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E-letters, Fundraising, Social Media — April 24, 2014 at 3:47 pm

2014 Nonprofit Benchmarks Study


benchmarkspostM+R in partnership with NTEN released their annual Nonprofit Benchmark Study a few weeks ago, and it’s full of goodies. The important thing to note when reviewing the study is that this isn’t a sector-wide study. It’s limited to 53 nonprofits, and for the most part, they’re big ones. Organizations like Oxfam, The Human Society, and PBS. (The median email list size for all participants in the study was 540,927.) So the data probably isn’t reflective of where small organizations are or should be at. But nonetheless it’s interesting to see how the big guys are doing. So with that in mind, let’s dive into some of the key takeaways.

If you ask, they will give

While conversion rates (in other words, the percentage of people who give when asked) through email aren’t particularly high (0.07% average over the year) what’s interesting is that this rate stayed fairly consistent no matter how many messages were sent. So, in December when nonprofits sent an average of 7 fundraising message (much higher than the usual 1-2 per month) people responded at the same rate as they normally did. Well, at 0.06%, which is a bit lower, but only a bit.

People like emails

The churn rate for these nonprofits was 13% this year. Another way to put that is that 13% of people unsubscribed. But they noticed something interesting: “As nonprofits send more email messages, their unsubscribe rates go down. It’s a bit counterintuitive, but it shows that high message volume doesn’t necessarily lead to mass abandonment of an email list.” So people like emails, or they like being connected to your cause.

I do wonder if there is a tipping point for this. If you send out 10, 20, or 30 fundraising messages a month will people keep responding at the same rate? My hunch would be no, but the study seems to indicate that people are open to receiving more pitches in December for fundraising, and they like more emails in general to stay connected.

Timeliness matters

One thing the study looked at was the open and click through rates based on the day of the week. It’s a recurring question for email newsletters: what is the best day of the week to send out an email? Drumroll please…. None of them! It turns out the day of the week doesn’t matter all that much. What’s more important is the timeliness of your email. For example, if your email was in response to Typhoon Haiyan, it does matter how close to the event you’re sending out a call for donations. Timeliness matters.

Many emails, few donations

One of the most surprising stats in this study (to me at least) is the low response rate for donations. For every 1,000 emails these nonprofits sent out, they received $17 dollars on average! Just $17! And since the average one-time gift size is $57 through email, that means that these charities are landing one donation for every 3,353 emails they send. Yikes!

They did break down this stat a bit by charity size: large charities averaged $15 per 1000 emails, while medium charities averaged $29. They didn’t include the number for small charities given the small sample size, but my guess is that it would be somewhere around $50, which is still just one donation for every 1000 emails. So if you’re dissatisfied with only one donation for every 500 email subscribers, take heart! You’re doing better than the big guys.

Here are a few more stats I thought were notable:

  • Email lists grew by 14%
  • Email accounts for about ⅓ of online fundraising revenue
  • Online giving increased 14%
  • Monthly giving increased 25%
  • Average one-time gift size online: $104 ($57 through email)
  • Average monthly gift size online: $23 ($20 through email)

You can download the full report here.

And then of course there’s the infographic:


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