Housefile Size and Growth in the Luminate Online Benchmark Report

January 11, 2016 Chris Geady

The release of the 9th Luminate Online Benchmark Report is an opportunity for nonprofits to take stock of how the nonprofit sector is performing online, and what recent trends tell us about donor and giving behavior.

Housefiles are an important tool in a direct marketing program. The Report dedicates an entire section to housefile size and effectiveness this year. Housefiles increased by a median of 11.8% across all sectors, increasing for several years in a row. Also, 13.4% of an organization’s constituents donated in 2014-2015. Let’s look at housefile growth and size in more detail.

Housefile growth

You should expect to see annual growth in your housefile (5-20% annual increase as a guideline), but remember growth isn’t everything. You need to marry this with the percentage of constituents (with email addresses) who donate for the more complete picture. For example, food bank organizations tend to have small housefiles (48K constituents median), but have nearly 31.5% of their constituents donating (and that grew by 18.6% in 2014-2015)! Also not surprising: disease & health services organizations did fairly well also. Many sectors of organizations, including but not limited to: animal welfare, environment and Jewish organizations all enjoyed 14% or greater increases in housefile size.

Housefile size

It’s often not the largest housefiles perform the best. The Report points out organizations with housefiles under 200K constituents outperformed their larger counterparts in 2014-2015 (ie. organizations with very large housefiles). This is mainly due to the lower percentages of constituents who donate to organizations with very large housefiles. Almost every sector has a median housefile size under 200K constituents, so again marry this with the percentage of constituents (with email addresses) who donate. Again, food bank organizations fared very well compared with other sectors. It tends to be easier to manage smaller housefile lists which can lead to “an easier time developing compelling asks and communications unique to each group”.

Lastly, while housefile size and percentage of constituents who donate are important metrics, the quality of constituent data, namely the email address they provide, cannot be ignored. The Report points out constituents are still giving organizations valid email addresses and “organizations are gaining high-quality constituents and presumably doing a better job cultivating their support”. Ultimately better cultivation and stewardship fuel donations. For extra credit, be sure to check out the Report’s section on sustaining giving too.

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