Prepare for Launch

No frontier is final. Let’s get that straight right away. Every discovery we make reveals new regions to explore. Every answer we find leads to more questions. Every advance in technology, every shift in strategies, every evolution in audiences expands our universe and changes what is possible for nonprofits.

The sky’s not the limit; it’s a starting point.

The M+R Benchmarks Study is our annual endeavour to map that sky. We collect a vast array of data from nonprofits across a wide spectrum of issue areas, and track the key metrics that are driving digital marketing, advocacy, and fundraising programs.

It’s a big enterprise, and one that would be absolutely impossible without the time and generosity of our nonprofit participants. This year, 201 nonprofits representing a stunning constellation of causes joined in, far and away the largest participant pool we have ever had. Amazing! Our thanks and appreciation go out to each and every one of them.

These incredible nonprofit partners filled out spreadsheets, answered detailed questions, and coded countless emails, ads, and social media posts. (Well…not literally countless—we count everything. You’ll see.) They provided the billions and billions of data points that form the core of our Benchmarks Study.

These nonprofits—their staff, the people they serve, the people who support them—are experiencing extreme disruptions right now due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The data included in this year’s Benchmarks Study pre-dates the spread of the disease, so we will not know the impacts for some time. For now, we want to thank our partners and wish them safety, resilience, and recovery.

Special thanks also go out to GetThru, Hustle, and Upland Mobile Messaging for providing the data that fueled our findings on mobile messaging.

Our hope is that you will use these charts, tables, and trends to ground your own strategy on a firm foundation. That you will be able to back up your hunches with cold hard facts. And that you’ll find some conventional wisdom to be as mythical as Martian canals or the lost city of Atlantis.

It comes down to this: we can’t chart a new path forward unless we understand our place in the universe. That’s how we keep pushing boundaries and exploring new frontiers. That’s how we endure darkness and glimpse the dawn. That’s how we’ll keep rising.

Now, take your protein pills and put your helmet on. We are go for launch.

Mission control

Data: Theresa Bugeaud, Jonathan Benton, Sammy Stewart, Kristen Friedel
Design: Emily Giorgione, Laura Klavon, Olivia Moore
Writing: Will Valverde
Web development: Bobby Burch and Michael King
Web and optimization insights: Karen Hopper
Digital ads insights: Liz Ertner and Matt Derby
Social media insights: Amy Peyrot
Mobile messaging insights: Kyle Shepherd
Participant outreach: Lucy Midelfort
Project management: Bobby Goldstein
Quality control: Zia Bauer, Jeff Gang, MB Gowins, Anne Paschkopić, Liz Thaler
Challenger of all assumptions: Madeline Stanionis

The Right Stuff

We are M+R.

We are communicators, marketers, fundraisers, campaigners, and stargazers who unleash the power of people to do good.

We work exclusively with nonprofits fighting for a just and sustainable planet.

We'd love to help plan your next mission and launch your next world-changing campaign! Find us at

And if this sounds like a crew you want to join, we're often hiring for positions in Oakland, Boston, Los Angeles, New York, and the District of Columbia (not to mention our remote satellite offices)! More at

NEW HORIZONS: Key Findings and Overall Revenue


  • Total online revenue grew by 10% in 2019. After extraordinary volatility following the 2016 election—a major spike in 2017 revenue, followed by relatively flat growth in 2018—this appears to represent a return to the expected long-term growth trajectory.
  • Email fundraising response rates increased by 1%. This is the first time we have ever reported a year-over-year increase in this metric, though some sectors reported sharp declines.
  • Facebook giving accounted for 3.5% of all online revenue. This giving is heavily concentrated around Giving Tuesday, and especially significant for the Health sector.
  • Nonprofit Facebook posts reached fewer users relative to their audience size. An average post reached 9,100 users for every 100,000 followers a nonprofit had.

Some changes are easy to spot. They stand out, bright and unexpected, like a supernova bursting against a placid black sky. Let’s start there.

