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12 Key Digital Engagement Trends from the 2018 M+R Benchmarks Report

Michael Stein

The annual M+R Benchmarks Report has arrived again, shining a light on trends that are shaping nonprofits’ digital programs. With data from 154 nonprofit participants, we are once again treated to invaluable insights on numerous facets of digital engagement, covering websites, email messaging, online engagement, social media posts, and digital ads.

It’s clear to us from this year’s report, that digital engagement has taken some important leaps forward for nonprofits of all shapes and sizes. Having shared and discussed this year’s Benchmarks Report with many of our partners, here’s twelve key trends that have resonated strongly within the EveryAction community.

1. Total online revenue grew by 23% in 2017, after 15% growth in the year before.

Digital fundraisers are busier than ever, reaching more people through digital channels than ever before. There is a lot of learning and experimenting going on in digital fundraising, which is fueling new innovations in how to raise money across the whole spectrum of digital channels.

As nonprofits are using multiple channels to reach their supporters, they also need to be able to track engagement across these online and offline channels. Having a reporting system that can track these sources is vital in determining which channel produces the greatest ROI. EveryAction’s contact records can track nonprofit's relationships with their supporters across any channel. From social media to events they’ve attended to their email engagement and donor history. Having this 360 view of donors is what helps nonprofits become more successful at digital fundraising!




2. Even though online revenue grew last year and the year before, every individual email metric declined.

Open rates, fundraising click-through rates and page completion rates for both fundraising and advocacy all went down. To compensate for these changes in individual behavior, digital campaigners have had to up their testing and innovating game to new levels, and bite the bullet and send more email than ever before.

Having a tool that allows for easy segmentation and testing is key to improving email deliverability. In fact, by improving your email deliverability you can improve your fundraising revenue by over 22%. This is where EveryAction comes in! With easy to use A-J testing, nonprofit digital teams can ensure that every message is targeted and reaching the right audience

email testing

3. Monthly giving has continued its rapid growth as nonprofits received 40% more revenue from monthly gifts in 2017 than 2016.

Monthly giving as a share of all online revenue rose from 14% to 16%. The average size of a monthly gift received from an email appeal is now $18. Monthly sustainer gifts are clearly a win-win for nonprofits and donors. Nonprofits gain more long term revenue and donors can spread out their giving, often giving more over time. Nonprofits are crafting creative digital fundraising campaigns to recruit and upgrade monthly sustainers.

Here at EveryAction, we know that just as important as finding these monthly donors is retaining them. One of the most common reason for a lapsed sustainer gift is an expired credit card. Automation tools such as EveryAction’s credit card updater, enable our database to get updated member credit card numbers directly from their bank, meaning that a monthly donation can continue to process without any action needed on the card holder's part. With our easy to use self service portal, your donors can update their information at anytime ensuring that you and your staff save both time and money!




4. Social media audiences continued to grow in 2017

We saw social media audiences growing particularly on Instagram. More importantly, nonprofits have integrated social media more tightly with their other digital and direct response channels. Combining both content marketing techniques and digital advertising tools has delivered value to nonprofits. While social media platforms are in constant evolution, nonprofits are learning to innovate and experiment with engagement techniques for advocacy and fundraising.


5. Mobile grew another nine percent in terms of overall digital share

40% of website traffic, 24% of website transactions and 17% of website revenue is attributable to the use of smart phones. While these numbers suggest that desktop users are still the most important segment of digital engagement, keep in mind that the proportion of transactions from mobile users increased 50% between 2016 and 2017. The implications are clear that all nonprofits need to get serious about mobile optimization across all their digital touch points.

That’s why all EveryAction’s online donation and advocacy forms come mobile optimized. We’ve built these form to adapt to any screen size so that your nonprofit is set up for success.




