News and analysis
April 24, 2015

Online Revenue Surges 13% for Nonprofits, Study Says

Luis Galdámez, Oxfam America

Oxfam and its partner, PROVIDA, made improvements to the water source at a school in El Recuerdo, El Salvador.

Online revenue at nonprofits increased 13 percent from 2013 to 2014, a change attributable to the number, not the size, of online gifts, according to the 2015 benchmarks study by the marketing firm M+R.

The study, which analyzed fundraising, email, and marketing practices, examined data in eight categories — environmental, health, international, rights, wildlife and animal welfare, domestic hunger and poverty, cultural, and miscellaneous — from 84 nonprofits in the United States, Canada, Australia, and South Africa.

While the number of online gifts to the participating nonprofits increased by 13 percent, the average gift size fell 2 percent. Overall, groups raised an average of $40 for every 1,000 fundraising messages they delivered. Large groups had an average of $25.40, medium groups had an average of $52.95, and small groups averaged $124.12.

"Typically, really large groups will spend money on getting nondonors on their email list," said Jonathan Benton, vice president at M+R. "When they send an email out to people, a lot don’t have a connection. Small groups are more likely to have supporter lists of people they’ve met in real life."

Email Lists

Email lists for participants in the study grew by 11 percent, a smaller rate than in previous years. At the same time, more organizations are scratching inactive people from their email lists to get more accurate measurements about how supporters respond to messages.

This is partially a response to changing technology: Google and other email service providers adapt to their users’ behaviors, so when people stop opening emails from particular nonprofits, the service providers start filtering those messages into spam folders, Mr. Benton said.

For fundraising messages, email open rates were up 5 percent, but overall response rates (average 0.06 percent) declined 12 percent because the number of people who completed the online forms on which they clicked declined by 11 percent.

For advocacy messages, email open rates were up 9 percent, but overall response rates (average 2.9 percent) declined 18 percent because the number of people who clicked a link in an email declined by 12 percent.

Online monthly giving generated through means other than email increased by 32 percent in 2014. The average online monthly gift made through this channel was $23, with international groups netting the highest amount ($28), and wildlife and animal welfare groups receiving the lowest ($18).

One-time giving grew 9 percent. The average one-time gift (made other than through email) was $104. International groups reaped the largest return ($207) while wildlife and animal welfare groups had the lowest ($70).

‘Being Everywhere’

Approximately two-thirds of nonprofits that participated in the survey reported spending money on web-based marketing. Nonprofits are taking advantage of many social-media platforms, with Instagram, YouTube, and Google+ the most popular after Facebook and Twitter.

It’s not just "being everywhere, but being everywhere thoughtfully and in the right places," said Madeline Stanionis, creative director and principal at M+R.

This is the first year that M + R analyzed cultural organizations (museums, libraries, history groups) as a distinct category, and the findings suggest that nonprofits like these get significantly different results from groups in other categories. Cultural institutions had the highest email open rate, link click-through rate, and fundraising response rate. They raised more money per 1,000 fundraising emails delivered ($141) than the sector as a whole ($40). Monthly giving accounted for a smaller percentage of online fundraising for cultural organizations than for the sector as a whole.

Findings for other groups:

  • Giving was down for international organizations, which M+R attributed to the lack of high-profile natural disasters in 2014.
  • Environmental groups had the greatest growth in the number of online gifts (a 28 percent increase).
  • The percentage of visitors to nonprofits' websites that made donations was the highest in the category of hunger and poverty, at 3.6 percent.

Send an email to Rebecca Koenig.