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Online giving to nonprofits returned to double-digit year-over-year growth and mobile traffic is more important than ever, according to the 14th annual M+R Benchmarks Study. The study was researched and created by M+R, a communications agency that works with nonprofits and foundations to advance their causes online, in the media, and on the ground. While the study looks at 2019, it offers a deep set of data to nonprofit leaders who are navigating unprecedented territory as they steer their organizations and movements through the COVID-19 crisis. 

This year’s study measures the online fundraising and advocacy results of 201 nonprofit participants (the largest participant pool to date), including Feeding America, Autism Speaks, American Museum of Natural History, Oxfam America, World Wildlife Fund, Innocence Project, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Online revenue for nonprofits increased by 10% last year. This increase falls in line with the long-term growth trajectory many nonprofits had considered "normal" before the 2016 election. A spike in online giving after the election, especially for causes opposed to or targeted by the Trump administration, leveled off by 2018. The double-digit growth nonprofits reported in last year’s study appears to represent a return to the long-term trendline. 

Additionally, mobile users continued to play an increasingly important role in supporting nonprofits. One third of online donations in 2019 were made by users on mobile devices, a 17% increase in transaction share from the previous year.   

See here for more info on this year’s study at a glance.

Will Valverde, M+R Creative Director and author of the Benchmarks Study: “Nonprofits made a giant leap following the 2016 election, and the relatively flat growth curve two years later simply represented a return to normalcy. For those of us who have been holding our breaths, hoping to see a return to what generally has been thought of as “normal,” some of that is here. That said, we know that the economic and social disruptions driven by this pandemic will wreak profound changes for nonprofits. Social media, mobile messaging, email, digital advertising, and other tools that help bring supporters closer to causes will be more important than ever in this moment.”

Below are other top takeaways from the 2020 M+R Benchmarks Study (will be updated at on April 23, 2020). The study is full of dozens more charts and specific takeaways by nonprofit sector (Cultural, Environmental, Health, Hunger/Poverty, International, Public Media, Rights, and Wildlife/Animal Welfare).

  • Fundraising: For the first time, we found a slight year-over-year increase in email fundraising response rates overall by 1% in 2019, to 0.05%. An increase in open rate (up by 9% to 16.52%) and click-through rate (up by 22% to 0.56%) were mostly offset by a decline in page completion rate (down by 19% to 10.87%).
  • Advocacy: The email response rate for advocacy messages was 1.97%, flat from 2018 results. An increase in open rate (up by 11% to 16.32%) and click-through rate (up by 6% to 2.77%) were balanced out by a slight decline in page completion rate (down by 4% to 73.53%).
  • Email: Nonprofits sent an average of 35 email messages per subscriber in 2019, a 2% decline in volume from the previous year. Fundraising appeals accounted for 15 of these messages on average, newsletters for 9, and advocacy messages 4. Public Media nonprofits sent the highest volume of messages (69 messages, with 40 of those being newsletters). Health nonprofits sent the fewest, just 23 messages, fairly evenly split between message types.
  • Mobile & Desktop: Mobile users generated half of all website traffic in 2019 (up by 11% from 2018), 33% of donation transactions (up by 17% from 2018) and 26% of revenue (up by 20% from 2018). Desktop users accounted for 41% of traffic, and the majority of transactions (61%) and revenue (69%). 
  • Facebook: For every 1,000 email addresses, nonprofits had an average of 496 Facebook fans, 221 Twitter followers, and 83 Instagram followers. Cultural nonprofits had the largest social media audiences relative to email list size, with 1,796 Facebook fans, 488 Twitter followers, and 772 Instagram followers for every 1,000 email addresses.
  • Facebook Fundraisers: Nonprofits received 3.5% of all online revenue through Facebook, with the vast majority of that revenue coming through the peer-to-peer Facebook Fundraisers tool. Facebook Fundraisers revenue increased by 6% over the previous year.
  • Advertising: For every dollar raised online in 2019, nonprofits spent $0.05 on digital advertising, (Note that this is not a measure of ROI, but a ratio of ad budget to overall revenue.) Nonprofit investment in digital ads increased by 16% in 2019.
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