Giving And Getting: Email Revenue Up, Response Down For Nonprofits

Email paid its way in the nonprofit field, generating 26% of all online revenue last year. But response rates fell and email list growth slowed, according to a survey of 133 groups released yesterday by M+R, a firm that helps nonprofits with their campaigns.

The study showed that nonprofits sent more email last year than they did in 2015 — 10% more to each subscriber. These supporters received an average of 24 fund-raising emails, 20 advocacy emails and 11 newsletters. Yet response metrics fell in two categories:

Fund-raising — The average email response rate dropped by 8% to 0.05%. In effect, nonprofit groups received one donation for every 2,000 fund-raising messages sent, according to M+R. And nonprofits raised $36 for every 1,000 fund-raising emails they sent, M&R continued. The average fund-raising open rate fell by 7% to 13% and the click-through rate declined by 14% to 0.38%.

Advocacy — The average email response rates declined by 17% to 1.60%, compared with 2015. The open rate dropped by 13% to 13%, and click-through rate by 21% to 1.91%.

Despite these drops, email achieved a 15% increase in revenue, compared to 14% for online media as a whole. And page completion rates remained steady — 74% or advocacy groups and 17% for fundraising.

The average email list size grew by 10%, down from a 16% hike in 2015. List growth was especially strong in the cultural and rights categories —21% for both.

This growth was driven in the cultural arena by a 2.7% Web site visitor email signup rate, compared with 1.1% overall. Rights nonprofits achieved 35% online revenue growth — the highest of any sector.

The only decline in list size was in the health sector: 3.9%. This was caused by”unusually high churn (21.6%) and the highest email unsubscribe rate in the study (0.26%, compared to the overall average of 0.16%). M+R reported.

Health groups also had the lowest email volume, sending 1.5 messages per subscriber per month, compared to the 5.0 overall average. And they raised only 3% of their online revenue with email.

In addition, M+R reported these results:

  • Environmental nonprofits sent more emails than any other type of group — 86 per subscriber.
  • The Hunger/Poverty sector pulled a below-average response rate of 0.04%. This was caused by a “particularly low email clitck-through rate of  0.26%.
  • Email accounted for 42% of all online revenue for Animal Welfare nonprofits. Yet there was a 25% decline in the money generated per thousand emails — to $32.

Spokespersons for M&R were not available at deadline to discuss why email response went down, and to clarify the average email volume: The report said it is 69 emails per subscriber, but the examples cited above (fundraising, advocacy and newsletters) add up to 55.  

The study also revealed these more general findings: 

  • Nonprofits increased their digital ad spending by 69%.
  • Web conversion rates rose by 8%.
  • Web site traffic grew by 4%.
  • Nonprofit social media audiences grew, with Instagram achieving 101% growth, Twitter achieving 50% and Facebook 23%.



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