In our last Benchmarks Study, we found that 2018 online revenue for our participants grew by only 1% from the previous year. After reporting double-digit growth consistently for over a decade, this was a strikingly different trajectory.

A variety of possible explanations were floated, and it’s reasonable to suppose that several of them made an impact. Maybe it was the changes to tax law taking effect. Maybe it was the late-December stock market tumble.

And then there was Trump. After the 2016 election, the trajectory of digital fundraising skyrocketed upward—especially for the progressive groups forming the resistance. This extraordinary expansion boosted engagement and revenue, but after a while that growth leveled off. Those numbers started to return to earth. Gravity once again took hold.

In other words: Nonprofits made a giant leap following the 2016 election, and the relatively flat growth curve two years later simply represented a return to normalcy.

If that last explanation were the case, the thinking boldly went, then as we moved past the shockwaves of the election and its aftermath, nonprofits would soon find themselves once again on that familiar, steady long-term growth curve. What goes up tends to come down; that’s just gravity. The question was: does what goes down also tend to come up? If so, then this year’s Benchmarks would report a return to double-digit year-over-year growth.

Well, here we are, a year later: total online revenue grew by 10% in 2019.

For those of us who have been holding our breaths, hoping to see a return to what generally has been thought of as “normal”—well, some of that is here. The sun continues to rise in the east, the planets remain fixed in their orbits, and online revenue for nonprofits is growing.

[NOTE: As we write this, the COVID-19 pandemic is sweeping across the globe, and the stock market is doing things it hasn’t done since 1929. So, as comforting as it might be to believe that current results can predict future events, there is massive uncertainty ahead for nonprofits and the people and causes they serve. Let’s take care of each other now, and check back in next year to examine those impacts.]

Major dazzling shifts like this can be attention-grabbing, but it’s important not to let them blind us to the broader background. There’s a lot more to keep track of than just the topline revenue numbers.

Consider also the gradual curve of the horizon, which defines the landscape over the long term even if it can be hard to see changes moment by moment. Just about every year, our Benchmarks Study has found audiences growing in email and social media platforms. We’ve also reported a slow but seemingly inexorable decline in key metrics like open rates and response rates.

That decline has been a permanent fixture of our world—until this year. For the first time, we found a slight year-over-year increase in email fundraising response rates overall. And when we look beyond the overall number to individual sectors, we see a wildly uneven landscape.

Then there are the cyclical phenomena, which follow mostly regular and predictable paths. For most nonprofits, fundraising reaches its zenith at the end of December when holiday spirit, the annual tax deadline, and aggressive fundraising messaging align. Depending on your issue area, your calendar may be influenced by the electoral cycle, by hurricane season or wildfire season, by a pledge drive or a walkathon or an annual member drive.

The emergence of Giving Tuesday has created a new center of gravity on that calendar. Along with the revenue nonprofits are able to generate through direct promotion, this marks a particularly important month for Facebook Fundraisers, the social media platform’s peer-to-peer fundraising tool. In 2019, giving on Facebook accounted for more than 3.5% of all online nonprofit revenue. For the Health sector, Facebook generated nearly 10 cents of every dollar raised online.

At the same time, Facebook poses real challenges for nonprofits seeking to reliably make contact with their supporters. The overall Earned Reach Average (the number of Facebook users reached by a given post relative to their audience size) for an organic post was 0.091. That means that a nonprofit with 100,000 followers could expect to reach just 9,100 users with a given post. This marked a 16% decline from 2018, a drop that far outpaces the modest 4% average increase in the number of Facebook followers.

These are just some of the fundamental forces that shape our universe. They are complex, interconnected, and constantly in flux. That’s what makes our task as fundraisers, marketers, activists, and organizers so challenging, and so rewarding. Our individual strategic choices play out against this ever-shifting background—and we can’t make effective decisions unless we understand it.

