January 06, 2015
Case Study

Email Marketing: Nonprofit achieves 12.5 times higher donation revenue per email than industry average

SUMMARY: Roadrunner Food Bank faces real-world challenges like many nonprofits. Its ultimate goal is not only to increase donations and expand its reach, but to ultimately stop hunger in New Mexico.

Read on to discover how this nonprofit leveraged a unique solution to make donations as easy as two clicks in its email marketing campaign, and learn how the organization is now seeing a return on email revenue 12.5 times higher than the nonprofit industry average.
by Erin Hogg, Reporter

Roadrunner Food Bank, a nonprofit based in Albuquerque, N.M., supplies food to hundreds of organizations to help curb hunger in the state since its founding in 1980.

On a weekly basis, the nonprofit reaches out to 70,000 New Mexicans through its network of partners including food pantries, soup kitchens and other meal programs. Roadrunner is on pace to supply roughly 30 million pounds of food in by the nonprofit's fiscal year end in June 2015.


According to Sonya Warwick, Communications Officer, Roadrunner Food Bank of New Mexico, the state ranks high when it comes to hunger in the United States.

"Right now, New Mexico ranks No. 1 for child food hunger, and we're tied for No. 4 for overall hunger," Warwick explained.

Her challenge is big, and the team at Roadrunner is always seeking donations to help New Mexico's neediest.


To help meet Roadrunner's donation and funding goals, the nonprofit uses multiple channels, including direct mail and event marketing, to seek donations from its targeted audiences.

In 2012, Roadrunner's Director of Development, Stephanie Miller, kicked off an initiative to help make donating via email more of a priority.

"We had previously been sending out roughly monthly news-type features to the list we had in existence. We wanted to be able to make that 'ask' of that same group of people for monetary donations that would come to the food bank," Warwick said.

Warwick explained it was a natural fit when the nonprofit partnered with a local email marketing solution that provided a way to allow subscribers to donate via email without ever having to return to the Roadrunner site.


In Roadrunner's marketing efforts, the nonprofit targets not only individuals, but also businesses and private foundations to generate donations to help its mission.

By and large, most of Roadrunner's funding comes from individuals who either give a few dollars at a time on a monthly basis or whenever they feel compelled to give.

Although the nonprofit is based and serves the New Mexico community, it also receives donations from out-of-state companies, such as national grocery retailers, as well as individual donors who once lived in the state or a grant funder who provides funds across multiple states.

Step #1. Partner with a solution vendor

Before implementing a solution to help make giving as easy as possible, Roadrunner's email program was solely focused on news content, never sending out solicitation emails asking for donations.

What the team liked about the solution was that it was in partnership with a local startup company looking to get its feet wet with its two-click system.

With the two-click system, Roadrunner uses a dashboard to generate buttons for subscribers to click in an email. The nonprofit has control over what the donation button will look like in terms of copy, color and size.

When a subscriber receives an email with the two-click pay button, they simply click the donation amount they'd like to give.

View the Creative Sample

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A new email pops up upon clicking the donate button and confirms that the supporter will be donating to Roadrunner Food Bank.

View the Creative Sample

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By hitting send, the user's credit card information, which is already stored through Roadrunner's database, is used and the transaction is complete.

No credit card information is transmitted via email, and if there are discrepancies, such as no card on file or an expired card, the solution will alert the Roadrunner team to contact the customer to fix any issues.

The value in this system is to generate repeat donors. Once a donor's information is on file, they would never have to re-enter it to make a payment.

All of the two-click donation emails are optimized to be easy to click not only on desktop devices but also on mobile devices.

Step #2. Revamp email marketing efforts

Before implementing the solution, the team at Roadrunner had never considered this type of communication — donating through email — to be possible.

"It happened in such a short amount of time that we really had to scramble for a little bit to catch up and put something together that made sense, not only for our donors and supporters, but also for where we could work with them, the [solution's] system as well," Warwick said.

Having a partner through this transition that could set up the technical side of the new two-click donating system helped the team implement these new emails into their marketing efforts.

"We didn't have to have a technical expertise on staff to make that happen. We basically had a resource already at our disposal through this new checkout system through the button," she explained.

This change gave Roadrunner a much broader reach in terms of showing volunteers, donors and those who had yet to donate that they could donate food, through local food drives, as well as funds to support Roadrunner.

