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

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.

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 CommonsHustle 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.

8 digital fundraising trends in 2018

Digital fundraising is constantly evolving, so it’s important to stay on top of emerging trends and take advantage of new tools. Here are eight trends that you can use now to better engage with supporters and raise more money.

1. Use Pop-Up Lightboxes During Fundraising Campaigns

Lightboxes are pop-up graphics that appear after a few seconds of visiting a website. They’re a surefire way to grab the eye of your website visitors and call attention to a specific fundraising campaign.

You can configure lightboxes to only show up on your most viewed pages and set them to show up only once per visit so that you don’t irritate your visitors. For an example of a lightbox, check out Snow Leopard Trust’s website below. The lightbox pops up after you scroll around for a few seconds.

2. Make Monthly Giving the Default

Historically, one-time giving was the default, but now the trend is to make monthly giving the standard. Monthly giving helps offer a more digestible donation amount that can be broken up into small chunks ($10 per month versus a one-time donation of $120). Giving monthly gifts is popular with people who are recent donors, frequent givers, and multichannel donors (such as those who have already made a gift in the mail).

3. Ensure That Your Marketing Campaigns Are Mobile

In 2017, 24 percent of all online donations were made on a mobile device. As this number increases, it’s important to have a mobile responsive website and emails. One way to track how much traffic you’re getting from mobile devices is to look at your Google Analytics metrics (or those from whatever website tracking tool you use). If more than 20 percent of your online donations are mobile, it’s important to ensure that all your marketing efforts are mobile-friendly.

4. Use Multi-Step Donation Pages

Instead of one long and overwhelming donation form, use several steps to make the process more engaging. Breaking things up into several user-friendly steps makes the experience more interactive. It also gives users the feeling that the process is moving forward.

5. Implement Abandoned Cart Recovery Tools

You can now track who has put a donation in their cart and then abandoned it using special tracking tools. In an effort to recover those donors, you can run targeted marketing campaigns aimed at helping them convert into actual donors. Perhaps they have some hesitation because of the donation amount, or maybe they needed more information on the organization before committing. You can send targeted follow-up emails to these users with more information on the organization or offer an alternative amount that might help them complete the donation process.

6. Choose a Donor Platform That’s Fully Integrated

Many donor platforms now have improved mobile tools, are social media–friendly, and have credit card management systems. For a side-by-side comparison of each one, Idealware provides a useful chart for selecting a donor management system that is right for you. Having this type of integration allows you to craft the full picture of who your donors are and what they are doing on your site. This complete picture will allow you to run smarter campaigns based on donors’ activities and donation amounts.

7. Include Countdown Clocks in Your Emails

According to an M+R Benchmarks study, email fundraising revenue increased by 24 percent in 2017 and accounted for 28 percent of all online giving. The study also stated that for every 1,000 fundraising email messages delivered, nonprofits raised $36. Email is a very quantifiable tool that allows you to see open rates all the way through donations.

Trends in email include mobile responsive templates (see above) and countdown clocks. Countdown clocks help recipients feel the urgency of the campaign and visualize how close or far your organization is from its final goal.

8. Personal Fundraising Campaigns for Birthdays

In 2017, Facebook introduced a personal fundraising tool that allows users to ask friends to donate to a specific organization. Nonprofits, especially smaller organizations, can leverage these personal fundraising campaigns by activating a team of supporters and equipping them with what they need to launch a personal fundraising campaign. Nonprofits can provide these supporters with a landing page, graphics, or email copy.

These and other fundraising tips were the topic of a recent free webinar at TechSoup.

Additional Resources: Digital Fundraising for Nonprofits

This article was originally published on the TechSoup Blog on May 3, 2018.

Use an email welcome series to engage with new online supporters

An email welcome series is essential to making a good first impression with new subscribers on your email list. Your welcome series is a unique opportunity to engage someone with your organization’s social mission and programs. Your welcome series should open the door wide and set the tone as your supporters learn about how they fit in with your mission.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you set up your email welcome series.

Craft a Series of Email Messages

A welcome series usually includes multiple email messages. The first message should go out as soon as possible after the initial subscription event. Pacing thereafter could be at three- or five-day intervals.

Tone and Content Are Important for Cultivation and Engagement

Consider who in your organization might be the best spokespeople for a welcome series. It might be fine to start with a welcome from your executive director. However, be sure to include other staff, board members, or volunteers so you can offer a diverse range of voices to represent different aspects of your organization.

Be sure to craft your language and tone to focus on engagement and cultivation. It’s your unique opportunity to strengthen your relationship with someone. The language should focus on the importance of new supporters, volunteers, and donors, and how these individuals help grow and enrich the organization.

Make sure your welcome series presents ways for new people to get more deeply involved. These options could include volunteering, participating in programs, becoming a donor, or joining a committee.

Asking for Financial Support Is Optional

While statistics lean in the direction of asking for financial support, I’d make the case that asking for financial support in an email welcome series is optional. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to send fundraising appeals to your subscribers after this initial engagement.

Use a Mobile Email Template

Most emails now get opened first on mobile devices. Using a mobile-responsive email template for your welcome series will ensure it is opened and read by the largest number of people. By using a mobile-responsive email template, you’re letting your subscribers know from the start of your relationship that you’re committed to a good mobile experience.

