Nonprofits less likely to use collected data in campaigns: Return Path study

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Though three-quarters of nonprofits gather consumers' names and locations when they sign up for e-mail communications, that's often where consumer data collection ends for those groups, according to a Return Path study, released October 20.

Nonprofits are half as likely as for-profit companies to collect information beyond name and geographic location from their e-mail subscribers — 20% vs. 42%.

"Nonprofits have the opportunity to use the point of subscription to learn who their subscriber is," said Bonnie Malone, director of response consulting at Return Path. "Am I a young enthusiast that really wants to get involved and hit the ground running? Am I an older person looking for an organization I can include in my will?"

Segmenting the nonprofits revealed a 17% gap between advocacy groups, of which only 12% collect demographic information, and arts organizations, 29% of which collect this data. However, none of the arts organizations incorporated this information to personalize e-mails, while a third of the advocacy groups that collected the information did.

"It was interesting because advocacy was a lot of political and animal-rights types of groups who had a sense of urgency around creating response for issues," Malone said. "Arts was more about being touchy-feely and less about driving a response. It's a different perspective."

Even those nonprofits that collected comprehensive data didn't often use it to pique recipients' interest about relevant issues, Malone added.

"The disconnect [between how nonprofits and for-profits used demographic information] was actually in using," she explained. "I live in Florida, they could've sent me issues that are relevant to the Everglades or my local congressman."

On the social side, half of the nonprofits incorporated links to social networking sites in their e-mails. Thirty-eight percent encourage recipients to forward to a friend.

"From what I see with clients and other mailers in the market, it seems that nonprofits have embraced social media more than traditional marketers," Malone said. "They're more apt to integrate it with their overall marketing strategies — they see it as complementary."

Return Path used a Yahoo e-mail address to subscribe to 50 nonprofits' e-mail lists on March 3. These included 26 advocacy groups and 24 arts groups. It then monitored the companies' e-mail practices for 30 days.

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