Nonprofit Fundraising

Learn from the Leaders!

I was talking with a young colleague – a paid search specialist – about some of the incredible learning opportunities available with clients who could afford testing.

“But how can you take those learnings and put them to work for smaller clients,” I challenged.

I was reminded of this as I reviewed the just-released M+R Benchmark Report. This is “the largest, most comprehensive dataset” yet for what I believe has become the industry-leading benchmark on nonprofit online fundraising (154 organizations, nearly 5 billion email messages, more than 500 billion web visits and nearly 12 million donations).

Constituent lists continue to grow (email up 11%, social even more). Organizations sent more emails per subscriber per month (up 11%) and spent more on digital advertising (up 24%). Total online revenue grew by 24%.

Just one nagging little negative: virtually every individual email metric declined. 

There is some variance, by sector and by size of organization. I’m not going to try to recap all of that here; I want to encourage you again to download the study! (There are also a number of helpful tips, from assessing engagement effectiveness of social media to testing the download speed of your home page.)


But back to this learnings concept ….

I found the section on digital advertising particularly interesting. On average, small organizations (email list of less than 100,000) spent 3¢ per dollar of revenue in this arena, medium organizations (100,000 to 500,000) spent 5¢ per dollar and large organizations (500,000-plus) spent 8¢ per dollar of revenue.

Large organizations focused virtually all of their spending on direct fundraising (68%) or lead generation (26%). Small organizations, by contrast, spent more than a third of their resources on Awareness/Education. While direct fundraising, at $40 to $200 per new donor, may be a bit too costly for smaller organizations, it would seem that lead generation, at $1.46 per new name, could be more realistic.


Cost is likely a driver in channel choice as well. Social media accounted for more than half (55%) of the total spend for small organizations and far less (35%) for large. The comparative cost per gift reported is $41 for social, $65 for search and $204 for display.

This is an area that will continue to grow. This year, small organizations nearly doubled the amount they invested in digital advertising and large organizations increased their spend by 70%, while medium organizations held fairly steady (3%).

(If you’d like some additional perspective on what’s happening in nonprofit digital advertising, check out our current podcast featuring VeraData’s EVP Judah Fontz.)

There’s a lot of material here; we may use a future blog post to come back and address more, like those declining email metrics, for example. In the meantime, one more reminder: download your copy today!

Building Trust is ‘Job #1’

Fake news. Partisan deadlock. Economic volatitlity. How do these affect you?


According to the recently released 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, leaders in every sector —including NGOs! — have reason for concern.

This annual perspective was launched in 2001, when the Chicago-based communications firm set out to examine trust, favorability and credibility among the NGO, Government, Media and Business sectors.

Interestingly, the title of that first year’s report was “NGOs: Why They are Winning.” The 2017 report was called “Trust in Crisis,” and the 2018 report may well come to be labeled “The Collapse of Trust.”

The full report is based on 1,000-plus responses to an online survey from each of 28 participating countries. Respondents are asked to use a nine-point scale to indicate their level of trust in organizations, from “not at all” to “a great deal.”

This year, the U.S. saw the steepest decline in trust worldwide, an aggregate of 37%. While trust in Government led this free-fall, trust in NGO’s also fell, to 49% (less than half?!) among the population in general and from 73% to 51% among the “informed public.”

I find this latter figure particularly alarming because these are the higher income, higher educated individuals I would look to first for financial support. According to the report, trust among this key group in the U.S. is lower than in any of the other 27 countries measured.

So, what can you do?

Communication is key. As the study’s authors note, “Silence and inaction are not options, and no work is more important than re-establishing trust.”

They also cite other markers which may provide direction.

  • After seven consecutive years of growing trust, peer-to-peer credibility began to wane; trust in search engines and social media platforms declined 11 points.
  • “Voices of authority,” i.e., with technical and academic credentials, are more likely to be accepted as credible.
  • In addition, the authors note, “NGOs and business can fill the role of providing reliable information about—and solutions for—the issues that people care about.”

It’s no small challenge. How can you respond?

How Do Your Stats Sound?

“If you want to be heard, you gotta get loud.”


That’s from the “liner notes” of the new M+R Benchmark Study “of nonprofit digital advocacy, fundraising, social, and advertising.”

Don’t be fooled by the musical riff. This is hard-core data. Even bigger, better and bolder than before. It’s also a must-read resource for any nonprofit development professional. 

There’s virtually no way to offer a simple synopsis of this year’s report. And that’s the beauty of it. More nonprofits participated (133:105) and the insights and analysis of the eight different sectors seem to go even deeper. The overall averages are interesting, but I found looking at sector-specific trends provided even greater insight. 

For example, while participants in the Wildlife/Animal Welfare sector saw lower than average email revenue growth (+5% compared to +15%), their growth in overall online revenue was slightly higher (+16% compared to +14%). Is that because they’re more active on social media (more followers and a higher-than-average number of posts per day)? Or could it be due to their higher-than-average increase in spending on digital advertising (+85% compared to +69%)? 

Some trends should cause concern.

  • The number of messages per constituent went up again, 10%. The average subscriber got 69 messages per year from every nonprofit they support. (24 fundraising messages, 20 advocacy messages,  11 newsletters and 14 others). Is it any wonder that open rates, clickthrough rates and response rates all went down? (Fundraising responses rates now average 0.05%. That’s one response to every 2,000 emails!)
  • Nonprofits are becoming more active in social media as well. But while the number of Facebook fans and posts have increased, this report estimates that only about 8% of your fans will see a post if it’s not promoted. And only about 3% of the posts were promoted.

There are encouraging trends as well:

  • Overall online revenue is up (+14%), list size is up (+10%), website traffic is up (+3.6%) and monthly giving continues to grow (+23%).
  • Some sectors are doing exceptionally well at engaging constituents. Public Media newsletters, for example, saw an average open rate of 24% (compared to 14% overall). 
  • While only a few of your fans are likely to see your Facebook post, it will also be seen by about as many people who aren't currently connected to you.

And then there are details that are just downright interesting. Like comparing to the types of content posted. Wouldn’t that be helpful to consider as you planned your social media activity?

I think M+R along with NTEN, the Nonprofit Technology Network has done the industry a tremendous service by publishing Benchmarks 2017.

Check it out for yourself. I think you’ll agree!