Friday, October 8, 2010

Measure this!

How big a bird is your marketing?
It’s Thanksgiving and you’re no doubt counting your blessings. But do you count your marketing blessings?

What you can’t measure, you can’t manage. That’s a very old saying. However, we all know that most Non-Profits don’t follow it. Measuring is just not something all of us do.

To see how bad it is, read the “The State of Nonprofit Marketing” from The American Marketing Association and Lipman Hearne (2008). The study found that a third of Non-Profits didn’t measure market share, their print advertising or their search engine optimization (where they show up in online searches). One in four didn’t measure Length of time spent on their website, the number of repeat visitors to website or the effectiveness of their public relations. And one in five didn’t measure the number of unique visitors to website.

There are many reasons for this. First, is that the marketing that most Non-Profits do either have built-in kinds of metrics(like measuring how many people come to an event) or they use anecdotal evidence (like when their grandmother says they liked their newspaper ad). But as measurement goes, this is not very deep. Second, is that they often confuse expenditure of money and other resources as the measurement. For example, I once asked a senior hospital person how effective their ad campaign was and she answered by telling me how much she had spent. All in all, the most common marketing measurements are often the easiest and shallowest. They don’t really give you very much meaning.

Perhaps one explanation is that marketing and communications measurement is different from program and fundraising measurement. It requires a bit of a different skill set. And what you measure can vary widely depending on what you use for marketing vehicles. It can be complicated.

So, where does that leave you? First, don’t panic about measurement. Make a commitment to start measuring better and then start from there. What I recommend is that some measurement is better than none. Start with the lowest hanging fruit – the online stuff. If your website doesn’t have a measuring package (like Google analytics), get one. Any geek can tell you how to add it. Ask your co-workers kids, they’ll likely know. If you use an email marketing program like Constant Contact or social media like YouTube then measurement track programs will likely be included. Find them and get to know how they work.

For online measurement trying looking first at how many people look at your stuff and when. How does the number of visitors to your website this month compare to last? Can any spikes or decreases in traffic be explained by something that you’re doing? Now, look at the time people spent with you online. For email, how many opened your message and how many people clicked through? For web, how many were unique users (not the same person every time), how long did they spend and how many pages did they see (a measure of the depth of their interest), where did they come from (from an online search or did they come direct) and what was the bounce rate (a bounce being when someone comes to your front page and then leaves – the higher the bounce rate the less the engagement)?

In all this, try and see if you can find patterns. For example, when I worked for a hospital foundation I found that out of a thousand subscribers in our email marketing system about a quarter opened our emails consistently. I spun these off into their own group and sent them different messages. Why? They were true believers. Concentrating on them had more value. Similarly, I could find patterns in the hospital foundation’s web traffic. I could start to see what pages were the most popular. That led me to change how the unpopular ones were set-up to give them more profile and increase traffic.

There are many other measurements, from opinion polls to brand equity surveys. You need to find out what works for you.

Two more pieces of advice. First, take measurements that count “impressions” with a grain of salt. I could say that an ad I place in newspaper X reached 25,000 readers, but this doesn’t tell me anything. Of that 25,000, how many actually read my small ad on page 17? An impression can mean nothing. Second, web-based measurements (including mail and social media) are superior because they are action-based. When someone clicks though or opens or becomes a “fan” they are performing an action. That’s worth measuring, even if it is a very small number, because it is a true test of the effectiveness of your message.

So, start small and start soon. Get your feet wet on the easy web measurements and go from there.


  1. I do think that there is a problem, particularly in smaller charities, that people don't have the required skill sets, as you mention. However, I don't think this is always to do with being fundraisers.

    It's my experience that sometimes PR people aren't particularly adept at this either (I'm referring specifically here to website stats, search engine optimisation, email tracking). They may be great at creating the actual material, but just not in touch with the technology.

    A partner of the charity I work for recently suggested we should be doing this. Cue amazement all around that this could even be done and 'oh, that's such a great idea!' Indeed, it is. I've thought we should do it for years, and said so, but unfortunately, I'm not allowed to get involved, since the PR side of the charity 'isn't my job'.

  2. Good point. Really, marketing and communications should be everyone's business -- PR or fundraiser. That being said, I know a lot of communications people in non-profits who onoy know how to send press releases!