Online Giving Grew 32 Percent in 2020, Survey Finds
Online giving soared last year, with nonprofits reporting 32 percent growth in online revenue. That finding comes from an annual survey by M+R, an online fundraising and marketing firm that works with nonprofits. M+R polled 220 nonprofits in the United States and Britain about how they communicated with supporters and appealed for donations. The year 2020 was a standout in giving compared with 2019 — when online revenue increased just 10 percent for the 135 nonprofits surveyed — and 2018, when it only grew
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Online giving soared last year, with nonprofits reporting 32 percent growth in online revenue. That finding comes from an annual survey by M+R, an online fundraising and marketing firm that works with nonprofits. M+R polled 220 nonprofits in the United States and Britain about how they communicated with supporters and appealed for donations. The year 2020 was a standout in giving compared with 2019 — when online revenue increased just 10 percent for the 135 nonprofits surveyed — and 2018, when it only grew 1 percent for the 201 groups in the survey.
“It’s just a sign that so many individual people around the country in this last year — who were struggling themselves, who saw the struggle around them in the midst of so much hardship — really rose up and did what they could to support causes,” said Will Valverde, senior creative director at M+R and author of the report. “A lot of us, in seeing these numbers and trying to figure out what they meant, got emotional in a way that we typically don’t.”
As with so many things, the pandemic was largely responsible for last year’s anomalous growth in giving. Nonprofits addressing issues exacerbated by the economic free-fall last spring saw the largest jump. Groups focused on hunger and poverty received 173 percent more revenue from online gifts in 2020 than they did in 2019.
What’s more, charities that directly responded to the health crisis or advocated for relief saw online fundraising revenue grow at nearly twice the rate as others. The frontline organizations in the survey contributed 41 percent of the overall jump in online giving thanks to a spike in one-time donors. By comparison, revenue from one-time gifts grew only 21 percent at charities that didn’t directly address Covid-19. Many more donors, however, chose to give one-time gifts to frontline organizations instead of becoming monthly donors. Growth in revenue from monthly donors was the same for organizations both on and off the front lines, at 26 percent.
Relief organizations that see a flood of giving after a natural disaster know how it slows when eyes of the world are no longer on the devastation. But Valverde says he expects post-pandemic giving to be different. “The pandemic was not something that happened on a day,” he said. And while disaster relief organizations are frequently engaged in long-term recovery processes, Valverde says, donors often don’t see that work when the media moves on.
In the case of Covid-19, Valverde says the media won’t turn away from coverage any time soon. “We’re still in the midst of it,” he said. That means fundraisers still have a news peg for their appeals.
Meanwhile, spending on digital ads went up 33 percent last year — mostly driven by big campaigns launched by nonprofits addressing health, hunger, and poverty. Digital ads were especially successful for the hunger and poverty nonprofits in the survey, which reported a return of nearly $18 for every $1 spent on a paid search-engine ad. Health nonprofits, by contrast, saw a return of just over $5 for every $1 spent on paid search.
Health and hunger nonprofits that responded to the survey also dominated on Facebook fundraising campaigns, where their revenue increased 946 percent. That spike contributed to an overall year-over-year revenue increase of 14 percent on Facebook across all nonprofits in the survey. In 2019, revenue from gifts made on Facebook grew just 6 percent. However, Facebook was far from the dominant fundraising platform. The survey found it was the source of just 1.3 percent of all online donations last year — down from 3.5 percent in 2019.
“It’s not so much that Facebook fundraising revenue wasn’t a big deal and didn’t support the bottom line for a lot of nonprofits,” Valverde said. “It’s just that, when everything else is growing so fast, it’s hard for that channel necessarily to keep up.” Growth in crowdfunding campaigns and Facebook’s mysterious algorithm could also have influenced where and how donors gave, he adds.
Mobile devices were a standout means to connect with donors last year. More than half of visitors to nonprofits’ websites used a mobile device — an increase of 9 percent over 2019. Even so, just 25 percent of all online revenue came from donors using their mobile device to make a gift.
“It’s comparable in a lot of ways to what we’ve seen with social media and the audience sizes there,” Valverde said. “We are seeing this really fast growth in the size of the audience. It’s still relatively small compared to some other channels.”
The share of people who clicked links on advocacy and fundraising appeals sent by text was higher that the share who clicked emailed links with similar messages. The survey found more growth in supporters reached by text than those reached by email. Bulk text message lists grew 26 percent year-over-year compared with 3 percent for email lists. Those percentages were the same as in 2019.
To date, Valverde says there have been few regulations on how nonprofits can experiment with reaching their supporters by text. But that may not be the case forever. “Just like Gmail eventually decided this is too much for everybody, we’re going to set up a promotions tab. We may start seeing some of the providers setting some limits on how exactly these mass messaging platforms operate or how the peer-to-peer systems work.”
Among the other findings:
- Seventy-two percent of online revenue came from gifts made on computers.
- Supporters who made online donations on a computer gave an average of $80. Those who contributed on a mobile device gave an average of $42.
- The nonprofits in the survey reported a 58 percent decline in revenue from online ticket sales, which had increased 6 percent from 2018 to 2019.
- The election did not meaningfully diminish the number of supporters nonpolitical organizations were able to reach through digital marketing campaigns, according to the survey.