Breaking Down the 2019 M+R Benchmarks Report

Have you wondered how your nonprofit’s digital strategy compares to others? Did you ever stop to think about whether your digital budget is adequate in this day and age? Are you surprised at your online marketing return on investment?

The M+R Benchmarks study aims to answer these questions and more.

Each year, a team at M+R surveys nearly 135 nonprofit partners to gain a better understanding of the ways they are mobilizing supporters and raising money. These nonprofits influence environmental policies, media, public health, and international aid, and each one brings a set of valuable data that helps us look at the big digital picture.

The 2019 M+ R Benchmarks study analyzed data captured from the 2018 fundraising year. This year in particular, the results were shocking. Whereas online revenue was on an exponential trajectory in years past, 2018 saw a relative flattening of this trend. Researchers also found striking changes in everything from email revenue to Facebook donations.

What does this mean for the state of nonprofits and how will it impact your nonprofit’s development?

Let’s break down the 2019 M+R Benchmarks report.

1. M+R Benchmark: Online Revenue Growth Grew by 1%

After years and years of steadily increasing online revenue, including record-breaking 2016 and 2017 gains for many nonprofits, suddenly that trendline flattened out.

While M+R doesn’t advise comparing reports from past years, it’s safe to say that there was a significant change in online revenue growth in 2018. In 2017, growth averaged 23%, and this followed years of exponential online revenue results.

But in 2018, things changed: online revenue slowed. Researchers note that this result was not expected, but it does make sense. Factors such as the 2016 election and unprecedented revenue growth for such an extended period time are difficult to sustain. “Nonprofits were simply unable to maintain that momentum, and we have returned to a ‘normal’ growth trendline,’” the report suggests.

What does this mean for your nonprofit? If you’ve noticed flatlined online revenue results, rest assured that it may not be a direct result of your digital strategy. Instead of worrying, look at the rest of the report takeaways to determine which areas you can build on.

2. M+R Benchmark: Nonprofits are Investing in Digital Strategies

Overall, digital ad budgets grew by 144% in 2018.

Although revenue has steadied, nonprofits are putting significant money into digital advertising. In fact, M+R found that digital budgets grew by 144% in 2018 for nonprofits that did invest in these online ads. Smaller nonprofits and rights-focused organizations outpaced all others concerning investment.

What does this mean for your nonprofit? Expect to invest ten cents for every dollar raised online. If you’re eager to ramp up your online revenue, consider first expanding your ad budget.

To boost digital fundraising efforts, nonprofits may find online fundraising platforms beneficial. Our community-driven fundraising platform, CauseVox, helps organizations streamline the workload of digital fundraising by helping create custom donation pages for email and social media campaigns, promoting peer-to-peer and crowdfunding campaigns, managing monthly giving, and more.

3. M+R Benchmark: Donors are on Mobile, But They Give on Desktops

While mobile users were about half of all nonprofit web traffic, they accounted for just 30% of gifts, and 21% of revenue.

We’ve known that supporters are connecting with nonprofits online via mobile devices for some time, and M+R validated this. While over 50% of nonprofit web traffic is on mobile devices, donors are more likely to give when on a desktop computer.

Building on this, it’s also important to note that desktop gifts average $53 higher than mobile giving.

What does this mean for your nonprofit? Yes, it’s important to optimize your nonprofit’s web presence for mobile, but keep in mind the donor’s preference for desktop giving when crafting your donation page. Along the same lines, recognize that there are other ways to connect with donors through mobile. For example, M+R found that fundraising text messages have a click-rate of 13%, meaning that there’s a high engagement when it comes to text campaigns.

4. M+R Benchmark: Peer-to-Peer Reigns Supreme on Facebook

The vast majority of Facebook revenue in 2018 came via the peer-to-peer tool known as Facebook Fundraisers. In fact, for participants in our study, it accounted for about 99% of all nonprofit revenue processed on Facebook.

For better or for worse (jury’s still out), Facebook has burst onto the scene with Facebook Fundraisers. This was especially apparent during the busy giving season of November. Although fundraising on Facebook isn’t new, nonprofits saw a significant increase in gifts made through the social media platform in 2018.

Nonprofits averaged revenue from 56 personal fundraisers over the year through their peer-to-peer fundraising tool.

That’s not to say that Facebook is your only online fundraising option. There are definite pros and cons to fundraising on the Facebook platform, particularly when it comes to the loss of data and competing with other nonprofits. In 2018, CauseVox spoke with many nonprofit leaders who struggled to gain traction, manage data accurately, and convert donors on key fundraising days such as #GivingTuesday.

For example, Nora, a personal fundraiser, created a campaign on GoFundMe and then shared it on Facebook. Sounds great, right? It turns out, Facebook encouraged her to add a Donate button as well, which created a duplicate campaign with two funding streams. Since the two systems don’t necessarily “talk,” GoFundMe was unable to add the donations given through the Facebook button. Nora may very well have hit her fundraising goal through the two platforms, but her “official” site wouldn’t reflect that.

Although Facebook is a good tool for organic fundraising, if you want to be strategic with your fundraising, online fundraising platforms such as CauseVox can help you tap into this growing trend of community-driven fundraising, without giving up control of the process.