6. On the subject of mobile, we’re seeing an explosion of growth in mobile engagement

Many nonprofits are harnessing this channel for sending automated voice messages, text messages, pictures, video, surveys, and more. Mobile list size grew by 35% in 2017. The growth of platforms such as Mobile Commons, Hustle and other SMS tools demonstrate that mobile engagement has a bright future.


7. Digital advertising investment among nonprofits increased 24% in 2017

This demonstrates increased faith that this medium can deliver value for engagement, acquisition and fundraising. Of the nonprofits that reported spending on digital ads, the average level of investment was $0.05 per dollar in online revenue. A nonprofit that received $1 million in online revenue in 2017 might be expected to spend about $50,000 on digital advertising. A nonprofit with annual online revenue of $10 million might average $500,000 in digital ads.

A trend throughout all of this is the importance of not only engaging with your supporters through emails, offline and digitally, but the importance of tracking all this data. With using tools like digital ads, it’s important to use these metrics to figure out how these ads play into your acquisition and retention strategies. EveryAction’s Facebook ads manager integration provides the option to indicate which contact records were targeted for the ads, allowing users to measure results of how those ads increase supporter participation and engagement. Perhaps most powerfully, EveryAction allows for tracking the ROI of an ad campaign over time - letting nonprofits know if their investment in ads was worth it.




8. Donor retention is still a challenge for most nonprofits

On average, 38% of donors who made an online gift to a nonprofit in 2016 made an online gift again to that nonprofit in 2017, demonstrating that donor retention is a constant challenge for nonprofits. The diversity of digital channels offers new opportunities for donor stewardship and cultivation.


9. Email messaging continues to rule supreme as a channel for digital fundraising.

Email messaging drove 28% of all online revenue in 2017, coupled with a decline in the fundraising email response rate by 6%, to 0.06%. Digital fundraisers have had to dig deep into their bag of tricks to wring every dollar from their lists, increasing appeal volumes and frequency of campaigns. While this brings new risks of donor fatigue, it also has brought new learnings on how to improve donor engagement.


10. Nonprofits sent an average of 66 email messages per subscriber in 2017.

That’s an average of 5.5 per month, which marked a 11% increase in volume from 2016. The largest category of email messages was fundraising. I bet you can’t wait for December.

As the number of emails the average subscriber receives increases, it’s important now more than ever to focus on deliverability. Having a healthy list means your emails are not going to spam which means your targeted audience is seeing your content and donating or taking action. Some of the reasons for a high spam rate include:

  • Making unsubscribing difficult
  • Using an out of date email list
  • High Complaints

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can improve your email deliverability download our full study here.


11. Twenty one percent of email files took an online advocacy action in 2017.

But only 6% took three or more actions. Organizations that are advocacy focused are learning the importance of diversifying their messaging and finding unique ways to cultivate their supporters, as a means to keep them engaged.

We think one of the best ways to keep you supporters engaged in your advocacy ask is to target the ask as specifically as you can. We think a powerful way to do this is through local advocacy. The ability to use online forms to advocate to your city council member or local representative is powerful. With EveryAction’s local advocacy tools you can target all the way down to the local and municipal levels!




12. Donation page conversion rates now stand at 17% on average, which is a 5% improvement over 2016.

That means that 83% of people who reach nonprofit donation pages abandon them without making a gift. We can’t stress enough the importance of improving messaging, photos and call-to-action on donation pages, and reducing friction by any means, such a pre-filling fields and other donation automation techniques.

One of our favorite EveryAction features is FastAction. FastAction is our safe and secure method of saving supporters contact and payment information across our platform. This allows nonprofits to tap into our massive activist network of over 59 million Action Profiles in the EveryAction network. 33% of our EveryAction forms have at least one field pre-filled due to a previous action being taken within our network, giving our clients a 3.5x boost in their conversion rates.



These are just a few of the takeaways from this year's benchmark report. We're excited to learn from these trends and put them in practice to ensure that nonprofits everywhere can raise more money and do more good. Interested in learning more about EveryAction? Request a demo here!

Topics: fundraising, engagement, digital