email marketing, Reports and studies

Benchmark Yourself: 2015 M+R Digital Benchmarks Study

0 Comments 22 April 2015

M+R Benchmarks 2015 - Infographic

Every year, I look forward to the M+R Benchmarks Study, a review of email, online fundraising, website activity, and social media nonprofit digital activities. The study, partnering with NTEN, offers a “state of the sector,” if you will, of how mission-driven organizations are using digital media, tools, and resources to engage, raise funds, recruit, and activate stakeholders. This year’s study also includes information on paid web marketing (paid search, web/text display ads, retargeting).

As Amy Sample Ward, CEO of the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) shares: “This is the report that we can all look to when our managers or our boards ask if our conversion rate is all that great, or where we need to invest more time. I’m so excited that this year’s report is able to include data on more sectors and more countries, supporting even more organizations with the context and data they need to make informed decisions about their digital strategies.”

I’ve read the whole study (all 60 pages, straight through to the Venn diagram with the awesome reference to Parliament/Funkadelic), and it reflects the growing love of data: there’s a lot of data points here. It’s dense. I found it was too much data to absorb in one reading. I advise reading it with your relevant benchmarks, data points, and signals in mind. Here are my thoughts and takeaways from this year’s study:

1. We must be holistic in our approach to digital communication.

It’s not about social. It’s not about email. It’s not about web. It’s not about AdWords. Nonprofits are doing it all, and every online marketing approach is growing. We must look holistically at our communication plans through the lens of “what is the combination of social/email/web/SEO/paid marketing needed to convey our messages effectively?” Consider both specific online efforts, as well as an overall communication strategy, which require different investments. Can we really have an effective online advocacy campaign without considering the added net value of paid marketing? What does an enewsletter do for us alone, vs. paired with supportive social media and website messaging?

Madeline Stanionis, Creative Director at M+R, summed it up for me: “What we’re seeing is that you can no longer rely on just a solid email program and engaging website to connect with supporters. People are all over the place now and organizations need to be there, too.”

2. Paid online marketing is booming. Next question: Is it paying off?

Of the 74 organizations surveyed, 78% are investing in some type of paid advertising, primarily text and display ads (the ads that come up in Google results after a search). 66% of all organizations pay for text/display ads, followed by 58% for paid search, and 50% for retargeting (targeted online advertising).  If you’re a small organization, you’re likely only paying for text/display ads. If you are a medium-sized organization, you’re likely paying for text/display ads as well as paid search, and if you are a large organization, you may also be investing in retargeting.

Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 10.05.41 AMOne of the trends I noticed at this year’s Nonprofit Technology Conference, was paid online marketing efforts in combination with fundraising appeals. The two sessions I attended (one with Madeline of M+R) showcased tangible returns on these investments. I wish the M+R Benchmarks study had also included the ROI from paid online marketing efforts. I can only assume that organizations are investing $30,000+ because they are realizing a return on investment.

3. There’s a relationship between size of email list and/or number of website visitors and…

Last year, M+R introduced the concept of benchmarking the dollars you may expect to raise from every 1,000 email subscribers. (In this year’s study, it is $40 on average, but significantly higher for medium and small-sized orgs.) The study also reveals that for every 1,000 website visitors annually, an organization may expect to raise about $610, with a higher expected revenue for smaller and medium-sized organizations.

The study also looked at the relationship between email list size and social media fan base. A nonprofit could expect to have about 285 Facebook fans per 1,000 email subscribers, and 112 Twitter followers per 1,000 email subscribers.

I reviewed data from my current and past clients, and found that the “for every 1,000 email subscribers” benchmark, sorted by size of org and type of org, is on-target. There are variations, but I did not find grand outliers. If you take nothing else from the study, use these figures for fundraising appeal projections and social channel growth.

4. The Benchmark Yourself Tool.

Benchmark yourself tool M&R

M+R created a handy-dandy benchmarking tool for your use. Enter your organization’s web visitor, fundraising appeal, advocacy appeal, and online donation data, and it will automatically calculate your organization’s information against its benchmark data. That’s a pretty cool tool. I tried it out, uploading completely fabricated information, and this is what was returned.

Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 3.05.07 PM

5. 3D is Not Better Than Ever.

This year’s study has a 3D shtick. As some blog readers may know, I don’t see in 3D, nor can I resolve 3D images with 3D glasses. In order to fully experience the fun images embedded within it, you must either a.) have a pair of old-fashioned 3D glasses on hand or b.) order a pair from M+R through the benchmarks site. The Benchmark Yourself results also includes 3D images. I found myself increasingly frustrating and annoyed.

Thankfully, the entire study isn’t in 3D, and I was able to read all of the text and charts without a problem. This is the only time I can think of when I’ve been confronted with 3D graphic images within any study or report, and I sincerely hope that this is a one-time experiment.



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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