OPPORTUNITY: Facebook Fundraising


  • Facebook giving generated 3.5% of all online revenue for nonprofits in 2019. Overall, revenue raised on Facebook increased by 6% over the previous year.
  • There was a wide variance in Facebook revenue as a share of all online revenue. At the extremes, Facebook drove just .9% of online revenue for International nonprofits, and 9.5% for the Health sector.
  • The vast majority of all Facebook revenue (97%) was donated through the peer-to-peer Facebook Fundraisers tool.
  • The average Facebook Fundraiser effort generated six donations, with an average gift of $30. These metrics showed little difference between sectors.
  • November and December together accounted for 26% of all Facebook revenue, due in part to the importance of Giving Tuesday.

What Facebook is, who it’s for, what it means—it all keeps changing, and so much depends on who you ask.

“It’s only for college students” became “it’s for young people generally” became “the kids have moved on, now it’s for your grandparents.”

“It’s for connecting with IRL friends” became “it’s for making new friends” became “it’s for connecting with brands.”

Is it personal and honest? Is it propaganda and Fake News? Is it mostly photos of other people’s kids?

For many nonprofits, all of those meanings and uses stand to be eclipsed by an emerging truth: Facebook is for fundraising. Specifically, peer-to-peer fundraising.

In 2019, for nonprofits in our study who raised money on Facebook, 3% of online revenue came in through the social media platform.

At first glance, that may not strike you as a big, world-shifting number. Three percent, just a blip on the radar. But there are a few reasons to believe that the impact this revenue represents goes beyond its apparent magnitude.

First, some individual nonprofits, and some nonprofit sectors, are seeing a much greater influx of revenue from Facebook. For Wildlife/Animal Welfare and Rights nonprofits, Facebook generated 5.6% of revenue. And for Health nonprofits, 9.5% of all online revenue came in through Facebook.

That last detail is especially important, because it points to a key differentiator for Facebook revenue. Health nonprofits have a long history of relying on peer-to-peer fundraising as an integral part of their overall programs—marathons, walkathons, singalongathons (is this a thing? It should be.) and the like. They may have an easier time generating revenue through Facebook because 97% of that revenue depends on the peer-to-peer Facebook Fundraisers tool.

And that means that a good chunk of that 3.5% of all online revenue is from audiences that the nonprofit may not have any other way of reaching. Granted, some of this giving may come from longtime supporters who are already on a nonprofit’s email list or in their direct mail file. But as with all peer-to-peer fundraising, many people will donate because they want to support the friend who set up the fundraiser, rather than any deep commitment to the nonprofit or cause itself.

How many of these Facebook donors are new or otherwise unreachable? We can’t tell you, because we don’t know. This is one of the aspects of Facebook Fundraisers that causes the most concern and consternation for nonprofits: Facebook does not provide much data on donors. While donors are given a chance to opt in, few do. Most nonprofits have no way of knowing who is donating through Facebook and no opportunity to follow up with additional appeals or engagement. For fundraisers at least, Facebook is a black hole of data, vacuuming up everything within range while shedding very little light.

What we do know is that the typical Facebook Fundraiser effort attracts an average of six donors, and that each donor gives an average of $30.

The Health sector, which stands out so much in the “Share of revenue from Facebook” chart, falls right back in line here. It is not that Facebook Fundraisers for Health nonprofits generate more gifts, or larger gifts, than those for other causes. Instead, it appears that more supporters start Facebook Fundraisers for Health nonprofits in the first place.

To make the most of this platform, nonprofits must find ways to be the focus of their supporters’ next birthday, holiday, or Giving Tuesday Fundraiser.

Giving Tuesday is indeed an important part of this picture. In our last Benchmarks Study, we found that November was far and away the biggest month for Facebook Fundraisers revenue. In 2019, that center of gravity shifted to December.

The difference? Giving Tuesday fell on November 27 in 2018, but landed on December 3 in 2019. (It’ll be on December 1 in 2020, so expect a more even balance between November and December as those early-bird donations are counted in the previous month.)

Facebook changes constantly, and the impact of Facebook on digital programs is ever-evolving. Overall, revenue raised on Facebook increased by 6%, a fairly modest growth trajectory. But look at the sector breakouts (or look to your own results) and the picture may appear a lot more wobbly.