"I think it helped educate our donor base that yes, we do accept financial contribution that actually goes further in our work and helps us ensure that we can grow our programs," Warwick said.

The team sends out up to four emails a week with the two-click solution embedded into the send. Donation emails lift in frequency around the holidays, up to six per month.

These emails give donors an additional way to give, but they also help Roadrunner stay top of mind to their audience.

Step #3. Include new emails into content strategy

As with many marketing teams with limited time and resources, the responsibilities of email marketing fall under Warwick alone.

With help from two staff members in the development department, she sets the strategy, creates content and sends the emails to Roadrunner's list.

To strategize the email marketing effort, she starts by setting the content calendar in accordance to the direct mail schedule.

"What we'll do is build out at least an email that will go out mimicking that content in the direct mail piece, and then send another follow-up. Then, we plug in our news and other features that we want to include for more emails after that," Warwick explained.

Warwick gives priority to the donation emails in the content calendar for planning out email sends and will move the newsletter emails to ensure that subscribers aren’t receiving too many emails from Roadrunner each week.

"It's not like once it's written, it's a bible. It needs to be a flexible tool that we can change if needed," she said.

Step #4. Apply the solution to other areas of transactions

In addition to securing donations, Roadrunner implemented the solution to garner ticket sales for events.

In January 2015, Roadrunner is hosting a large soup and dessert sampling event, and the nonprofit is turning to the two-click solution to generate ticket sales from its subscriber base.

"I think it has multi-uses, which would work for the for-profit world easily. But we use it for both in the sense that we use it for traditional asking-for-donations and then also for paying for tickets for events that we host," Warwick said.


"Previously, we'd never thought to have the technological backend to support making a physical gift possible through email," Warwick explained. "It allowed us not only to make an ask for the first time through our email campaign to make a gift, but it also is a good reminder in the sense of it helps build consistency and good reminders for our donor base."

Since implementing the two-click solution, Roadrunner has seen that one out of three responders to Roadrunner's fundraising emails donates via the solution, while the rest donate on the website.

Nearly half of all donations and half of all donation amounts from fundraising emails have come from the two-click solution.

Additionally, Roadrunner's return on donation revenue per email is 12.5 times higher than the nonprofit industry average (as benchmarked by M+R and the Nonprofit Technology Network).

Roadrunner is also experiencing a response rate five times higher than the nonprofit industry average as well as a conversion rate (total number of successful donations divided by total donations attempted) of 57.8%, which is 2.6 times higher than the industry average of 22%.

For Warwick and the Roadrunner team, the biggest key to success in implementing the solution was finding a partner with prompt customer service.

"When it comes to customer service, I think, for me, that's very important because I don't have the time to go hunting people down," Warwick said.

In 2015, Roadrunner is looking to revamp the site and add mobile responsive design to make the experience seamless on whatever device a potential donor is viewing it from. There is also a content overhaul planned in terms of rewriting site pages for SEO and including keywords for pieces.

The team will continue utilizing the two-click system for generating donations as well as ticket sales.

"I think nonprofits have a lot to learn from the for-profit sector, and so it's great. [The two-click solution] really considers us a partner in this and help us make the product better because, definitely, with limited staff and limited resources, we couldn't do it on our own," Warwick concluded.

At MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2015, we'll be engaging with marketers in a public live test lab to teach Summit attendees how to use marketing experimentation to improve email results. We partnered with VolunteerMatch, a nonprofit connecting volunteers to causes, to run a live email test with the organization's real audience over the course of two days. Attendees will participate in this hands-on event, and will learn how to use emails to conduct behavioral research on their customers.

Creative Samples

  1. Two-click donation email

  2. Confirm donation email


Roadrunner Food Bank of New Mexico

@Pay — Roadrunner's two-click email solution

Related Resources

A/B Testing: How to improve already effective marketing (and win a ticket to Email Summit in Vegas)

Nonprofit Marketing: 3 tips to increase year-end revenue

Real-time Marketing: Nonprofit uses current events to increase revenue 22%

Email Marketing 2014: The top 8 MarketingSherpa case studies for your email program next year

Email Testing: How the Obama campaign generated approximately $500 million in donations from email marketing

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