Research & Reports

Nonprofit Online Revenue Increased Just One Percent in 2018

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Online revenue for nonprofits grew by just one percent in 2018 after 23 percent growth the year before, according to the recently released 2019 M+R Benchmarks Study.

The study is an in-depth annual review of digital data that includes input from 135 nonprofits and provides a new vantage point to explore what’s working, what’s trending, and what’s changing for online fundraising, advocacy, and marketing. The study includes insightful information on areas including fundraising and donor retention, email and mobile, and social media and ads.

The dramatic drop in online revenue was representative of some of the old standbys of online fundraising showed signs of wear. However, many organizations got a big boost from a new source of revenue—Facebook fundraising—that they’ve never been able to count on before.

Here are just some of the key findings:

Fundraising and Donor Retention

  • Revenue was relatively flat year-over-year for most sectors, but Rights nonprofits reported a 14 percent decline in giving (after extraordinary 88 percent growth in 2017).
  • Revenue from one-time gifts decreased by 2 percent, while monthly giving revenue increased by 17 percent. Monthly giving accounted for 16 percent of all online revenue in 2018, up from 13 percent in 2017.
  • Membership giving makes up the bulk of total online revenue for nonprofits that have a membership program – more than three quarters of all online revenue in 2018.
  • On average, 37 percent of donors who made an online gift to a nonprofit in 2017 made an online gift again to that nonprofit in 2018. Retention was 25 percent for donors who made their first gift in 2017, and 59 percent for repeat donors.
  • Retention rates dropped for all giving levels in 2018, with no particular pattern connected to size of gift. While some declined more than others, the differences were relatively minor.

Email and Mobile

  • Email revenue decreased by 8 percent, though email still accounted for 13 percent of all online giving. Rights nonprofits experienced the steepest decline, with a 40 percent drop from the previous year. Meanwhile, Health nonprofits reported a 40 percent increase in email revenue.
  • Email lists grew by 5 percent in 2018, and nonprofits increased messaging volume slightly, sending 4 percent more fundraising messages than in 2017.
  • Nonprofits sent an average of 59 email messages per subscriber in 2018. This marked an 8 percent increase in volume from 2017.
  • Advocacy email response rates declined by 15 percent in 2018 to 1.8 percent. Drops were reported for open, click-through, and page completion rates. The unsubscribe rate fell to 0.12 percent, which is 2 percent lower than in the previous year.
  • Fundraising email response rates declined by 13 percent in 2018 to 0.06 percent. Open and page completion rates declined, however click-through rates improved somewhat. The unsubscribe rate for fundraising messages fell to 0.16 percent, 10 percent lower than in the previous year.
  • Nonprofits raised $0.83 per website visitor in 2018. Overall, 1.0 percent of website visitors made a donation.
  • The majority of nonprofit website traffic came from users on mobile and tablet devices. Mobile users accounted for 48 percent of all traffic, tablets for 8 percent, and desktop users made up 44 percent of traffic.
  • Desktop users accounted for 63 percent of all donations and contributed 71 percent of revenue. Mobile users accounted for 21 percent of all revenue, a 15 percent increase from 2017.
  • Fundraising text messages had a 13 percent click-through rate, while peer-to-peer text messaging earned a response rate of 15 percent.

Social Media and Ads

  • Facebook’s fundraising tools didn’t debut in 2018, but for many of the study participants, this was the first year the platform made a measurable impact on revenue.
  • For every $100 in direct online revenue, nonprofits raised $1.77 through Facebook fundraising tools. Nearly all of this revenue came from Facebook Fundraisers, the peer-to-peer platform. Some nonprofits raised nearly as much from Facebook Fundraisers as all other sources of online revenue combined. 
  • November is the month for Facebook Fundraisers—nearly a quarter of revenue came in during that month.
  • Each Facebook post only reached 4 percent of a nonprofit page’s fans. Meanwhile, 29 percent of the audience reached by a given post was not already following the nonprofit.
  • Instagram was the fastest growing of the three social media platforms tracked with a 34 percent increase in the number of followers. The number of Twitter followers increased by 26 percent, while Facebook pages grew by just 6 percent.
  • Overall, digital ad budgets grew by 144 percent in 2018. The increased investment was especially pronounced among nonprofits in the Rights sector, which spent 300 percent more on ads in 2018 than in 2017.
  • Small nonprofits also more than tripled their investment in digital ads, outpacing the 156 percent growth for medium nonprofits and 116 percent growth for large nonprofits.

For more information on these findings and more, please visit the 2019 M+R Benchmarks Study.

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