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What We Learned By Subscribing and Donating to 150+ Nonprofits

Just before 2019’s year-end fundraising sprint formally kicked into high gear, the CausesMic Crew embarked on a research project to monitor and benchmark donor engagement, the donation experience, and cultivation tactics across 152 nonprofit organizations.

Our goal was to determine if organizations were implementing best practices related to online fundraising and marketing. By evaluating the tactics of nonprofits of various sizes (according to revenue) and sectors, we could gain a deep understanding of the needs within the community and produce content to empower them raise more funds for their incredible missions.

In March 2020, CauseMic is releasing two studies to detail our findings in full.



Soon after, we’ll release the Donor Cultivation Assessment once we’ve gained an understanding of how organizations nurture relationships with donors after they’ve made a year-end gift.

There’s quite a bit to unpack and rather than wait till March, we wanted to share a few key observations around our experience as a supporter.


When supporters are seeking timely info, nonprofits must be ready to deliver.

Among the 152 organizations we studied, 30 percent (45 nonprofits) did not have an option to subscribe to receive updates or a newsletter via email.

We wanted to exchange our precious email address for information, and we were denied more often than we expected. Make subscribing simple, and set up an automated email welcome series to engage your new supporters immediately.


Email deliverability is a sizable hurdle.

For this research, we leveraged a Gmail inbox, the preferred email service provider with more than 1.5 billion users. We also utilized the standard organizational tabs – Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates. Here’s a breakdown of where emails landed after we subscribed to more than 100 nonprofit newsletters:


There are several recommended tactics to improve email deliverability, and we recognize this is a significant hurdle, seeing as email generates 15-30 percent of all online revenue for nonprofits, but it’s on the decline.


The donation experience can and must be simplified.

We made a donation to 152 nonprofit organizations, and evaluated each experience. From the number of clicks, to distractions that took us away from completing the process, to number of fields, and whether or not we could dedicate the gift, many donation pages did not make it easy for us. Some had zero supporting copy around what the money would support and many opted for a simple but generic PayPal experience with no personal follow up.

We’ve learned that just 17 percent of individuals who land on a donation page actually convert, and after tackling this research, we can understand why. Lots of unnecessary friction, but here’s a few tips to optimize your donation page right away.


Raising funds requires relationship-building at all giving levels.

Just as major gift funders and prospects receive several personalized touches throughout the year, nonprofits must approach online giving in a similar manner. That starts with understanding your audience and delivering personalized, compelling content (which can be scaled!). Whether that’s addressing a donor by his or her first name in an email or delivering a thoughtful content series based on their interests, we must deliver communications on users’ preferred platforms that help build a relationship with supporters and ultimately, increase the lifetime value. We’ll have more to share in our donor cultivation research this spring!

While some of the insights featured above may be underwhelming, there’s actually some great news. The observations and recommendations outlined above (and en route through the upcoming studies!) are surmountable.

Whether you’re a one-wo/man band or have the fundraising muscle of a small army at your disposal, investing time to optimize the donor experience on behalf of your supporters up front will result in more revenue, deeper relationships, and even time saved down the road.

We recognize it can be challenging to dedicate the time and brain space to begin tackling some of these recommendations, but evaluate what requires your attention based on the amount of resources invested in comparison to each task’s impact. Check out a quick lesson on how to leverage the impact matrix.


The learning continues here.

Snag your copy of the free Email Engagement Assessment today👇