email can. Monitor your site’s conversion rate for non-email traffic, benchmark it, then get creative with a more efficient pathway to donation. If you need advice on how to do that, call us up.

LET IT GO: Percent new visitors
Cookies, browsers, devices. This one should be discarded for technical reasons: Users’ multiple devices and normal, unpredictable behavior likely keeps even the best and most technical setup from tracking this correctly.

🔥 IT’S LIT: Donation Form Completion Rate
Donors — like all consumers — are finicky. I can’t even remember how many online shopping carts I’ve filled and abandoned over the years. But we can improve our donation forms to minimize abandonment. First, benchmark the Donation Form Completion Rate — the proportion of people who see your donation form and convert. Then test, test, test, and test some more to continually optimize that form. Even advanced tests may only make marginal improvements, but over time, those small optimizations yield big results. Please, for the love of analysts and strategists everywhere, think beyond button colors, background images, and ask amounts. If you need help with tests and optimizations, here’s my card.

LET IT GO: Time on site
Time on site is rarely calculated or tracked accurately. More importantly, you shouldn’t really care whether someone is on the site for 30 seconds or 15 minutes — it matters whether they take the action you want them to take.

So, stop worrying about the metrics that don’t shape your fundraising strategy and spend more time measuring what matters. If you need help figuring that out, get in touch with us.

Want to save these tips for future reference? Download the PDF cheatsheet version here.