email fundraising, email marketing, social media strategy

M&R 2014 Benchmarks Study: Findings and Implications

0 Comments 18 April 2014

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The M&R 2014 Benchmarks Study is here! For the past eight years, M&R,with support from NTEN, has produced a study of email and fundraising benchmarks. This year’s study looked at email (open rates, churn, click-through rates, list growth, response rates), online giving (email, other giving online, monthly vs. one-time gifts), website traffic (traffic growth and web gift rates), and social media (Facebook and Twitter fan size, growth, and frequency of posting) in 2013. What is interesting about this year’s study isn’t so much what is in it, but what it can mean for your communication effectiveness.

First a note about the study:

53 nonprofits of various sizes reported their 2013 online performances. The study generally reflects the data of larger nonprofits. Most of the findings are segmented by email list sizes: small (list of under 100,000 emails), medium (100K – 500,000 emails), and large  (over 500,000 emails). Some of the findings are also segmented by sector: Environmental, Rights, International, as well as Wildlife and Animal Welfare. The list of organizations may be found on page 54 of the Study.

The majority of participating nonprofits are not just large, but very large: CARE, Greenpeace, The Nature Conservancy, Freedom To Marry, AARP, to name a few. An organization is considered to have a “small” Facebook fan or Twitter follower base if it has under 25,000 fans or followers. So many organizations struggle to get 3,000 fans and followers! Given the participant slant, it will be difficult for a micro or small nonprofit organization to accurately benchmark itself to this report. (M&R acknowledges that participating organizations had to code their own data, which weeded out many small organizations that do not have staff time or capacity to do so.)

Email Key Findings

1. Email lists are growing. Email size for participants overall grew 14% in 2013. Large and small organizations saw list size growth of over 20% in 2013, while medium-sized organizations only experienced 7% growth.

2. While list size grew, response rates, open rates and click-through rates declined across the board.

3. How many emails does your organization send annually? On average, there are 53 email messages sent per year per subscriber. The report segments these by type of email:  fundraising, advocacy, newsletter, and other types of messages. Environmental groups sent more advocacy than email messages and experienced a higher response rate than any other sector.

The charts below paint the overall picture.

Email rates M&R 2014

Email volume per subscriber M&RImplications:

  • The growth in email subscriber rates (and interestingly, decline in email churn rate) indicates genuine supporter interest.
  • Cross-channel marketing and planning is going to become a very important factor in getting email response rates up.Declining open, CTR and response rates may be a result of a number of factors: long-time subscriber apathy, marketing communication disconnect, lack of urgent issues in the sector, etc. These metrics suggest an opportunity to connect email messaging with social media messaging so that one positively impacts the other.
  • Environmental organizations saw a higher response rate than average (perhaps because of the type of cause), and it cannot be overlooked that these organizations messaged more often about advocacy than fundraising. Consider rethinking the ration of fundraising to advocacy emails, or test this approach with a segment of your list to measure open rates and response rates in 2014.

Website and Fundraising Key Findings

1. Web visitors grew 16% in 2012.

2. Number of online gifts is up 14% from 2012, with large increases in every sector except for Rights.

3. Nonprofits received 1.7 cents for every fundraising message delivered. International groups are an outlier, raising 59 cents per 1,000 fundraising messages.

4. More money was raised from “other online sources” (driven by search, social media, or just going straight to a nonprofit’s website) is higher than email fundraising.


  • The growth of online giving means that it is now a force to be reckoned with in fundraising. Monthly giving revenue grew 25% in 2013, and accounted for 16% of total online giving. Web visitors who made it to a nonprofit’s primary donation page converted at a rate of 15%. Optimizing your donation page isn’t a suggestion but a “must” for any organization.
  • Email subscribers are donating more through non-email channels than email. This may be a bellwether about the rise of social media fundraising…and the maturation of the “donate now” button. This is the year to think about experimenting with driving supporters to online giving.

Social Media Key Findings

1. Growth in social media audiences far outpaces that of email. Email lists grew by 14% in 2013. Facebook fans grew by 37% (on average) and Twitter followers (on average) by 46%.

2. For every 1,000 email subscribers, study participants had an average of 199 Facebook fans and 110 Twitter followers, and 13 mobile subscribers.

3. Post frequency is consistent among groups of every size and sector on Facebook, with more variance on Twitter. Nonprofits post to Facebook an average of 1.2 times/day and tweet 5.3 times/day.


  • Social media users are interested in what organizations have to say, and not just talking amongst themselves. This report supports other data I’ve read about what Facebook fans like to do on Facebook (support a cause, speak with someone from a cause).
  • The finding of “for every 1,000 email list subscribers, nonprofits have…” rings true for the organizations that I know. both large and small. This is a solid benchmark for all-sized organizations.
  • While there is no standard number of times per day to post to Facebook or Twitter, the posting frequency noted is the minimum that I would recommend. I recommend one Facebook post per day, and six to ten tweets daily in order to develop and grow social engagement.

Some of the key findings are illustrated in the charts below. (Read on for my overall report summary, found below the charts.)

FB and Twitter fan # benchmarking

No posts:tweetsper day M&R 2014In Summary:

This year’s Benchmarks report did not hold big surprises other than the declines in email open, CTR, and response rates. The pleasantly positive news was both the rise in giving by “other sources,” and the continued growth of online giving. The growth in social media fan bases is also heartening — no fatigue yet among Facebook and Twitter followers!

There is much more detail in the 2014 Benchmarks study, include more findings, and many (many!) more charts.

What is missing, foremost, are metrics around social giving, actions, and engagement.

I suspect this is challenging for organizations to code and measure in a standardized methodology, but it is sorely needed in our sector. I’d love to read benchmarks of percentage of engaged fans on Facebook, number of followers who click on links shared through social media, number who donate via social media links, etc.. The lack of data around engagement on those platforms means that there is no benchmark for what is working..or not working...for mission-driven organizations using Facebook, Twitter, and other social channels.




Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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