For the fourth consecutive year, Convio has published a comprehensive study which looks at the online marketing results for nearly 500 nonprofit organizations. The study compiles a series of benchmarks for evaluating fundraising, email, advocacy and marketing success online. For the second year, the study includes the addition of a “Jewish” vertical, which focuses on organizations that provide human services, aid to Israel and support for issues of importance to Jewish constituents (results from 14 Jewish organizations using the Convio system for more than one year were aggregated to generate the results – up from 12 in 2008).

Looking at the results of these Jewish organizations show that in nearly all measures of online endeavor, while experiencing success via online, Jewish organizations did not ‘lead the pack’ as they did in 2008.

Here are the key Convio findings for online engagement in 2009; results for the Jewish organizations surveyed are in parenthesis.

Overall, online giving grew 14 percent despite a difficult economy. 69 percent of organizations raised more in 2009 than 2008, while 31 percent saw declines in their online fundraising. (Jewish organizations experienced an average 14% increase).

  • An increase in gifts drove fundraising gains. Of those that grew fundraising in 2009, 92 percent saw an increase in the number of gifts in 2009 compared with just 43 percent of organizations seeing an increase in their average gift amount.
  • Donors were still giving, but giving smaller amounts. 61 percent of all organizations saw their average gift drop in 2009 (Jewish organizations logged an average gift of $132.23; a marked decrease from 2008’s $408.04* – comparable $80.81; $67.47 in 2008).
  • Regardless of mission, online fundraising continued to grow. The only exception was Disaster and International Relief organizations, for which 2008 was a year with more significant disasters than 2009.
  • Small organizations grew fastest. Organizations with fewer than 10,000 email addresses on file, many of which are participants in the Convio Go! program, grew online revenue by 26 percent, and gifts by 32 percent.
  • Email files continued to grow strongly. The total email file grew 27 percent in 2009 to 39,100 constituents. Web traffic growth continued for most, but at a slower rate. 60 percent of organizations grew their website traffic from 2008 to 2009. Web traffic growth in 2009 was in the single digits at 6 percent compared with double digit growth seen in previous years. (Jewish organizations grew email files by 34%; 58% of total files were considered usable – comparable 56% – and grew unique visits by 6%. The average online gift per usable email address was $16.41 (comparable $11.68).
  • Web traffic was strongly correlated with email file growth. 38 percent of an organization’s success building large email files could be directly attributed to the amount of traffic to the organization’s website.
  • Registration rates dropped. The rate at which organizations converted website visitors to their email file declined to 2.12 percent in 2009. (Registration rates for Jewish organizations was 0.86%).
  • Constituents were more reluctant to open emails and click-through. While open rates for both fundraising appeals and newsletters remained around 20 percent, the click-through rates for both types of online communication declined in 2009. (Jewish organizations’ open rates for fundraising appeals was 15%; for newsletters 20%; fundraising click-through rate was 1.21%).

Looking at the complete study, here are the take-aways of common attributes from organizations with the most success online:

  • Success in driving traffic to their websites by optimizing search engine visibility, using paid search/advertising, offering compelling content and promoting their site via other media;
  • Effective content and incentives to convert website traffic into registered users who can then be cultivated into supporters;
  • Proven ability to build large email files via online registration programs, list uploads and viral campaigns;
  • Effective email communication through compelling content, segmentation and personalization to sustain interest in their programs;
  • A high response rate for online appeals, generated by having an effective case for supporting their organization, segmenting and personalizing their appeals and testing elements of each email, such as the subject.

*Last year Convio indicated the number may drop as more donors give monthly sustaining gifts online and organizations adopt more peer-to-peer online tools which will provide an increase in funds raised, but could result in smaller average gifts. Further, no comparable information exists as to what these 2008 donors may have given offline in 2009.