The Right Way to Look at this Data

The 2019 M+R Benchmarks Study includes input from 135 wonderful nonprofit partners. They work to cure diseases, to protect wildlife, to preserve the planet, to advance equality, to promote science, to defend human dignity, to share cultural wonders, to end hunger, to make the world a better and kinder and more just place.

And then, in addition to all that, they generously share the results of their hard work so that we can all learn to do those things more effectively. They really are quite amazing.

Because the perspective and experience of nonprofits in different issue areas are so unique, we have broken out the findings by sector wherever possible. If you’re not sure which sector applies to you, take a look at the full list of participants – find your closest peers, and you’ll find where you belong.

We also sort our participants by size. For our study, “Small” refers to nonprofits with annual online revenue below $500,000; “Medium” includes those nonprofits with revenue between $500,000 and $3,000,000; and “Large” covers all those with online revenue greater than $3,000,000.

Not all participants were able to provide data for every metric. In places where a chart does not include data for a certain sector or size, it’s because we were not able to collect enough results to report a reliable average.

Sometimes comparing viewpoints can add depth and clarity; other times it simply creates confusion. Because our pool of participants changes from year to year, putting this year’s numbers side by side with previous editions is more likely to muddy the waters than shed new light.

Wherever we discuss year-over-year changes, this is based on comparisons among our current pool of participants, who generously provided multi-year data. Didn’t we tell you how wonderful they are?


Bird's Eye View

  1. Overall online revenue increased by 1% in 2018, after 23% growth the year before. Revenue was relatively flat year-over-year for most sectors, but Rights nonprofits reported a 14% decline in giving (after extraordinary 88% growth in 2017). 
  2. Revenue from one-time gifts decreased by 2%, while monthly giving revenue increased by 17%. Monthly giving accounted for 16% of all online revenue in 2018, up from 13% in 2017.
  3. Email messaging drove 13% of all online revenue in 2018. Email accounted for 21% of all online revenue for Environmental nonprofits, the largest share of any sector. 
  4. Email revenue decreased by 8% in 2018. Rights nonprofits experienced the steepest decline, with a 40% drop from the previous year. Meanwhile, Health nonprofits reported a 40% increase in email revenue.
  5. On average, 37% 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% for donors who made their first gift in 2017, and 59% for repeat donors. Retention rates also varied widely by giving level – click here for a detailed look at retention.

Email Messaging

Bird's Eye View

  1. Email list size increased by 5% in 2018. This is somewhat slower growth than in previous years – email list size increased by 8% in 2016, and 9% in 2017. Health nonprofits reported a significant spike in email list size, with 74% growth in 2018. Hunger/Poverty and Wildlife/Animal Welfare nonprofits both reported declines in email list size.
  2. Nonprofits sent an average of 59 email messages per subscriber in 2018. This marked an 8% increase in volume from 2017. The largest category of email messages was fundraising (25 emails per year per subscriber). International nonprofits sent the highest volume of email, with 104 messages per year per subscriber; 50 of those were fundraising messages.
  3. Advocacy email response rate declined by 15% in 2018, to 1.8%. Drops were reported for open rate (down 5% to 15%), click-through rate (down 16% to 2.4%), and page completion rate (down 7%, to 72%). The unsubscribe rate fell to 0.12%, which is 2% lower than in the previous year.
  4. Fundraising email response rate declined by 13% in 2018, to 0.06%. Open rate declined by 2%, to 14%, and page completion rate dropped by 18% to 14%. However, click-through rates improved somewhat, up 4% to 0.44%. The unsubscribe rate for fundraising messages fell to 0.16%, 10% lower than in the previous year.

    Web Engagement

    Bird's-Eye View

    1. Nonprofits raised $0.83 per website visitor in 2018. International nonprofits raised the most, $1.82 per visitor, while the Health sector had the lowest revenue per visitor at $0.59. Overall, 1.0% of website visitors made a donation.

    2. The majority of nonprofit website traffic came from users on mobile and tablet devices. Mobile accounted for 48% of all traffic, tablets for 8%, and desktop users made up 44% of traffic.
    3. Desktop users accounted for the majority of donation transactions and revenue. While just 44% of traffic, desktop users made 63% of all donations and contributed 71% of revenue. Mobile accounted for 21% of all revenue, a 15% increase from 2017.
    4. Nonprofit homepages took an average of 2.36 seconds to load on desktop machines, while donation pages took 2.34 seconds to load.

      Website share by device: The numbers in parentheses represent the percentage change in rate since 2017.

      Percent of website visitors who make a donation: Calculated from the number of donations to a participant’s main website, including donations from all traffic sources (email, paid ads, organic, search, etc), divided by the number of unique website visitors.

      Website revenue per visitor: Calculated as the total revenue from one-time online gifts, plus the value of initial monthly gifts, divided by the total number of website visitors for the year. Depending on retention, the long-term value of monthly gifts may be substantially higher.

      Social Media

      Bird's-Eye View

      1. For every 1,000 email addresses, nonprofits had an average of 806 Facebook fans, 286 Twitter followers, and 101 Instagram followers.
      2. Instagram was the fasted-growing of the three social media platforms we tracked, with a 34% increase in the number of followers. The number of Twitter followers increased by 26%, while Facebook pages grew by just 6%.
      3. 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.
      4. Each Facebook post only reached 4% of a nonprofit page’s fans. Meanwhile, 29% of the audience reached by a given post was not already following the nonprofit.
      5. The Engagement Score (engaged users divided by total page fans) for an average Facebook post was 0.31%. Video posts had the highest Engagement Score at 0.33%.

        Clap Score is the number of reactions on a post (Facebook still calls them “Likes”) divided by the number of fans a nonprofit’s Facebook page had that day.

        Talk Score is the number of comments on a post divided by the number of fans a nonprofit’s Facebook page had that day.

        Share Score is the number of shares a post received divided by the number of fans a nonprofit’s Facebook page had that day.