Stanford Survey Shows E-Mail Newsletters Make a Difference

Do e-mail newsletters to university alumni increase donations? The answer is an emphatic yes, according to a series of studies conducted by Stanford University.

For years Stanford's main publication reaching out to alumni was a 150-page glossy magazine distributed every other month, said Jerold Pearson, Stanford's director of market research. Then in October 1998, @Stanford, a free monthly newsletter of campus news, research and events, was launched and sent to 10,000 alumni who had registered at the Stanford alumni Web site, at

The newsletter was sent in May 1999 to the 20,000 alumni whose e-mail addresses were in PostGrads, the office of development's database. Then in July 1999 it was sent to all those alumni who registered for free online accounts after receiving a brochure introducing the online services.

By September 1999 @Stanford was being sent to 36,398 e-mail addresses, and Pearson decided it was time to analyze the subscriber base where possible, in this case the 20,951 alumni subscribers. Pearson issued in September a report, @Stanford and Alumni Giving, which summarizes much of his findings.

“Participation data was sliced and diced 28 different ways,” Pearson said. “And in every way, a greater percentage of recipients than nonrecipients made a gift.”

Among all undergraduate and dual-degree holders 49 percent of newsletter recipients made a gift in fiscal year 2000 compared with 34 percent of nonrecipients. Among those who had given gifts in FY 1999, 78 percent of recipients made a gift compared with 73 percent of nonrecipients.

Most of the difference was in lapsed donors and nondonors. Among lapsed donors 32 percent of recipients made a gift in FY 2000 compared with 22 percent of nonrecipients. Among those who had never made a gift, 13 percent of recipients gave for the first time compared with 5 percent of nonrecipients.

Similar results were seen among alumni who had received only a graduate degree, although the numbers led Pearson to speculate that “graduate-only alumni may be tougher nuts to crack than undergraduate and dual-degree holders, and persuading nondonors to give to Stanford for the first time may be a greater challenge among graduate-only alumni.”

Among all graduate-only alumni 29 percent of recipients made a gift in FY 2000 compared with 17 percent of nonrecipients. Among FY 1999 donors 72 percent of recipients renewed their support compared with 68 percent of nonrecipients. Among lapsed donors 22 percent of recipients came back to the donor rolls compared with 16 percent of nonrecipients. And among nondonor recipients 3 percent made a first-time gift in FY 2000 compared with 2 percent of nonrecipients.

Data also were analyzed to determine whether the newsletter had affected gift size. Here the average gift from undergraduate and dual-degree holders was greater regardless of gender, class year, school or previous giving behavior. However, among graduate-only degree holders, average gifts were not greater among recipients.

Based on the data collected, Pearson recommends that @Stanford be featured more prominently on the Web and that all alumni and friends of Stanford be automatically subscribed.

Pearson also plans subsequent readership surveys to help gauge the progress of @Stanford and to better inform future decisions about it.

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