Nonprofit study shows how many emails it takes to get one gift

Written on May 04, 2017

The nation’s nonprofits increased spending by 69% on digital advertising last year, with almost half of that was devoted to new donor acquisition as online and monthly revenue grew by double digits.

The 11th annual M+R Benchmarks Study analyzes 2016 data from 133 nonprofits about email messaging, email list size, fundraising, online advocacy, web traffic, digital ads, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more. The report examined results from almost 3.6 billion email messages to nearly 50 million list subscribers, more than $535 million in online donations from more than 8.3 million online gifts and 7.2 million advocacy actions.

“Everything about 2016 had larger audiences and more volume, so it’s only appropriate that this is our largest report yet,” said Madeline Stanionis, principal with M+R. “The study includes some surprising breakout hits that we believe are a signal of what’s to come for nonprofit fundraising, advocacy and marketing,” she said.

Of the 133 participants in the study, 100 reported that they spent money on digital ads in 2016 and overall dollars spent was up 69% compared to 2015. The biggest change in digital advertising investment came among cultural organizations, jumping 152%, and 85% by wildlife/animal welfare organizations. Environmental organizations matched the overall 69% increase while international organizations saw a change of 53%.

Almost half of all digital advertising dollars were spent on new donor acquisition:

  • New donor acquisition: 46%
  • Branding: 23%
  • Lead generation: 18%
  • Existing supporter conversion: 14%

For every dollar they raised online, nonprofits spent 4 cents on digital ads but the report emphasizes that does not translate to return on investment (ROI). For example, a nonprofit that raised $1 million online — from all sources combined — devoted on average $40,000 to digital advertising last year.

Education nonprofits invested the largest amount as a percentage of online revenue – at 11 cents, far more than other types of organizations. Environmental, hunger and poverty, and international organizations, devoted the next largest proportion on digital advertising, at 7 cents. Public media matched the overall average of 4 cents. Investing smaller proportions than the overall average were cultural, health, and rights organizations, 2 cents.

The largest organizations also invested more heavily, at 10 cents, compared with 4 cents by medium organizations and 1 cent by small organizations. Almost half of digital ad dollars were devoted to display ads (46%), nearly one-third to search ads (31%), and less than one-quarter to social media ads (23%).

Additional highlights of the 2017 M+R Benchmarks Study were:

  • The response rate for fundraising messages was 0.05%, down 8% from 2015, meaning that a nonprofit had to send 2,000 fundraising emails before getting a donation. Cultural nonprofits had the best email response rate of any sector, 0.09%

  • Overall online revenue grew by 14% last year, with monthly giving growing at 23%
  • For every 1,000 fundraising emails delivered, nonprofits raised $36
  • Traffic to nonprofit websites grew by about 4% compared to 2015
  • Nonprofit email lists grew by 10%, building on 16% growth the previous year
  • Email volume grew with nonprofits sending 10% more messages per subscriber last year than in 2015 and on average, subscribers could expect to get 69 separate email messages from a single nonprofit during 2016. Environmental organizations sent the most emails, 86 messages per subscriber. Health nonprofits had the lowest volume, 1.5 messages per subscriber per month, versus the average 5.0 per subscriber per month

  • Nonprofits’ audience on Facebook by grew 23% and by 50% on Twitter by while doubling on Instagram

  • The percentage of website visitors who completed a gift was up by about 8%. Environmental organizations had among the lowest conversion rates at 0.08% yet represented growth of 35.6%, one of the fastest growing subsectors

  • Email accounted for 26% of all online revenue last year but open rates declined by 7%, for an average of less than 15%

  • Response rates for advocacy messages declined by 17%, dropping to 1.6%

On average, a nonprofit will reach 8% of its Facebook fans — about 1 in 12 — with a post that is not promoted. Only about 3% of posts by the study’s participants had paid reach. About 45% of Facebook users who saw a given post were not already fans of the nonprofit.

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