Benchmarking for Nonprofits: 15 Takeaways for 2017


Your nonprofit has gone digital. You’ve invested in online advertising and beefed up your social media profiles. You’ve optimized your website. You’ve refined your email strategy and created a plan for online fundraising. Now you want to know – how are you doing?
We applaud you for embracing digital strategy and building a data culture at your organization. Every nonprofit is unique, and you are the best indicator of your own success. Sometimes, however, it’s helpful to find out how you’re doing compared to industry benchmarks. At Whole Whale, we love data backed analyses. We read through three widely acknowledged nonprofit studies from M+R, Blackbaud, and the Network for Good. Read on to see our key takeaways.

M+R Benchmarks Study

On April 25th, M+R released their 11th annual Benchmarks Study of nonprofit digital advocacy, fundraising, social media, and advertising.
The study is a robust analysis of data from 133 nonprofits. It examines results from almost 3.6 billion email messages to nearly 50 millions list subscribers, more than $535 million in online donations from more than 8.3 million online gifts, and 7.2 million advocacy actions. M+R provides study wide benchmarks, but the analysis goes much deeper. It breaks out key metrics into 9 different nonprofit sectors and segments by email list size, as results and trends vary widely. This segmentation lets you identify your niche in the industry and compare yourself to organizations like yours.
The report is extremely insightful, and M+R presents the data in a way that is visually appealing and easy to understand. We highly recommend reading through this study to get a feel for industry trends and to see how you stack up. Plus, it has awesome interactive charts and quotations from famous songs. What better way to present the data?
Here are our top 5 takeaways:

  1. Out of the 133 study participants, 100 invested in digital advertising in 2016. 60% of ad spending focused on online donations, 18% went to lead generation, and the remainder focused on branding. Need some tips to get started in the digital advertising game? Luckily, Whole Whale has a treasure trove of resources.
  2. Email messaging accounted for 26% of all online revenue. Find out more about segmenting your emails for effective communication.
  3. The average revenue raised per 1,000 fundraising messages delivered was $36. More emails = more money, so grow that email list.
  4. On average, 1.2% of website visitors made a donation. Make sure you’re tracking important website interactions (like donations) with Google Analytics goals.
  5. Social media was huge in 2016, and nonprofits experienced impressive audience growth. On average, the number of Facebook fans grew by 23%, Twitter followers by 50%, and Instagram followers by 101%. Check out our Ultimate Nonprofit Guide to Social Media to get tips for optimizing your social media presence.

Take a read through this study, paying special attention to the data for your nonprofit’s industry sector and size. Don’t forget that averages can be misleading. M+R even provides a handy fill-in worksheet where you can fill in your organization’s metrics and benchmark yourself.

Blackbaud 2016 Charitable Giving Report

The Blackbaud 2016 Charitable Giving Report is the largest year-in-review analysis of overall and online giving in the nonprofit sector. The study includes overall giving data from 6,845 nonprofit organizations representing $23 billion in total fundraising from 2016. It also includes online giving data from 5,210 nonprofits representing $2.6 billion in online fundraising from 2016. You can download the report for free from by sharing your email address.
Here are our top 5 takeaways:

  1. In 2016, charitable giving increased 1.0% year over year.
    • Large organizations (> $10 million in total annual fundraising) saw a 1% increase
    • Medium organizations ($1 million – $10 million in annual fundraising) increased 1.7%
    • Small organizations (< $1 million in revenue) experienced flat growth
  2. 7.2% of overall fundraising revenue was online. Need to brush up on digital fundraising tactics? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Online Fundraising.
  3. In 2016, approximately 17% of online transactions were made using a mobile device. Mobile is here to stay, and it’s contributing to your revenue. Design your website with ‘mobile first’ in mind.
  4. Online giving on #GivingTuesday 2016 increased 20% compared to 2015. Here are 29 Ideas for #GivingTuesday you haven’t thought of to start prepping for next year.
  5. The average online donation amount was $128. Do you know how your fundraising strategy is performing? Make sure to track these 5 donor metrics.

Blackbaud’s report provides comprehensive fundraising metrics and goes in depth to break down giving statistics and trends by nonprofit sector. It even includes data broken out by month of the year. Download the study to get granular and see how your organization stacks up.

The 2015 Online Fundraising Report from Network for Good

The Online Fundraising Report combines data from The Digital Giving Index, Network for Good’s online donation experience, and several fundraising studies. The 2015 report references data from the 2014 Digital Giving Index, which covers  $233 million in online
giving to 45,000 nonprofits through Network for Good’s platform. The study also provides tips for optimizing your website for donations and creating an integrated donor marketing plan.
Here are our top 5 takeaways:

  1. Online donors expect a connection – not simply a transaction – with the organization they support. In 2014, average gift size was 43% larger on a branded giving page compared to a a generic giving page. Keep branding consistent across your website, social media, and email communications. See these 10 non-profit logos that work for branding inspiration.
  2. On the Network for Good platform, donors who gave monthly contributed 42% more in a year than donors who gave one-time gifts. A well-position recurring gift option on your donation page can lead to a significant increase in revenue over time.
  3. Nearly a third (31%) of annual giving happens in December. On Network for Good’s platform, the last three days of 2014 made up 12% of the total volume of gifts for the year. A well planned campaign will help you make the most of EOY giving.benchmarks
  4. Peer fundraising and socially-driven campaigns have grown in popularity as communication tools allow individuals to advocate on behalf of organizations. In 2014, social fundraising grew 70% and the average social fundraising donation amount increased 52%. Take advantage of the peer-to-peer fundraising trend to drive revenue and expand your donor base. Crowdfunding is a great way to get started.
  5. Website optimization, especially on mobile, is essential to a seamless donation process. Network for Good’s branded mobile giving pages netted 155% larger gifts vs. donations through third-party apps in 2014. Your donation page should be responsive and ready to handle high traffic volumes, as donations spike during disasters, events, and year-end. Use these 6 great web optimization tools to make sure your nonprofit’s website is up to snuff.

The Online Fundraising Report concludes with actionable recommendations to take advantage of observed fundraising trends. Skeptical? An A/B test provides the data you need to back a permanent change in your website or donor communication.

What’s next?

There you have it – Whole Whale’s top takeaways from the M+R Benchmarks Study, Blackbaud Charitable Giving Report, and Network for Good Online Fundraising Report. Use these reports to get an understanding of industry shifts and trends and check back with us for updates as new data is released. Use the results to chart your nonprofit’s performance and plan ahead for a successful year of communication, outreach, and fundraising.
Have questions about these studies or need help with digital strategy, advertising, social media, or analytics? Tweet us @WholeWhale or send us a message.