New Study Offers Lessons on Nonprofit Fundraising and Marketing

The latest M+R Benchmarks Study dives into nonprofit fundraising and marketing metrics—and draws some conclusions about what’s working and what’s not.

In 2016, nonprofits had to send an average of 2,000 emails to get one donation.

That’s according to the latest M+R Benchmarks Study, which looked at data from 133 nonprofits on their email and social media messaging, email list sizes, fundraising, online advocacy, web traffic, and digital ads, among other metrics.

But not all the findings were quite so discouraging. In fact, online revenue grew by 14 percent from 2015 to 2016, and monthly giving increased by 23 percent. “In a broad sense, the overall trend is that nonprofits are reaching more people more frequently in more places, and in return they’re seeing increases in revenue,” according to the study.

Here are a few trends that the study points when it comes to email, social media, and digital advertising.


Email open rates decreased by 7 percent from 2015 to 2016. The response rate to fundraising emails also dropped. In 2016, there was an 8 percent drop in the response rate from 2015, which means that only 0.05 percent of fundraising emails generated donations. Still, last year saw an increase in online revenue, and email accounted for 16 percent of total online revenue, according to the study.

Why the increase in revenue in the face of declining email open and response rates? In short, it looks like nonprofits are working even harder in 2016 than they were the year before. For instance, nonprofits grew their email lists by about 10 percent in 2016, and they also sent about 10 percent more messages per subscriber as well.

Social Media

“Your fan count is the simplest way to know how many people see the messages, calls to action, photos, invitations, appeals, and news you post,” according to the study. “Or it would be, if that number weren’t hugely misleading.”

In fact, nonprofits will reach just 8 percent of their followers with social media posts. Although promoting posts boosts that reach, nonprofits working with limited resources aren’t likely to have the budget to promote all of their posts. Still, according to M+R’s research, 45 percent of Facebook users who saw a nonprofit’s post weren’t already fans of the organization. But as fans engage with the post—especially when they share it—it crops up in other News Feeds and its reach is increased.

So, what’s the takeaway for associations? “It’s good to have fans, the more the merrier,” said the study. “But so much of your Facebook reach comes
down to engagement, shares, and being seen by audiences beyond your existing fan base. If you want to be seen on Facebook, the nature and quality of your content are just as important as the number of Likes you have.”

Digital Advertising

“You can’t keep playing the same old tunes if you want to stay at the top of the charts,” according to the study. “Your nonprofit needs to actively seek out new audiences and test different messages. For many nonprofits, digital advertising is the answer.”

Of the study’s 133 respondents, 100 reported putting dollars toward digital advertising in 2016. Nearly half of those funds—46 percent—went toward new donor acquisition, while 23 percent went toward branding, 18 percent went toward lead generation, and 14 percent went toward existing supporter conversions.

When it comes to the platform, 46 percent put their digital advertising dollars toward display ads, 32 percent put them toward search ads, and 23 percent put those dollars toward social media ads.

“How much to spend on digital ads, where to display those ads, and whether they are meant for donor conversion, list growth, visibility, or something else …” said the report. “These are tough questions that will depend on your specific needs and goals. But every nonprofit needs to keep seeking new audiences, new stages, and new songs to sing—and digital ads are increasingly a part of that repertoire.”



Emily Bratcher

By Emily Bratcher

Emily Bratcher is a Contributing Editor for Associations Now. MORE

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