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3 Lessons from Analyzing the Key Metrics of 155 Nonprofits

Published by Nathan Hill
Online Fundraising Benchmark image

I recently wrapped up a brand-new research study analyzing the 3 essential online fundraising metrics of 155 organizations (web traffic, monthly donations, and average gift). 

And while dissecting all the data, I found myself asking some critical questions. There were a few data issues that we had to think through in order to give an accurate look at how these organizations are performing.

So I thought I’d take a moment to share with you 3 challenges I faced that led to some important insights that can equip you for online fundraising growth.

Ready? Here goes…

1. Your Context Is More Important Than the Average

The first step in creating this study of key online fundraising metrics  was to find the average monthly web traffic, donations, and average gift size. This is a little bit easier said than done.

But after cleaning the data, scrubbing organizations whose data was verifiably inaccurate, and crunching the numbers – here’s what we found:

  • The average (median) nonprofit had 12,708 website sessions per month.
  • The average (median) nonprofit saw .61% of those website sessions convert into donations.
  • The average (median) nonprofit had a $106.71 average gift size.

3 essential online fundraising metrics

What bearing does the average have on your organization’s performance?

That’s the question I asked right away. With so many different shapes and sizes of nonprofit organizations, how does the average performance of 155 organizations really help?

If you have a lot of web traffic (say in the millions per month), you might think these online fundraising metrics aren’t even relevant. Same goes if you have really low traffic.

You may walk away thinking “This benchmark is for someone else.”

But that’s why you need to dig a little deeper and view these metrics in a context relevant to your own. And when we drilled in, we saw a fuller picture that’s a lot more helpful…

The more traffic an organization has, the lower their conversion rate and average gift sizes tend to be. 

Online Fundraising metrics by Traffic Volume

In order to get an accurate picture of what conversion rates and average gift sizes are possible for your organization, you have to compare yourself to organizations with similar traffic volume.

2. Just Because You Have Data Doesn’t Mean It’s Reliable

In another area of the report, we dove into specific web traffic channels to see which ones are most effective for driving revenue. But the initial result didn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Online Fundraising Metrics Revenue Per Channel

The number one channel for driving online revenue appeared to be direct traffic.

When we start working with a new nonprofit partner, one of the first recommendations we make is almost always some form of improving Google Analytics tracking. It’s shocking how many nonprofits (and for-profits) aren’t accurately tracking their marketing and fundraising efforts properly.

And when we look at organizations in the benchmark report that we can verify are tracking revenue and web traffic properly, the picture changes.

Email is the Most Effective Revenue Generator

In almost every scenario where we can verify that revenue and campaigns are being tracked properly, email is actually the biggest driver of online revenue and donations. Here’s a quick look at 3 organizations that are tracking their revenue properly.

A Health Organization

This health related organization brings in 199% more revenue through email than they do from direct traffic.

Online Email Revenue for a Health Organization

A Public Policy Organization

This public policy organization brings in 421% more revenue through email than they do from direct traffic.

Online Email Revenue for a Public Policy Organization

A Higher Education Organization

This higher education organization brings in 739% more revenue through email than they do from direct traffic.

Online Email Revenue for a Higher Education Organization

At the end of the day, email is the most effective channel you have at your disposal to drive online fundraising revenue. If you’re not actively growing your email file, you might want to re-think where you’re focusing your online fundraising efforts.

3. Not All Fundraising Channels Have the Same Potential

If we were to simply look at channels that drive revenue directly and stop there, we’d likely do ourselves more harm than good. Because, as you know, there’s a whole lot more to fundraising than simply asking for a donation.

That being said, based on what we’ve seen in other research studies (like this on one mid-level donors), it seems that many online fundraising programs place a major emphasis on the role of cultivation in online channels.

I would guess that we often forget or ignore online cultivation strategies because there isn’t a lot of data out there on what really works.

To help see what channels may be most effective for cultivation, we scored the engagement value of each primary web traffic channel. And we found that Referral Traffic and Social Media Traffic have the highest engagement.

Online Fundraising Metrics Engagement Scores

Using High Engagement Channels as a Donation Primer

First off, let’s define what a donation primer is.

A donation primer is a piece of content that gets a prospective donor ready for a fundraising appeal.

A donation primer doesn’t make a direct donation ask in and of itself. It simply helps someone gain a deeper understanding of why a donation is valuable.

Here’s a quick experiment to show you how it works…

Version A – Visitors did not see donation priming articles

In version A of this experiment, the traffic segment being analyzed saw the normal news articles and blog content on this organization’s website.

Version B – Visitors did see donation priming articles

In version B of this experiment, the traffic segment being analyzed saw the normal news articles and blog content, but they also looked at an article that was designed to help them understand the value of donating to this organization.

Donation Primer Experiment Example

The Results

This experiment was conducted around year-end season. After the season was over, they analyzed the behaviors of these 2 traffic segments. The traffic segment that saw the donation priming articles was 196% more likely to donate.

Although blogs and articles (that might get shared on social media, linked to from referral sites, and rank in organic search results) aren’t good drivers of direct revenue, they can certainly make a major impact on the likelihood that someone gives later on.

Turning your high engagement channels into a donation primer is one strategy you can use to start seeing direct revenue impact from your “non-revenue-driving” channels.

If you want to dig deeper, you can check out this webinar on growing revenue without sending more donation appeals.

3 Essential Online Fundraising Metrics


3 Essential Metrics for Online Fundraising Success - Book ImageThere’s a whole lot more data, insights, metrics, and quick tips in the full report on 3 Essential Metrics for Online Fundraising Success. And the whole report is designed specifically to help you figure out where to start testing and optimizing.

You can get a free copy of the report to see how your organization stacks up against others, and learn how you can grow your online fundraising revenue.

Get a free copy of 3 Essential Metrics for Online Fundraising Success »

Published by Nathan Hill

Nathan Hill is Vice President, NextAfter Institute.