What does this mean for your nonprofit? Having a multi-channel fundraising approach including Facebook and an online fundraising platform can help you attract a wider range of prospective donors and engage more current supporters while maintaining your data.

5. M+R Benchmark: November is THE Month for Facebook Fundraising


What is clear right now is that November is the month for Facebook Fundraisers – nearly a quarter of revenue came in during that month.

Speaking of Facebook, the results overwhelmingly showed that November is the busiest month for Facebook Fundraising revenue. This makes sense considering that #GivingTuesday, the Global Day of Giving, falls within this time frame. But December, a month known for strong year-end giving revenue, didn’t stand out for the nonprofits surveyed.

Why the big jump in November? Let’s remember that #GivingTuesday is peer-to-peer driven, and Facebook Fundraising caters to this particular online fundraising method, as opposed to year-end giving, which is often promoted through email and direct mail.

What does this mean for your nonprofit? If you’re thinking about asking supporters to run a peer-to-peer fundraiser, promoting these campaigns in November makes sense on the surface. However, there’s something to be said for competition, and your nonprofit’s personal fundraisers will most likely be competing with others on Facebook for attention. Weigh the pros and cons and decide what’s best for your cause.

6. M+R Benchmark: Email Revenue Decreased by 8%

While online revenue grew by 1% in 2018, email revenue decreased by 8% – through email still accounted for 13% of all online giving.

Email, a constant in a fundraiser’s toolkit, experienced a dramatic decrease in 2018 by 8%. Sure, it still makes up roughly 13% of online giving, but the decrease is sure to set off alarms for many in the development world.

What does this mean for your nonprofit? Since email fundraising still makes up a strong portion of online giving, it’s safe to say that you should continue your current email plan, keeping in mind that it takes roughly 1,000 emails to raise $45. Cleaning up your emails so they’re simple, mobile-friendly, and straightforward will help. Also, remember to customize your emails asks depending on the donor. For some, you don’t have to send them to your general donation page–which limits your personalization options and donor tracking. Instead, allow them to give through a mobile wallet option.

7. M+R Benchmark: Nonprofits are Ramping Up Email Messages


Nonprofits sent an average of 59 email messages per subscriber in 2018. This marked an 8% increase in volume from 2017.

While email revenue decreased, M+R found that nonprofits are sending more messages than ever before. Nonprofits distribute upwards of 59 emails per supporter, meaning one email every six days or so.

Are these emails losing effectiveness? Are supporters reading them? Do donors prefer other online giving methods? There are definite changes on the horizon when it comes to email messaging. However, we can’t just assume that more messages equal less revenue.

What does this mean for your nonprofit? If email fundraising is working for your organization, continue on. However, if you’ve noticed a lull, consider some A/B testing to fine-tune your strategy.

8. M+R Benchmark: Recurring Gift Revenue is Up

While overall online revenue may have been flat year-over-year, revenue from recurring monthly gifts increased by 17%.

Out of all the takeaways from the 2019 M+R Benchmarks report, this is one to take some time and reflect upon. Monthly recurring gifts were up 17% in 2018. That’s huge!

If it weren’t for substantial increases in monthly giving, online revenue would actually be down for the year considering that one-time gifts declined by 2%.

Monthly giving helps promote retention, build relationships, and monthly givers average higher annual gift amounts than one-time givers. It should be a part of every nonprofit’s fundraising toolbelt.

What does this mean for your nonprofit? This one is simple and straightforward: invest in a recurring giving program. If you already have one, promote it heavily. Don’t forget to check in with your online fundraising platform and see if it offers monthly giving support. For example, CauseVox offers automated management of recurring donation programs, which takes the stress of planning and management off a nonprofit’s plate.

9. M+R Benchmark: Online Retention Sits at 37%

Overall, 37% of donors who made a gift online in 2017 donated online again to that nonprofit in 2018. That retention rate is about 3% lower than in 2017.

Retention rates are a sticky subject. Nonprofits employ all sorts of ways to engage donors, but all too often, those efforts are met with silence. Unfortunately, M+R found that retention rates decreased by 3% from 2017, and only 37% of donors returned from 2017 to 2018.

What does this mean for your nonprofit? Focus less on new donor acquisition and more on current donor retention. Check out CauseVox’s Donor Retention & Engagement Playbook to help create a detailed plan.

What Do We Do?

It’s safe to say that fundraising techniques are rapidly evolving, and creating a strong and effective digital fundraising strategy is essential in today’s world. With stagnant revenue and decreasing retention, every tool and strategy matters for your nonprofit’s bottom line.

Whether you choose to go all in on email, focus on Facebook, or create the strongest possible recurring giving program, the goal is to get out there and try something.

If you’re in need of a refreshed digital marketing strategy, or you want to learn more about CauseVox digital fundraising tools, schedule a one-on-one demo with a member of our team.

CauseVox makes it easy for you to manage relationships with your supporters and create personalized fundraising sites, peer-to-peer campaigns, and donation pages, all in one place, while also providing a remarkable giving experience your supporters will love.

With CauseVox you get more than a tool. We combine powerful fundraising tools with best practices and an experienced team to guide you to success. We’re here to help you weather every change in the fundraising landscape.