“A rising tide…?”

by | Jun 3, 2021

Remember a year ago, when the entire world of fundraising was holding its breath, waiting for the sky to fall?

Well, Chicken Little, guess again…

In fact, the industry appears to have experienced quite the opposite, as reported by two recently released industry benchmarks, donorCentrics Index of Direct Marketing Fundraising for Q4 2020 and M+R 2021 Benchmarks.

There’s a wealth of data in each these publications and I encourage you to take a closer look. Each report presents a different perspective: donorCentrics looks at all direct marketing giving while M+R focuses on just a fast-growing piece of the market, digital fundraising. The findings of each report are based on the activities of multiple participating organizations.

Four key trends show up in each that I think offer both an affirmation of the state of the industry today as well as a challenge for the future.

More Donors

Both reports show more people giving in 2020 than in 2019. donorCentrics tagged this at an overall increase of 5.3%, with new donors up a whopping 17.5%.

This is particularly noteworthy in light of the downward new donor trends of the past three years: off 4.3% in 2019, 9.3% in 2018 and 8.8% in 2017.

More Revenue

This is an area in which the two organizations’ difference in perspective stands out. donorCentrics shows overall revenue up 8% with revenue per donor up 2.2% and gifts per donor up 1.5%.

M+R reports online revenue up 32% but shows revenue per donor ($167) down slightly from 2019. Within this number, M+R shows revenue from monthly gifts increased by 27% and revenue from one-time gifts by 37%. In 2020, monthly giving accounted for 19% of all online revenue.

More Outreach

In 2020, according to M+R, nonprofit organizations sent more messages (number of emails up 17%) to more people (list size up 3%). They also increased digital advertising (up 33%), text outreach (mobile audience up 26%) and social media presence.

More Engagement

One might expect that more “noise” would result in less involvement, but that was not the case this past year. Based on M+R participants, virtually all email metrics — open rates, click-through rates, response rates, and page completion rates — went up.

More importantly, donorCentrics reported a 3.8% increase in overall retention (perhaps the ultimate measure of engagement!) with first year retention up 3.4%.

Well that’s all great! So what’s the challenge?” you might ask.

While trends were positive overall — donorCentrics reported increases across all measures and across all sectors — some sectors outperformed others, particularly those involved with human services and relief. M+R also points out that in addition to the pandemic, 2020 saw increased urgency for social justice, growing concern for environmental issues and a contentious national election.

Did these trends heighten constituents concern and compassion and, if so, is that sustainable? Was your outreach that much more compelling this past year, or were stay-at-home constituents just spending more time online (M+R reported that more than 40% of website traffic was generated by organic search)? What are you doing now to make those new donors feel welcome and ensure they understand the ongoing urgency of your mission?

“A rising tide lifts all boats,” the old saying goes. As captain of your craft, where do you steer next?

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