Massive growth in one sector, sharp drops in another, largely dependent on the behavior of millions of individual donors, and all shaped by the whims and influence of Facebook’s own inscrutable black-box algorithm. New uncertainty driven by COVID-19, as nonprofits look to virtual events to replace traditional in-person peer-to-peer fundraising, and communities look to collective action to help each other through an unprecedented moment. It’s hard to know what to expect, except more change.

PIONEER: Web Traffic and Devices


  • Organic traffic (website traffic generated by unpaid search results) comprised 44% of all nonprofit website visits in 2019.
  • Overall, 0.17% of organic website visitors made a donation, generating an average of $0.30 per visitor.
  • Half of all nonprofit website visits came from users on mobile devices. Desktop users accounted for 41% of visits, and Tablet users 9%. The traffic share for mobile devices increased by 11% from 2018.
  • Users on desktop devices made up the majority of donation transactions (61%) and revenue (69%).
  • Mobile users grew as a share of traffic by 11%, as a share of donation transactions by 17%, and as a share of revenue by 21%.

The two questions at the heart of any journey, whether we are visiting a website or aiming a rocket into deep space: where are we going? and how do we get there? Let’s take them one at a time.

There are many paths a potential supporter might find to direct them to your website. You can email a link to sign a petition. You can target their newsfeed with donation ads and the big red CLICK HERE TO GIVE button. You can pay for placement at the top of the Google or Bing results. These are direct, active, often highly targeted measures.

And then there is organic traffic. These are the visits where the visitors themselves are setting the course: they type a query into a search engine and select one of millions of unpaid search results that appear ranked in order of perceived relevance to their query.

The key here is in the relevance: what nonprofits have to offer is a unique blend of current event news and problem-solving prowess, two factors that often result in good search performance.

Beyond that, there are plenty of ways to increase the gravitational pull of your website, from search engine optimization to content marketing to awareness advertising that increases your general salience. While organic traffic isn’t paid for directly in the same sense as a banner ad, neither is it free. Attention never is.

In 2019, organic traffic comprised 44% of all visits to nonprofit websites.

Think about your own behavior. When you are trying to shed light on a subject, when you’ve had a problem and are looking for solutions, when you have a question about just about anything in the universe, what’s the first thing that you do? That’s right: you pull out your phone and you Google it.

That’s how nearly half of a nonprofit’s site visits originate. But what happens once those users arrive? Overall, 1 in every 588 organic website visitors (or 0.17%) made a donation, generating an average of $0.30 per visitor.

With such a massive portion of visits coming via organic traffic, nonprofits that can improve the conversion rate or average gift size can generate astronomical increases in revenue. Doing this effectively may require structural changes to your web layout. (e.g. What should you ask a user to do after they view different types of content? Where should your calls to action go?) It may mean minor tweaks or massive shifts to the imagery, video, text, and other creative content to illustrate why the visitor should follow through and do something to support your nonprofit. It should absolutely entail thoughtful, continuous, strategic testing.

So, we know what course visitors are taking to reach their destination. But we still need to know how they are traveling. And the answer, as often as not, is with their phone.

Visitors used mobile devices for half of all nonprofit website traffic last year, with desktop devices accounting for 41% of visits and tablets the remainder.

This represents an 11% increase in the traffic share for mobile devices over the previous year (both desktop and tablet device traffic declined as a share of the total).

An even sharper trajectory was seen for transaction share (mobile devices up by 17%) and revenue share (mobile devices up by 21%), which indicates that nonprofits are taking mobile optimization seriously. It appears clear that the future belongs to mobile.

But the present? Well, that’s a little trickier. The metrics for mobile users are gaining ground, but in 2019 desktop users still had a higher donation form conversion rate and a dramatically higher average gift. While mobile users made up half of visits, they accounted for just a third of donations, and just a quarter of revenue.

For now, desktop users are more likely to donate than mobile users. For now, the average gift from a desktop donation dwarfs that of a mobile donation. For now. Remember: the share of transactions and revenue from mobile users is growing at an even faster rate than their share of visits.

