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Email Solicitations Still Evolving in Higher Education

(Dec. 6, 2004) Only half of higher education institutions are using email as a fundraising tool, and there is a wide disparity in how the technology is being employed, according to a new survey by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).

Although focused on higher education, the survey also holds insights for other types of charitable organizations as well.

Forty-nine percent of the CASE 2004 Email Solicitation Survey's respondents are currently using email in their fundraising activities, although 42 percent of those organizations who are not employing email indicate they will begin doing so soon.

Nearly half of those respondents using email indicated they are soliciting alumni (47 percent), while 45 percent are soliciting 'everyone for whom we have an email address (who hasn't opted out).' The results are much higher than those from the previous survey, where only 17 percent were e-soliciting alumni or other individuals.

How are emails being integrated into the annual fundraising plan? Sending emails at the end of the year as a 'cleanup' appeal is the most common practice currently, although 26 percent indicated they are using emails in a similar fashion and on a similar schedule as traditional appeals (direct mail, phone). Only four percent stated they had stopped sending traditional appeals to individuals with email addresses, while 82 percent indicated that the email was an additional solicitation complementing a more traditional appeal.

In terms of money raised using email solicitations, 73 percent reported raising less than $25,000 in 2003. Sixteen percent indicated raising more than $50,000 annually. One institution reported raising more than $1 million via email.

Lessons Learned, Advice for Others

The CASE survey also asked respondents for advice and lessons learned from their experiences with email solicitations. Among the large number of comments, the two most common messages were:

  1. Test and segment your appeals.
  2. Plan on investing significant time in keeping up with email address changes.

Just some of the other pieces of advice from the survey included:

  • Use specialized software to manage these solicitations and track them.
  • Agree on metrics for gauging success. Plan for escalating usage beyond the first year. Plan for handling bounces and opt-outs. Track everything
  • Be sure to follow the CAN-SPAM Act rules. Respond to everyone who sends a comment or question.
  • Use it strategically - as a clean-up or to a specific population. There is a limit before it becomes junk mail too.
  • Follow direct mail principles - personalize, make a compelling case, ask upfront, etc. Spend more time on the landing page (the webpage that individuals are sent to from the email) to improve conversions.
  • Make sure the subject line mentions the name of your institution (or is somehow recognizable).
  • Make sure your message is clear and you're providing content-based value.
  • The percentage growth is astounding from year to year but the number of gifts and dollars are still relatively small. Have to make a long-term commitment to this, as the numbers will continue to grow.

The CASE 2004 Email Solicitation Survey was distributed to nearly 4,500 CASE members in September 2004. CASE received 463 responses.

A copy of the full survey results (PDF format; 20 pages) is available on the CASE website.

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