Integrate New Subscribers into Your Regular Email Communications

There’s no reason to hold off on integrating new email subscribers into your regular communications calendar for e-appeals and your e-newsletter. I support adding them fully into the mix right away.

Review Your Email Metrics and Freshen Your Welcome Series Twice a Year

A welcome series is like any other email campaign, so be sure to review your email metrics to assess your performance. You’ll want to understand the progression of open rates through your series. Also review click rates to understand which content is most engaging to your new subscriber audience. Use this performance review opportunity to help you decide where to make changes so the content, language, and messaging can stay as fresh as possible.

This article was originally published on the Grantspace Blog on March 30, 2018.

6 tips to improve your next fundraising campaign using digital storytelling

Storytelling is the currency of fundraising. In the digital environment of email, social media, and mobile, we can use storytelling in innovative ways to inspire supporters and donors — and raise more money.

Photos, videos, selfies, and personal stories allow us to embed emotional content in fundraising campaigns. They also invite our supporters and donors to be more deeply involved in our fundraising campaigns.

Below are six tips for nonprofits that want to use digital storytelling to engage donors and boost giving.

Tip 1: Create a Strategy

As you plan your next fundraising campaign, consider how you’ll use stories as a central element of your messaging. Your goal is to create maximum emotional impact around your fundraising goal and deadline.

Ask These Questions to Start

  • What’s the central theme of your fundraising campaign (the goal you’re trying to solve, amount of funds you need to raise, giving deadline)?
  • How will you tell your story to create both authenticity and urgency?
  • What photos and videos can you use to tell your campaign story?
  • How will you encourage supporters and donors to make a gift? What tactics will push people to give (a match, or a deadline)?
  • How can you encourage donors to share their generosity and spread the word? How can you obtain supporter-contributed content?
  • How can you use your social media channels to spread the word about your fundraising campaign and showcase donor generosity?
  • What previous fundraising campaigns worked best and why?

Tip 2: Use Photos to Create Emotional Impact

Photos are a central element to create emotional impact in your email appeals, on website pages, on website pop-up lightboxes, in digital advertising, and even on donation pages.

Consider how the photo subject will reinforce the fundraising campaign message. Avoid using stock photography, since this turns off donors. Use images of volunteers whenever possible to connect with your most avid supporters.

Here’s a great example. Be the Match uses a photo of past volunteers to inspire people to sign up to raise funds:


And here’s how International Medical Corps used a photo in its website lightbox to garner support for disaster survivors:


Middle East Children’s Alliance used a slideshow during its 2016 year-end campaign to share powerful images and stories of families and children who need help:


Tip 3: Use a Photo on Your Donation Page to Inspire Giving

Featuring a good image on your donation page that captures the essence of your work can significantly improve your fundraising campaign’s success. When selecting photos for donation pages, it’s important that they be authentic and relevant so that they reinforce your campaign theme. Test a variety of images to figure out which one resonates best with your audience.

Here’s a great example of an authentic and relevant photo on the Doctors Without Borders donation page:


If you want more ideas to improve your donation page, this blog post showcases 10 tips.

Tip 4: Create a Video to Tell Your Story

Videos allow you to bring your fundraising story to life and connect with your audience. Furthermore, fundraising campaigns that include a video are often more successful.

CauseVox has assembled 15 examples of video storytelling for online fundraising campaigns.

TechSoup also offers an excellent resource guide for video storytelling. It’s available for download on the Storymakers 2017 page.

Follow These Tips

  • Keep your video less than two minutes long.
  • Include a screenshot of the video in your email appeals and invite people to click through to watch it.
  • Post the video on your website home page and on your social media channels to build maximum visibility for your fundraising campaign.
  • Include a web address at the beginning and end of the video so you can direct people to where they can make a donation.

This fundraising appeal from SETI Institute incorporated a different short video at the top of each message, helping to tell the organization’s story and ask for donations:


Tip 5: Encourage Photo and Video Sharing Among Your Supporters, Volunteers, and Donors

Encourage your supporters and donors to share their own photos with you during your fundraising campaign. You can ask your supporters to share their photos on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter using a hashtag. Get permission to reuse and share photos to showcase your donor generosity and encourage peer giving.

Here’s a good example: the Best Buddies Challenge promotes a hashtag for supporter-contributed photos during its annual bike ride in California to support families with children with intellectual disabilities.


Tip 6: Use Peer-to-Peer Fundraising and Let Your Supporters Tell Their Own Stories

Create a community fundraising campaign and enroll your supporters to help you out. Supporters can create their own fundraising pages to raise money for your cause and tell their own stories about why they’re involved. Encourage your fundraisers to use photos and videos to illustrate their campaign.

For example, Children’s National uses a platform that lets families raise funds for its cause.


Michael Stein has been a writer and digital strategist for progressive social causes for over two decades. He is the author of three books and numerous articles chronicling the rise of digital marketing, mobile, and online fundraising. He works as a consultant and coach to nonprofits, foundations, and educators, with a focus on marketing and fundraising in a multichannel and multiscreen world. Find Michael on Twitter at @mstein63.