A recent review of some of Convio's online benchmarking data reminded me of the importance of true bottomline metrics.

Especially in view of results from a recent survey by blogger Nancy Schwartz at Getting Attention indicating that barely one-third of nonprofits actually measure the effectiveness of their marketing efforts. Unbelievable! The other two-thirds should be fired. But I digress.

Two of Convio's numbers stood out to me.

With regard to website visitors, Convio reports that amongst the clients it studied, a median of 2.8% of site visitors were converted to registrants. In other words, of each 100 folks who stop by, people who sought out the site in the first place, less than 3 are sufficiently enticed by something they find to seek an ongoing connection!

What does that say about the quality of the visiting experience on nonprofit websites?! The web team probably argues, “Not to worry, we're offering a treasure trove of valuable information … every person who visits is enriched by our wonderful in-depth content and spiffy Flash animations. That's a terrific benefit.”

Bull! Even your direct mail prospecting should pull donations (i.e., hard cash) at the rate of 1% or better. If the mail team said, “Don't worry about response rates, our mail is educating thousands of people” … you'd fire them.

With all the power inherent in the web medium to draw a person in, intrigue and entertain her, interact in a personalized manner, offer value, is the best we can do merely converting 3%? Again, these are visitors who didn't arrive at your site by accident. Either you drove him there in the first place, or your site popped up as relevent as he used search tools to aid his quest, or your site was referred to her by another site that she trusts. And still, 97 of 100 walked away without a trace.

True, Convio's 2.8% is a median … a bunch of folks did better (Convio mentions “Christian organizations” in first place at a median of 12.5%). Exactly who … and how much better, we'd sure like to know. Those are the websites we should be studying.

The second number that struck me measures the fundraising productivity of nonprofit house email lists. Convio reports that the most effective vertical is animal welfare organizations, with a median donation of $12.35 per email address (not per donor).

Probably not many fundraisers talk openly with one another about this number. Trade secret, you know. Truth be known, many probably haven't calculated it.

I'd love to interview some brave soul who boasts of a median per email address value in the $50 neighborhood. This shouldn't be an outrageous target … even conceding that e-lists do have multiple purposes, including sending emails to Congress that no one reads.

Lots of groups do better than $50 average gift per online donor, but arguably the per e-name measure is a more useful indicator of the intrinsic quality of the e-list. If you're building your house e-list from sources (or using tactics) that don't yield appreciable fundraising productivity, I would begin to question the real “hold” you have on those individuals for other, less demanding purposes.

For my tastes, both these metrics — web visitor conversion and per email address median donation — are excellent indicators of the ROI you're getting from your online investment. There are a lot of other smiley-face measures out there, like web traffic and email alert response rates, that can make an online team feel good … but these activities don't cut to the chase at the end of the day with the CFO.


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