This is news to no one: the last year has not been an easy one. [Editor’s Note: We had initially included a list here of reasons why the last year was hard, but it was very long, and very sad, and so we removed it. We know you know.]
And yet. The data shows that people rose to the occasion in all sorts of ways. In fact, the very existence of this data demonstrates the remarkable, inspiring commitment of our nonprofit participants. Through everything, you not only did this incredible work — you were generous enough to share your time and data with us. Thank you.
Most of our charts include a topline metric labeled “All.” This number represents the median figure for a given metric for all participants who reported data. We use median rather than mean for several reasons; most importantly, we strive to ensure that a particular participant, or a particular sector, with unusual results does not skew our overall findings. That’ll make a lot of sense when you see the results for Hunger and Poverty nonprofits for 2020.
Wherever possible, we have broken out the findings by sector. Each of our participants self-identified the appropriate sector (or, in some cases, fell outside of our defined sectors and selected “Other”). If you are not sure which sector represents your peer group, review the full list of participants to find where you belong.
We also sort our participants by size. For our Study, “Small” refers to nonprofits with annual online revenue in 2020 below $500,000; “Medium” includes those nonprofits with revenue between $500,000 and $3,000,000; and “Large” covers all those with online revenue greater than $3,000,000.
Not all participants were able to provide data for every metric. If a chart does not include data for a certain sector or size, it’s because we were not able to collect enough results to report a reliable average.
We say this every year: because each Benchmarks Study includes a different set of participants, we cannot reliably gauge changes by placing one year’s edition next to another’s. That is especially true in an unprecedented year like 2020, during which an unprecedented number of things were described as unprecedented. Wherever we make year-over-year comparisons, we are including long-term data from this year’s participants.
- Total online revenue grew by 32% in 2020. Hunger and Poverty groups reported a stunning 173% increase in online revenue over the previous year.
- Revenue from monthly gifts increased by 25%, while revenue from one-time gifts increased by 37%. Monthly giving accounted for 19% of all online revenue in 2020.
- Nonprofits that engaged in COVID-19 response saw noticeably higher growth in one-time giving revenue than those that did not.
- The average nonprofit donor made 2.03 gifts and contributed $167 in 2020. Both of these per-donor metrics are slightly lower than 2019 — the increase in overall was largely driven by more people giving rather than people giving more.
- Overall, 41% of 2019 online donors were retained to make another online gift in 2020. The retention rate for new online donors was 25%; for donors with a previous giving history the retention rate was 63%.
Nonprofit spending on digital ads increased by 33% in 2020, with nonprofits spending an average of $0.10 for every dollar raised in online revenue. (This is a measure of the level of spending relative to total budget, not a direct measure of return on investment. More on return on ad spend below.)
Digital ad spending was concentrated toward the end of the year, with almost a third of all spending occuring in December.
Direct fundraising ads accounted for 60% of all ad spending. Branding, awareness, or education ads accounted for 25%, and lead generation for 14%.
Return on ad spend was highest for search ads ($4.78), followed by social media ($1.05), display ($0.38), and video ($0.27).
On average, the cost to acquire a new lead through digital advertising was $2.60.
Nonprofit mobile audiences grew by 26% in 2020, compared to a 3% average increase in email list size.
Nonprofits had 50 mobile list members for every 1,000 email subscribers.
Mobile message click-through rates were 6.3% for fundraising messages and 10% for advocacy messages. Both figures are far higher than comparable email metrics.
Peer-to-peer text message audiences received 1.24 messages per month in 2020, and responded 9.8% of the time.
Email list sizes increased by 3% in 2020, the same growth rate reported for 2019.
For every 1,000 fundraising messages sent, nonprofits raised $78. This marks a 35% increase over 2019.
As was the case with overall online revenue, the Hunger and Poverty sector was an extreme outlier in email fundraising. These nonprofits raised $871 for every 1,000 fundraising emails sent, a 243% increase.
Nonprofits sent an average of 59 email messages per subscriber in 2020, a 17% increase in volume.
The average response rate for advocacy email was 3.6%, a 5% increase over the previous year.
The average response rate for fundraising email was 0.10%, a 41% increase over the previous year.
Correction issued June 16, 2021: After the original publication of Benchmarks, we found an error with the calculations for email click-through rates. The biggest difference was with the Fundraising click-through rate, which was originally higher. But the Advocacy and Newsletter click-through rates were also incorrect. The correct click-through rates and change 2019-2020 are:
Advocacy 2.9% (-1%)
Newsletter 1.7% (+1%)
Fundraising 0.7% (+4%)
The correct click-through rates and change 2019-2020 for "Prospect v donor email message rates" are:
Fundraising ask to donor audiences: 0.9% (+1%)
Fundraising ask to prospect audience: 0.6% (-6%)
We apologize for this error!
For every 1,000 email addresses, nonprofits had an average of 817 Facebook fans, 291 Twitter followers, and 149 Instagram followers.
Twitter posts had an average engagement rate of 1.8%.
Facebook posts had an average engagement score of 0.32%. We did not find major differences in Facebook engagement based on the day of week or post type.
Each organic Facebook post only reached 4% of a nonprofit page’s fans. Meanwhile, 29% of the audience reached by a given post was not already following the nonprofit.
Revenue from Facebook Fundraisers increased by 14% overall, with Hunger and Poverty nonprofits seeing a 946% increase in Fundraisers revenue.
Facebook Fundraisers accounted for 1.3% of all online revenue.
Half of all nonprofit website visits came from users on mobile devices. The traffic share for mobile devices increased by 9% in 2020.
Users on desktop devices made up the majority of donation transactions (61%) and revenue (72%).
The average gift made on a desktop device was $80; for mobile users, the average gift was $42.
Organic traffic (website traffic generated by unpaid search results) comprised 42% of all nonprofit website visits in 2020.
Overall, 0.08% of organic website visitors made a donation, generating an average of $0.12 per visitor.
Nonprofit homepages took an average of 2.77 seconds to load on mobile devices, while donation pages took 2.38 seconds to load.