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Donors Using Desktop Computers Still Backbone Of Online Giving

Online revenue for nonprofits grew by 23 percent during 2017, after 15 percent growth in 2016, with email revenue accounting for 28 percent of all online giving. That gain came even as email open rates declined.

Nonprofits received an average of 28 percent more online gifts during 2017 compared to 2016, according to the M+R Benchmarks Study, an annual report by the fundraising firm which this year collected data from 154 nonprofit participants on all things digital, from email and social media to websites and digital advertising. Every subsector tracked had at least 15 percent growth in online revenue, led by Rights organizations (37 percent) and Environmental groups (34 percent).

Nonprofits received 40 percent more revenue from monthly gifts via online in 2017 than during 2016 and monthly giving as a share of all online revenue rose from 14 to 16 percent. Revenue from one-time gifts increased by 19 percent.

Email revenue grew slightly faster than overall revenue last year, 24 percent, and in 2016, 19 percent. Public media received the lowest share of revenue from email, at 10 percent, compared with wildlife/animal welfare, which received the largest, 57 percent.

For every 1,000 fundraising messages sent, nonprofits raised $42. Small nonprofits (those with fewer than 100,000 email house file) received the most, $71. Medium nonprofits (between 100,000 and 500,000 contacts) and large organizations were about half that, at $36 and $32, respectively.

Open rates for fundraising and advocacy emails shrank by 1 percent. Fundraising email click-through rates went down 6 percent, to 0.42 percent.

Page completion rates were down 6 percent for fundraising messages, falling to 17 percent, and down 4 percent for advocacy rates, down to 76 percent.

For fundraising messages, response rates dropped to 0.06 percent, meaning that nonprofits had to send a fundraising messages to about 1,667 recipients to generate a single donation. For advocacy messages, response rates declined to 2.2 percent.

Nonprofits are reaching more people through digital channels than ever before, with growth rates in double-digits across the board:

  • Instagram, 44 percent;
  • Twitter, 15 percent;
  • Facebook, 13 percent; and,
  • Email lists, 11 percent.

The 11-percent growth in email lists was the slowest rate in the past three years. Nonprofits sent more email, 11 percent total growth in messages per contact per month (an average 66 per subscriber annually), including a 7 percent increase in fundraising messages.

Website traffic declined, with 1.4 percent fewer visitors per month in 2017.

Mobile traffic is expected to overtake desktop in the next few years, and it might already have for some nonprofits. Still, desktop users represented 50 percent of traffic but they generated 68 percent of donations and 76 percent of revenue. Website traffic via desktop was down 4 percent and via tablet down 8 percent but grew 9 percent by mobile, accounting for 40 percent of nonprofit website visitors in 2017.

After reaching a nonprofit’s main donation page, desktop users competed a gift 20 percent of the time, compared with mobile users who converted just 8 percent, and tablet users, at 16 percent.

The change in the share of transactions on a nonprofit’s website was most pronounced in mobile, which grew by 50 percent to almost one-quarter of transactions. Transactions by tablet users was up 16 percent, to 8 percent of all transactions, while desktop was down 11 percent, accounting for two-thirds of transactions.

Nonprofits raised $1.13 per website visitor, ranging from a high of $4.11 among international nonprofits and a low of $0.31 within the Rights sector. Overall, 1.1 percent of website visitors made a donation in 2017, an increase of 18 percent over the previous year, and 1 percent of website visitors joined an email list.

Of the nonprofits that reported spending on digital advertising, the average level of investment was five cents per $1 in online revenue. This is the amount that a nonprofit spent on advertising relative to its online revenue. A nonprofit that received $1 million in online revenue might be expected to spend $50,000 on digital advertising while one with online revenue of $10 million might average $500,000 in digital ads.

The highest ratio of digital ad spending to online revenue overall was found among cultural organizations and international nonprofits (11 cents). No other subsector eclipsed the overall average of five cents per $1 while the lowest average was among hunger/poverty and wildlife/animal welfare organizations (one cent). The level of investment followed the size of organization, with the highest average among large nonprofits (eight cents), followed by medium (five cents), and small (three cents).

Despite those figures, the biggest percentage change in digital advertising investment from 2016 to 2017 was among small organizations at 94 percent, followed by large nonprofits (70 percent) and medium (3 percent). Hunger/poverty organizations and international groups made the biggest leaps, by far, at 122 percent and 100 percent, respectively. Far behind them were rights groups (57 percent) and wildlife/animal welfare (54 percent). Only health saw a decline, 42 percent.

Advertising on social media, such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, accounted for 44 percent of ad dollars. The remaining budgets were split almost evenly between display like banner ads and search. On average, nonprofits spent $1.46 on digital ads to acquire one new lead. There was little variation between sectors.

Display advertising had the highest cost per donation by far. An average $204 was spent on display advertising to generate a single gift compared with just $41 and $64 for search and social media ads, respectively.

For every 1,000 email addresses, nonprofits had an average of 474 Facebook fans, 185 Twitter followers, and 41 Instagram followers. Instagram was the fastest-growing platform, up 44 percent. Nonprofits saw a 13-percent increase in Facebook fans and 15 percent increase in Twitter followers, on average.

On average, each post a nonprofit made on Facebook only reached 7 percent of its fans last year. Any given post reached an average of 112 people for every 1,000 followers. “Simply having a large number of Facebook followers isn’t enough to make sure your content is seen by large audiences,” according to the report’s authors. “When quantity of followers isn’t a guarantee of widespread reach, it simply means that quality of content matters more than ever.”

The 118-page report can be accessed at

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