Study Sizes Up Nonprofits’ Online Metrics

The M+R Benchmarks Study looks at how nonprofits are using email and other online means—and what kind of results they’re getting.

Bad news: Email metrics—open rates, click-throughs, and response rates—are down. But there’s also some good news: Email fundraising is up.

Those are just two results from the M+R Benchmarks Study, which looked at the online metrics of 105 nonprofits and then mapped out some trends when it comes to the organizations’ fundraising, advocacy, and marketing activities.

As your association plans and executes its digital marketing and fundraising strategy, keep these results in mind to see how you compare.


The study found that a nonprofit sent 49 email messages to subscribers in 2015—6 percent more than it sent in 2014. These emails included 19 fundraising appeals, 12 advocacy messages, and nine newsletters.

Despite this increase in emails being sent, the study showed that email open rates, click-through rates, and response rates declined. “Response rates were down for both advocacy and fundraising messages, driven by lower open and click-through rates across the board. The average advocacy response rate was 2.1% (down 11% from 2014), while the average fundraising response rate was 0.06% (down 8% from 2014),” the study noted.

However, even with this decline, email revenue increased by 25 percent. The study authors explained:  “With open rates, click-through rates, and response rates all declining, this increase comes down to volume. Volume, in two ways: more people, and more messages. Email lists grew by 14% in 2015, and nonprofits sent more fundraising messages.”

For the 25 nonprofits in the study with the largest year-over-year growth in online fundraising, more than a third of their online revenue can be tracked directly to an email appeal. For the rest of the nonprofits, the average was 27 percent. The top 25 also sent more fundraising appeals than the rest of the nonprofits did—27 appeals per subscriber from the top group and 16 from the rest.

Overall, email revenue constituted 29 percent of online revenue. For every 1,000 fundraising messages sent, nonprofits received $44 in donations.

The study also looked at different types of emails the nonprofits were sending. Sixty-four percent said they sent at least one dedicated welcome message to new subscribers, and of those, a majority sent a series of three messages, which included a fundraising appeal.

Online Revenue

Overall, online revenue grew by 19 percent—so the 25 percent increase in email revenue outpaced that overall growth. Thirteen percent of online gifts were made through mobile devices—“a number that likely reflects both user preference and increasing adoption of mobile optimization best practices by nonprofits,” the study notes.

For every $1 of online revenue, respondents spent $0.04 on digital advertising. “Digital advertising is an increasingly important market for acquisition, conversion, and retention,” the study notes.

The study found that nonprofits with large email lists (500,000-plus subscribers) spent more on digital advertising than small groups (less than 100,000 subscribers). Those with large email lists spent $0.13 per dollar raised, while those with smaller lists spent $0.01 per dollar raised.

Social Media

On average, respondents posted on Facebook 1.3 times per day and tweeted 3.8 times per day. For every 1,000 email subscribers, nonprofits have 355 Facebook fans, 132 Twitter followers, and 19 Instagram followers. Their average engagement rates–including clicks, comments, shares, retweets, likes, and other actions—were 5.4 percent for Facebook and 1.6 percent for Twitter.

How do your association’s online metrics compare to the study’s findings? Please share in the comments.


Allison Torres Burtka

By Allison Torres Burtka

Allison Torres Burtka, a longtime association journalist, is a freelance writer and editor in West Bloomfield, Michigan. MORE

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