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Why Digital Technology Has Played a Key Role for Nonprofits

Why Digital Technology Has Played a Key Role for Nonprofits

Alex Geer

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness …”

Does it seem like the opening lines of Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities sum up the times we’re living in today? We tend to view our lives in terms of superlatives. It’s never been worse… and perhaps it’s never been better. We have more means of communication than ever before, but often don’t even listen to each other. We have incredible technology at our fingertips, yet it’s hard to find time to master the latest trends.


Nonprofits have the potential to Do. So. Much. Good. in this milieu. And ARE doing so much good. To help keep this in focus, sometimes it’s helpful to dig beneath emotion and conjecture to look at numbers to understand whether it is “so good” or “time to despair”.

There’s a lot to be optimistic about! 

The 2017 Luminate Online Benchmark Report, just released by Blackbaud, shows donation and email trends based on online fundraising and email campaigns by 707 Luminate Online customers. The report shows that nonprofits have a lot to be optimistic about – and tracks some key trends to be aware of, principally:

The tide is turning toward sustaining giving. While overall fundraising increased by 10.2%, sustainer revenue grew by 20.4%. While one-time and annual gifts are still an important source of revenue, we love to see this growth in sustainer programs. Monthly recurring revenue now represents over 11% of all online fundraising dollars received, that’s up 8.4% from 2016.

Encouraging people to become sustainers lets them support your cause in a way that’s consistent and easy for them. And sustainer programs provide steady, reliable revenue for your organization. With new technology available that helps you track giving and update credit cards automatically when gifts fail, these programs are easier than ever to maintain over the long haul.

It’s especially gratifying to see this shift in a period where “rage donations” have grabbed headlines. While people may be hitting the Donate button spontaneously in response to events in the news, they’re also making conscious decisions to sign on for the long haul as monthly donors to help nonprofits make real, lasting change.

Email still works really well. With a caveat.

We saw healthy performance by email lists in 2017, along with solid growth in online fundraising.

  • Online giving grew 10.2%
  • Organizations’ email lists also grew by 10.2%
  • Overall, 15% of each email list donated (up 2% from 2016)
  • Each usable email address was worth $13.24 in annual revenue

We’re super excited to see this kind of growth. Email remains a productive, low-cost way to get the word out and bring in donations. (See trends specific to your nonprofit sector.)

A few factors generate niggling concerns. The number of emails sent grew 15.4%, while email lists grew 10.2%, so organizations had to send more email to get these good results. We saw fundraising email open rates go down 3.8%% and click rates plunge by 15.5%. Email newsletters saw similar declines. Use our Benchmark Yourself Tool to see how you stacked up against your nonprofit peers!

Increasing the volume of email sent is a short term solution. To ensure email lists continue to produce, it’s super important to heed these declining engagement numbers. In Simple Ways to Analyze Nonprofit Email Performance, Brian Rubenstein explains what you can learn from your open and click rates – and how to improve performance.

The messaging “ecosystem” you create completes your engagement cycle.

Email meant a lot in 2017, but it wasn’t everything. People aren’t opening and clicking on emails as much, and yet they’re still deciding to donate. They’re making the decision to donate either because your emails are so fab or – and this is the important part – because they know enough about you from other information they’re seeing, whether it’s your social media presence, website, direct mail, events. great earned media work, cause marketing or activity by social influencers. You’re doing something right so that by the time people get your email, they’re ready to click and contribute.

Declining email engagement rates serve as a reminder how important it is to message consistently across multiple channels. Connecting with supporters in their preferred channels helps make your fundraising and advocacy appeals more productive.

Key takeaways
Nonprofits face a lot of challenges, but we see positive signs of growth: Sustainer programs have a tail wind right now. Online giving is up. Email programs continue to produce results with some tune ups needed to ensure future strong performance. We keep focusing on the positive and it could well be the “best of times”.

Want to learn more?

Check out these resources:

  • 2017 Luminate Online Benchmark Report. In its 11th year, this report studies performance of over 700 organizations using of Blackbaud’s Luminate OnlineTM software in the areas of online giving, the value of your email list, and email performance. Collectively these organizations raised over $1.7 billion dollars, received almost 25 million transactions and send over 6.4 billion emails.
  • 2017 Analytics Toolkit: Learn how to put data analytics to work within your organization. This comprehensive, step-by-step guide will help you embrace data and transform your fundraising culture.
  • Blackbaud Webinars