Nonprofits are increasingly prioritizing the mobile experience from the ground up. Users are taking advantage of tools that make mobile transactions easier and more appealing, like Apple Pay and PayPal. As always, we are finding our way to what comes next together.

MESSENGER: Text Messaging


  • Nonprofit text messaging audiences grew by 26% in 2019, at a time when Facebook audiences grew by just 4% and email list sizes declined by 2%.
  • While this growth rate far outpaced other channels, nonprofits had just 72 mobile subscribers for every 1,000 email addresses.
  • Text messaging volume increased by 14% overall.
  • Text message click-through rates were 4.2% for fundraising messages and 9.8% for advocacy messages. Both figures are far higher than comparable email metrics.
  • Peer-to-peer message recipients received 1.4 messages per month in 2019, and responded 14% of the time.

You hold in your hand (or your pocket, or your bag) a device of incredible power. It is made of elements forged in the hearts of stars and birthed in supernova explosions: palladium and gold, yttrium and neodymium. It contains roughly 100,000 times more processing might than the computer that guided Apollo 11 to the moon. It is a single node in a planetary network capable of sending information at light speed to nearly any point on the globe.

But that’s not where the power lies. Your mobile phone is powerful because it allows you to connect with other people, to influence them, to move them. And nonprofits are taking advantage of the potential of mobile messaging like never before.

Nonprofit text messaging audiences grew by 26% in 2019, at a time when Facebook audiences grew by just 4% and email list sizes declined by 2%. Scale matters here: nonprofits had on average 72 mobile subscribers for every 1,000 email addresses. But mobile programs are expanding at a rapid rate.

This is an indication that nonprofits are investing in their mobile audiences through new lead generation as well as acquiring SMS opt-ins from existing supporters in other channels. It’s also a sign—as we saw in our previous section on device data—that users are increasingly comfortable using mobile devices as their primary means of staying in touch with the causes they care about.

As audiences grew, so did the scale of nonprofit mobile messaging programs. Nonprofits sent 14% more mobile messages per year in 2019 than the year before.

How effective these messages were at driving response is difficult to say—limited integration between mobile messaging and donation processing platforms means that we are not able to provide a reliable response rate for fundraising efforts. We do know that the click-through rate for fundraising messages was 4.2%, an order of magnitude greater than the 0.56% click-through rate for email fundraising messages.

A similar picture emerged on the advocacy side, where mobile message click-through rates were 9.8%, as compared to the advocacy email click-through rate of 2.8%.

For advocacy text messages that were designed to generate phone calls rather than encourage users to click through to a landing page, response data is available. Mobile advocacy call messages saw an average response rate of 3.1%.

It’s too soon to determine exactly how much potential energy exists in the mobile messaging space, but it’s clear that more nonprofits are reaching more users with more messages—and for now, at least, those users are paying attention.

We began this section by describing the power of the device you hold as an individual. As we look beyond bulk mobile messaging directly from nonprofits and toward peer-to-peer SMS tools, that power is more apparent than ever.

These tools, including platforms like GetThru and Hustle, allow volunteers and staff to conduct one-on-one text conversations with supporters. These personal, individual conversations can be used to recruit volunteers, solicit donations, turn out voters, or simply strengthen the connections between a supporter and a cause.

An average supporter received 1.4 peer-to-peer messages per month over the course of 2019. The average response rate was 14%. Unlike with other types of messages “response rate” here doesn’t necessarily indicate a completed action or donation; it is an actual text message response from the person receiving the message to the person who sent it.

It’s these personal connections that present new opportunities for recruiting, organizing, and mobilizing nonprofit supporters. Just like us, our phones are made of star-stuff. We should be ambitious about what we use them for.

Special thanks to our friends at GetThru, Hustle, and Upland Mobile Messaging for providing mobile messaging data.



