Charities' Online Revenue Increased 21 Percent in 2012, Study Finds

Fueled by an increase in the number of gifts, online revenue for charities grew by a median rate of 21 percent in 2012, while response rates to e-mail fundraising appeals fell a like amount, a new report from and the finds.

Based on an analysis of data from fifty-five national nonprofits, the (44 pages, PDF) found that online gifts and total revenue were up on a year-over-year basis among environmental, health, human rights, and wildlife and animal welfare organizations but down for international aid groups. Across all issue areas, online revenue from monthly giving programs increased 43 percent.

Charities continued to expand their social media presence in 2012, the report also found, with a 46 percent median increase in the number of Facebook fans and a 264 percent increase in Twitter followers. Across all categories, nonprofits had 149 fans on Facebook and 53 Twitter followers for every 1,000 e-mail subscribers. But while e-mail fundraising accounted for 33 percent of online giving overall and e-mail list sizes grew some 15 percent, click-through rates for fundraising messages fell some 27 percent. The drop in click-through rates led to a 21 percent decline in fundraising response rates and an 8 percent decline in advocacy response rates, with the worst declines seen in the international aid and human rights sectors.

According to the report, the decline in e-mail response rates may be due to the surfeit of political appeals in 2012, fewer major legislative battles, and the absence of a major humanitarian crisis. The lower response rates also are part of a long-term trend, the report's authors note, driven in part by the practice of sending fundraising messages to unresponsive e-mail addresses.

"There's not a customary practice, like there is in direct mail," Sarah DiJulio, a principal at M+R Strategic Services, told the , "where after two years you might take a group of donors and put them in your lapsed file."

Nicole Wallace. "." Chronicle of Philanthropy 03/27/2013. "." M+R Strategic Services and Nonprofit Technology Network Report 03/27/2013.