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What to Make of Key Nonprofit Online Fundraising Benchmarks

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online fundraising benchmarks

The recently released 2019 M+R Benchmarks Study – their annual comprehensive report for online giving — gives you all the online fundraising benchmarks you need to know to measure your results against other nonprofits, get insights into trends and begin to plan for a future where you know one thing will be constant – change.

I’ve cherry picked a few highlights to explore what these takeaways may mean for your fundraising strategies, this year and in the foreseeable future.

Let’s dig in!

Online revenue for nonprofits grew by just 1% last year.


Does this mean online fundraising may not be as important as you thought it was?

I wouldn’t jump to that conclusion.

Giving as a whole was down a bit last year.

Numbers of donors overall are declining. And the share of donors who give is dropping across all demographics.

Plus, and this is important, donors don’t care how they make their gift. You think about this way more than they do.

Donors will give wherever they happen to be when the urge strikes, and however seems most convenient. We know there’s a lot of crossover action. In other words, folks who receive a mail appeal may make their gift online. Folks who receive an email appeal may send their check when they subsequently receive your snail mail appeal. Folks who might not give either of those ways, but who spend a lot of their free time on social media, may give on Facebook while commuting to and from work.

Another way to look at this is through a longer lens. 

Online revenue was 69% higher in 2017 than in 2014. So this year may simply be a leveling off. Or perhaps a reaction to the new tax law caused donors to double up their giving at the end of 2017, which could cause 2018 to be flat and 2019 to once again soar. Time will tell.

And if you missed the 2014 – 2017 growth spurt, you may have some catching up to do. So cutting back now makes little sense. It’s a multi-channel world today, and that’s just a reality.

Some nonprofits raised nearly as much from Facebook Fundraisers as all other sources of online revenue combined. 


Does this mean you should jump on Facebook and make it your priority online fundraising tool?

Not so fast.

It’s early in this game, as Facebook fundraising tools didn’t debut until 2018. 

Some sectors (e.g., rights groups and health care) performed much better than others. The vast majority of gifts came in through Facebook Fundraisers, a peer-to-peer tool. This means you need to recruit individual fundraisers, and they need to recruit other (hopefully new) donors. If you’re already doing P2P using online fundraising pages (e.g. birthday campaigns), your results on social media may not be as transformative.

One concern I have is you don’t own Facebook data. 

Donations come to you anonymously, so you’ve no way to steward these donors so they become loyal to you over time.  This goes counter to fundraising wisdom that it’s the lifetime value of a donor that really matters. Acquisition is a short game, not a long one. If you’re doing P2P fundraising off your own website, this may be a better long-term strategy than using Facebook.

Email revenue decreased by 8%; email still accounted for 13% of all online giving.


Does this mean email is no panacea?

Of course it isn’t. You should never put all your eggs in one basket. Just as you want a diversified financing strategy (e.g., a variety of revenue streams including earned income, contributed income, investment income, grants and contracts) you also want a diversified fundraising strategy (including a mix of integrated online and offline channels).

One takeaway from the report is that “email is hard and getting harder.” 

This makes sense because competition today is robust. Early adopters saw higher response rates because competition was less intense. Today your email competes for attention not only with other nonprofits, but with many for-profit businesses as well. 

People’s inboxes are stuffed!

It’s hard to say precisely why email revenue is down, but one might guess folks are more robustly deleting emails these days without even opening them. And this means you should probably be mailing more, not less – because you want to reach folks on a ‘good day’ when they’re not in ‘delete mode.’

Interested in a benchmark? Nonprofits sent an average of 59 email messages per subscriber in 2018. This marked an 8% increase in volume from 2017.

Revenue from recurring monthly gifts increased by 17%.


Does this mean you should race to build/enhance your monthly giving program?

IMHO, yes.

Recurring giving programs are an almost magical strategy for upgrading donors (e.g., a $100 donor becomes a $120 donor by pledging $10/month).

Monthly gifts have the added benefit of much higher donor retention rates than one-time gifts (80 – 90% vs. 46%). 

Plus compare the 17% monthly retention increase with a 2% decline in retention for one-time gifts.

If you’re simultaneously raising more money today and setting yourself up to build and sustain donor loyalty over time and raise even more money tomorrow, that’s a win/win.

Monthly giving is easier to set up and maintain than ever.

What was once a laborious process has become a more-or-less turnkey option, as long as you purchase the right software. There are plenty of options available. [See here to get started.]

Users on mobile devices accounted for 48% of all traffic to nonprofit websites, compared to just 44% for desktop. 


Does this mean you should prioritize fundraising on mobile over desktop?

You don’t need to make this choice!

Just make sure your website and digital appeals are optimized for mobile; then see what happens. Your work is the same. You can’t control where donors open your messages.

It’s imperative to be aware, however, that the trend towards mobile means you can no longer do a spit and chewing gum job of making your messaging mobile friendly. 

Here’s the deal: M+R found the average nonprofit homepage takes 0.31 seconds longer to load on a mobile device than on a desktop. This is more than enough time for a would-be donor to get distracted. 

If you want supporters to engage, you have to be engaging!

All this being said, know that while the share of online revenue coming from mobile users increased by 15% in 2018, a desktop user is still more likely to make a gift (21% vs. 9% conversion rate), and the average desktop gift is $53 higher than a mobile gift. 

Use these findings and online fundraising benchmarks to boost online giving results in the months and years ahead.

To your success!

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