  • Nonprofit spending on digital ads increased by 17% in 2019, with nonprofits spending an average of $0.07 for every dollar raised in online revenue. (To be clear, this is a measure of the level of spending relative to total budget, rather than a direct measure of return on investment. Look five bullets down for return on ad spend.)
  • Digital ad spending was concentrated toward the end of the year, with almost a third of all spending occuring in December. This was primarily an expansion of social advertising, most likely driven by Giving Tuesday and End of Year fundraising advertising.
  • View-through revenue accounted for 43% of all digital ads giving.
  • Direct Fundraising ads accounted for 44% of all spending. Branding, Awareness, or Education ads accounted for 24%, and Lead Generation for 23%.
  • Large nonprofits balanced fundraising ad spending between Display ads (35%) and Social Media ads (54%). Small nonprofits spent nearly all fundraising digital ad dollars on Social Media (96%).
  • Return on ad spend was highest for Search ads ($3.59), followed by Display ($0.74), Social Media ($0.70), and Video ($0.53).
  • On average, the cost to acquire a new lead through digital advertising was $2.49.

The possibilities for digital ads are nearly infinite, which means the decisions nonprofits must make are nearly infinite, which means the data that is generated and then collected and then analyzed is nearly infinite. Which means it’s fun. Let’s take a look.

We’ll start by exploring the choices that nonprofits have available: how much to spend on ads, when to launch them, where to place them, what types of strategies to employ. Then, we’ll examine the data generated by supporter behavior.

In 2019, nonprofits in our study spent an average of $0.07 on digital ads for every dollar raised in online revenue. To be clear: this data does not suggest that spending 7 cents on ads generated a dollar in revenue. It is a measure of how much of their total budget nonprofits are investing in digital ads relative to the size of their digital program, a rough reflection of the strategy and priorities nonprofits are pursuing.

This investment continues to expand—nonprofit digital advertising spending increased by 17% from 2018 to 2019. For many nonprofits, digital ads are an increasingly important way to boost visibility, acquire new donors and prospects, and coax additional giving from identified supporters. But not everyone is following the same trajectory: while Large nonprofits (those with annual online revenue over $3 million) increased ad spending by 32%, Small nonprofits (those with annual online revenue under $500,000) decreased their spending by 25%.

As you might expect, those advertising budgets were not distributed evenly throughout the calendar. Digital ad investments took off in the last few months of the year, with almost a third of all spending occuring in December.

As with so many other aspects of digital programs, especially on the fundraising side, the twin suns of Giving Tuesday and END OF YEAR DEADLINE have a major impact on nonprofit and donor behavior. We also found a smaller bump in June, which may coincide with enhanced activity at the end of the fiscal year for many nonprofits.

We know how much nonprofits invested in digital ads, and we know when. Now it’s time for the what.

Direct Fundraising ads made up the lion’s share of overall ad spending: 44% of all budgets were dedicated to these ads. Branding, Awareness, or Education ads made up 24% of budgets, with Lead Generation accounting for 23%. That breakdown gives a rough idea of the spending decisions nonprofits made over the course of the year.

For Small nonprofits, the budget choices look quite different. For them, Branding, Awareness, or Education ads consumed nearly half of the budget, while Direct Fundraising accounted for just 21%.

The differences may partly be explained by the different opportunities and needs for nonprofits of different sizes, but it also may reflect differences in channels. Large nonprofits invested 35% of their fundraising ad budgets in Display ads (e.g. banners), and 54% in Social Media ads, with a smattering of Search, Video, and other channels. Small nonprofits spent nearly all of their fundraising advertising budgets—96%—on Social Media ads.

A look at how these advertising efforts perform may provide some clues about what drove these choices. For Direct Fundraising ads, the average cost to generate a single donation varied widely between channels. Search had the lowest cost per donation (CPD) at $39, less than half the $82 CPD for Social Media, which is significantly lower than the $142 for Display.

The differences are not quite so clear-cut when we look at Return on Ad Spend (ROAS): the revenue directly sourced to each dollar of ad spending. Once again, Search stands out with by far the highest return at $3.59 ROAS. But overall, Display ads performed similarly to Social Media ads, with ROAS of $0.74 and $0.70, respectively.

