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Online fundraising benchmarking report yields five takeaways for nonprofits

Written on May 9, 2024

Online fundraising continues to become a larger part of nonprofits’ fundraising strategy. But, in 2023, online fundraising remained relatively flat with a 1% median reduction. 

This is according to the 18th annual “Benchmarks” report, a look at digital fundraising that M+R released last week. The new edition, which included 225 participants and relies on their year-over-year comparisons as opposed to the prior year’s results of the study, aims to provide nonprofits with insight to make data-driven decisions, as well as trends and context to put that insight into perspective to help nonprofits put it into practice at their organizations.  

For the first time in the report’s history, M+R also tracked direct mail revenue, which declined faster than digital fundraising with a 6% drop year over year. With every $1 raised online, nonprofits raised $0.94 through direct mail last year.  

“The truth is when we take a step back, the landscape still is really dominated by the big shift we saw in 2020 — the first year of the pandemic,” Will Valverde, lead writer of “Benchmarks” and senior creative director at M+R said in a statement announcing the study results. “Across the board, we saw an average increase of online revenue of 32% that year. … Since then, we’ve been seeing this long-term stabilization.” 

Here’s a look at some other key takeaways from the report.  

1. Year-End Remained Flat While Monthly Giving Increased 

For year-end fundraising in 2023, the report found Dec. 31 revenue decreased 7% overall to 5% of total online giving. However, the final day of the year landed on a Sunday and resulted in nonprofits shifting their messaging dates earlier. The final week of the year leveled out, with a 2% downturn to 13%, while the whole month of December accounted for 26% of online revenue. Giving Tuesday revenue also shrank 7% but will be included in December’s revenue this year with a Dec. 2 date. 

In M+R’s research, monthly giving continues to climb as one-time donor revenue slows. Monthly gifts made up 31% of online fundraising, a 6% year-over-year bump. Meanwhile, one-time gift dollars diminished by 5%. The average gifts were $24 and $115, respectively. However, one-time donors actually gave an average of 1.2 times in 2023, bringing the average annual gift to $165.  

On the other hand, monthly donors provide reliability and have higher lifetime values in most cases, Valverde said, questioning nonprofit strategy that results in less outreach to this donor segment. 

“We need to ask some really serious questions about whether [scaling back is] the best strategy,” he said in the statement. “These are committed donors and an increasingly large part of the donor file. We need to be thinking about how we’re staying in touch with them throughout the year — not just hoping that gift continues without being canceled.”  

2. Email Lists Remain Larger, But Text Messaging Grew More Rapidly  

The share of all online revenue directly sourced to email was 16% in 2023, according to the report. Email revenue was 7% smaller, on average. Though nonprofits raised $76 per 1,000 fundraising emails sent, that is a 20% downswing over 2022.  

On a positive note, nonprofits successfully had a median net growth in their email lists of 7% — in line with 2022’s 8% growth. M+R found nonprofits sent an average of 59 emails last year — with fewer than half of them being fundraising asks. About seven of those total messages happened in November and again in December. However, despite sending 12% more emails year over year, nonprofits experienced a 10% slip in the advocacy email response rate and a 16% slide in fundraising email response rate.  

Nonprofits also expanded their outreach via text messaging, sending 40% more texts than in 2022. Though mobile lists are much smaller — 158 mobile subscribers per 1,000 email subscribers — nonprofits raised $92 per 1,000 texts, which is $16 more than per 1,000 emails.  

On the text messaging side, both mobile lists and revenue improved — 5% and 14%, respectively. However, in totality, mobile only accounts for 0.37% of total online fundraising, with a median of 7.7 fundraising appeals and 4 advocacy messages sent in 2023. 

Despite differences between email and mobile, they are more alike than they may seem.  

“It’s important to note that these are not truly separate audiences,” according to the report. “In many cases, mobile lists have grown hand-in-hand with email lists, the same sign-up form enrolling a new subscriber to both channels. Some subscribers receive only email; some receive only mobile messages; many will receive both.”  

3. Nonprofits Are Creating Communities on Social Media 

When it comes to organic social media, nonprofits are primarily active on Facebook, Instagram, X, LinkedIn and YouTube, though TikTok and Threads continue to heighten in popularity among nonprofits, according to “Benchmarks.” Organizations doubled their TikTok audiences, which enlarged 112%. Instagram and Facebook ballooned 11% and 6%, respectively, in 2023. Meanwhile X followers dwindled by 1% — and 13% of survey participants indicated they have plans to leave the platform. 

Even though TikTok saw rapid maturation among nonprofits, its overall audience size for nonprofits remains smaller than other platforms. For every 1,000 email addresses, nonprofits had an average of 1,041 Facebook fans, 527 X followers, 251 Instagram followers and 36 TikTok followers.  

Additionally, half of participants worked with influencers in 2023, with 17% of those paying for partnerships. Of those paid partnerships, 50% were fundraising, 75% advocacy or volunteer asks and 79% for education.  

4. Nonprofits Experience More Web Visits From Mobile Devices, But More Donations From Desktop Devices 

Due to the shift to Google Analytics 4 last year, M+R narrowed its year-over-year data to only November and December, limiting its website trends to year-end fundraising instead of a full year-over-year comparison. So for year-end 2023, more than half (52%) of nonprofit website traffic came from mobile phones and tablets in 2023; however, 78% of online revenue came from desktop devices. The average gift was also higher on desktop devices — $137 versus $83 for mobile devices. 

Overall conversion on a nonprofit’s main donation page was 12%, according to the report, though slightly better on desktop than mobile (16% versus 10%). Digital payment options have helped convert online donations for nonprofits. PayPal was the most popular, with 67% of nonprofits offering it, compared to 38% who had Apple Pay and 30% who had Google Pay.  

5. Nonprofits Continue to Find Success With Digital Advertising 

When it came to both digital and non-digital advertising combined, nonprofits dedicated 61% of ad spend to fundraising, 25% to advertising and 10% to lead generation. However, small nonprofits with less than $500,000 in online revenue spent a much larger percentage on fundraising, while larger nonprofits — those with more than $3 million in online revenue — spent slightly less.  

Among digital channels, most of the focus was on search and social ads — combining to 80% of total spend, with the former delivering the highest return on advertising spend with $2.70 in revenue for every $1 spent. Linear TV topped the list of non-digital ad areas with 77% of total ad spend. As for the fastest growing options, connected TV use swelled 50%, whereas radio surged 67%. 

Total advertising investment for nonprofits rose by 13% last year. So, for each dollar raised online, they reinvested $0.12 on digital ads.  

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