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Nonprofits Shift To Digital To Raise Funds Safely

February 24, 2021 Sarah Cavill

The nonprofit industry’s usual reliance on in-person events and door-to-door fundraising was drastically impacted by the pandemic. As digital became essential to all ways of doing business, including fundraising, nonprofits realized that digital outreach was fundamental to driving donations. 

The “Charitable Giving Report” (CGR) from the Blackbaud Institute found, “In 2020, charitable giving in the United States grew by 2% based on a careful analysis of $40.7 billion in donations by the Blackbaud Institute. Additionally, an analysis of $3.2 billion in online donations tells us that online giving grew by 20.7% compared to 2019.” Even as things return to normal, nonprofits should continue prioritizing digital strategies that facilitate list building, seamless mobile donations and connection with donors. 

Online Donations Are Surging, With Donor Retention Rates High

“The events of 2020 paved the way for substantial disruption to the status quo. That has never been more apparent than in online giving, where it [online giving] represented more than 1/8 of all giving in 2020 — an impressive four-point increase year over year. Organizations would be keen to build on the momentum by ensuring a continued focus on digital progress,” said Ashley Thompson, managing director, Blackbaud Institute. 

According to the CGR report, “In 2020, 13% of fundraising came from online donations,” which is the highest level ever measured and aligns with similar growth in ecommerce sales. With the CGR reporting noting that, “The data reveals once again that consumer behavior is also donor behavior.”

Overall, average donation amounts are up both online and using traditional donation outlets. The average gift amount went from $617 to $737 in 2020, and online gift amounts increased from $148 in 2019 to $177 in 2020. Smaller donations tend to come from younger donors giving online, and they often come from donors enrolled in monthly donor campaigns that have a big impact over time. Subscriptions also increase donor retention rates, which “showed improvement for the first time in many years.”

Across the board, nonprofits of all sizes continued to grow digital fundraising programs. 

Nonprofits Must Be Optimized For Mobile To Make The Most Of Online Donations

unicef 360

Mobile donations have grown significantly in recent years, with “an estimated 28% of online donations made using mobile devices” in 2020, up from 9% in 2014. Nonprofits should ensure their websites are mobile-optimized to make donations quick and seamless. Text-to-give strategies work well for Gen Z and Millennials, generations particularly comfortable donating over text, when driving to mobile-optimized donation landing pages with clear calls to action. 

Additionally, mobile apps can create context for would-be donors and allow nonprofits to serve stories and content to mobile users. UNICEF, a charity that provides humanitarian and developmental aid to children around the world, created the app UNICEF 360, which shares the stories of children helped by UNICEF and features a prominent “donate” button. Apps offer opportunities to drive donations, and they can collect valuable first-party data that helps nonprofits identify and message high-intent prospective donors and current donors ready to give more. UNICEF was able to take 15 years of donor data and implement multichannel strategies to reach donors at all different levels. “We had a wealth of data to harness for digital media targeting and persona management,” said Tobias Kelly, vice president and head of digital for UNICEF.

Digital Channels Successfully Encourage Repeat Donations

Email marketing is a reliable driver of engagement and donations for nonprofits. According to Forbes, there was a nearly 40% increase in email sent year over year in March 2020, as the pandemic began. And, donors were appreciative of the outreach. Forbes explains, “In March 2020, nonprofits saw an open rate of 29.3% — up 4.4% from March 2019.” Of course, email is not just for communicating during hardships. In order to see high results from email campaigns, nonprofits must build robust prospective donor bases and nurture relationships across channels. 


For example, the ACLU has an ongoing presence on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, regularly updating ongoing campaigns, volunteer and donation opportunities and relevant news to the mission of the ACLU. Keeping existing and possible donors informed creates affinity, which can drive donations. And nonprofits able to regularly place their messages in front of the right people at the right time are likely to be successful with their fundraising efforts.

The need to rely entirely on digital channels to connect with donors and drive fundraising is a new world for many nonprofits, but the benefits of digital outreach are already proving themselves. Soccer Aid for UNICEF 2020 raised a record £11,552,577, (more than $16 million U.S. dollars), despite not having an in-person game and relying heavily on mobile donations. With people continuing to spend time online, nonprofits can reach potential donors across a mix of touchpoints, using digital to engage donors and scale fundraising.

Are You Ready To Engage And Scale Digital Donors?

Digital Media Solutions helps brands across the country build consistent and sustainable fundraising revenue with performance-based campaigns supported by martech-enabled digital media distribution. Offering solutions from email marketing, donor CRM building and sustained giving, our team of nonprofit advertising experts have demonstrated success leveraging full-funnel digital marketing strategies that focus on retention and lifetime value in addition to donor acquisition.

Contact DMS

About the Author

Sarah Cavill

With more than 20 years of writing, editing and reporting experience, Sarah Cavill brings to Digital Media Solutions (DMS) a fine-tuned and diverse set of skills. Her work has been featured in notable publications including The Daily Muse, CBS Local, Techlicious and Glamour magazine. Sarah has a passion for current events and the deep-dive research that goes into the content development and brand identity of DMS Insights. In her role as Associate Content Manager, Sarah contributes to the pitching, researching and writing of multiple stories published each week surrounding digital and performance marketing innovations in pop culture, news, social media, branding and advertising.

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