The higher costs associated with Display advertising may make it a difficult channel for Small nonprofits to prioritize. But those nonprofits that did invest in Display tended to see returns that were on par with, and in some cases higher than, other channels.

At first glance, these metrics might suggest that nonprofits should simply devote their full advertising budgets to Search. After all, that’s where the costs are lowest and the returns highest. But hold on, these decisions aren’t made in a vacuum. Remember that chart showing ad spending over the course of the year? Don’t worry, you don’t need to scroll back up, here it is again:

What we see here is that Search spending remained relatively constant month after month, with the major changes coming in Display and Social ad spending (that’s why the purple and green lines spike near the end of the year, while the yellow line maintains a fairly steady thickness throughout the year). For most nonprofits, there is a limit to how much can reasonably be spent on Search—after all, there are only so many people typing relevant terms into Google. Once a nonprofit has covered those bases, they need to look toward other channels.

Getting a supporter to click on a direct donation link is not the only way to use digital ads to boost revenue. View-through revenue accounted for 43% of all digital ads giving. These are donations from supporters who have been served an ad, but who arrived at the donation page through some other means. Which is to say, viewing the ad may have helped drive their gift—it made them more likely to search for a nonprofit or cause, open an email, or otherwise make their way to give.

That kind of multi-channel way of thinking about our audiences also drives lead acquisition efforts (i.e. advertising to get people to sign up for an email or SMS list). We can target specific audiences through digital advertising, then follow up with compelling email engagement, text messages, or phone calls and a more detailed case for giving. On average, the cost to acquire a new lead through digital advertising was $2.49.

There is no single ideal approach to digital advertising. Budgets, issue areas, target audiences, channels, tactics, strategies—every nonprofit must navigate their own course to expand their reach, build their audience, and generate new revenue.

DAWN: Looking Ahead

Our annual Benchmarks Study is like a telescope aimed at the stars: when we look outward, we are looking at the past. It takes time for light to reach us. It takes time to analyze and interpret what we see. And in that time things can change.

That has never felt more true than right now, as we conduct data analysis, design graphics, double-check charts, build a website, and write these words, each of us in isolation imposed by COVID-19.

We are proud of the work this Benchmarks Study represents, and in case we have not made it clear, we are deeply grateful to our nonprofit participants. The data and findings reported here are as comprehensive and accurate as possible. But we also must acknowledge that the world they describe may be quite different from the world we’ll be living in when we report on these metrics again next year.

And so we want to take a moment to do something we very rarely do in our Benchmarks Study: look forward, not back.

We know that the economic and social disruptions driven by this pandemic will wreak massive changes for nonprofits. Those impacts will not be evenly distributed. Nonprofits that have relied on ticket sales and in-person events to drive revenue will need extraordinary effort to make up some of that lost revenue through digital channels. Those that have emphasized monthly giving may benefit from increased stability. And nonprofits whose work touches directly on responding to the COVID-19 crisis and alleviating the suffering it has caused may find a groundswell of generosity.

We believe that nonprofits of all types will respond to this moment with courage, creativity, and profound commitment. They always have. 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—and those connections may have lasting effects on our relationships with each other.

We hope that this crisis will awaken a spirit of kindness and compassion. We hope that supporters will rise up with renewed generosity, with empathy, with resolve. We hope that more people will find meaning in the actions they take to support their neighbors, their planet, and the causes they care about.

As the Voyager 1 spacecraft was leaving our solar system, 6 billion kilometers from home, it looked back and snapped a photo. The Earth appeared as nothing more than a speck, isolated on a band of sunlight reflecting off the camera in black empty space.

Here’s what the astronomer Carl Sagan had to say about this image:

Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering…every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer…in the history of our species lived thereon a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam….

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves….

There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

Let’s look ahead, together. Let’s learn from each other, and lean on each other. Please visit us for more free resources and recommendations on how nonprofits can respond to the changes wrought by COVID-19. And stay tuned for the upcoming M+R Mediamarks Study, scheduled for launch in June. This companion report will provide data, guidance, and trends for nonprofit press efforts and earned media.

Bright Stars