Tag: research

There are trees, and there is forest. There are anecdotes, and there is data. There are the pinprick pixels of our individual experiences, and there is the vast picture they paint together of the world we share.

The M+R Benchmarks Study is our annual attempt to bridge that divide. This year, we have collected an extensive array of data points from 154 nonprofit participants. Each of them marks a single digital interaction with a supporter: an email opened, a donation made, a petition signed, a website visited, an ad clicked, a Facebook post liked, or tweet retweeted. All told, these add up to 4,699,299,330 email messages, 527,754,635 web visits, and 11,958,385 donations.

NTEN is proud to partner with M+R once again for the latest Benchmarks report. Explore or download it here.


For the last ten years, NTEN’s research has helped identify the practices in technology staffing and management that indicate an organization’s adoption level and potential for effectiveness.

Created by NTEN in partnership with The Forbes Funds, Tech Accelerate puts a decade of data and evaluation into a simple-to-use assessment, report, and benchmarking tool for the nonprofit sector. This free tool includes:

  • a comprehensive assessment about technology use and policies across four major categories of leadership, organization, infrastructure, and fundraising and communications
  • a full report that includes both overall and category rankings, prioritized areas of investment, and resources for next steps
  • benchmarking tools to explore your data in comparison to organizations like yours

Tech Accelerate is built with nonprofit staff in mind, whether you want to assess your current practices, identify areas for needed investment, or benchmark your adoption against other similar organizations. To start your first Tech Accelerate assessment, you will need to have an organization connected to your NTEN profile. You can invite other staff to help you complete the assessment online. When you are finished, submit your assessment to access your full report, including ratings, information about how to improve, and resources to guide your next steps.

How do you know how many tech staff is the right number for your organization? How much is an appropriate investment for a nonprofit of your size?

Find out how other nonprofits are investing in technology staff, hardware, and services and see how they compare to yours.

The tenth annual Nonprofit Technology Staffing and Investments Report comprises data from more than 250 organizations. This one-of-a-kind resource will help you guide your nonprofit to smarter, more agile, and sustainable engagement with tech.

This infographic shows trends in sustaining donors as compared with one-time donors. It is based on data from DonorPerfect.

sustaining donors


Excitement! Exhilaration! X-axes! It’s time for Benchmarks X, our tenth in-depth report with M+R on the state of nonprofit online fundraising, advocacy, marketing, and more.

>> Download Benchmarks X: The 2016 Benchmarks Report

Benchmarks X is the most expansive, exhaustive examination of online nonprofit metrics we’ve ever done. Our participants—105 nonprofits committed to causes ranging from civil rights to animal welfare to disaster relief to so much more—provided detailed data on email performance, website traffic, and social media engagement. A few key findings:

  • Digital ads are a big, big deal. Nonprofits in our study spent an average of $0.04 for every dollar raised online in 2015. That means, for example, that a nonprofit that brought in $1 million online invested $40,000 on search, banners, branding, etc. Detailed breakdowns will tell you if you’re falling behind in this fast-growing area.
  • Online revenue was up 19% in 2015, and email revenue grew even faster with a 25% increase. But it’s not all sunshine and roses: email open rates, click-through rates, and response rates all declined. Benchmarks X will clue you in to the metrics you need to watch.
  • Nonprofit online programs are increasingly complex. See how your peers, colleagues, competitors, frenemies, and nemeses approach email frequency, welcome series, paid ads, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more. And see how those strategies are paying off.

>> Download Benchmarks X: The 2016 Benchmarks Report

If you have any questions about the study, contact our friends at M+R at benchmarks@mrss.com, or tweet them @mrcampaigns with #benchmarksx.

In 2013, I was invited to spend a year as a Visiting Scholar at The David and Lucile Packard Foundation. My goal was to work on a book and think with foundation colleagues about what it meant to be an effective nonprofit organization in the digital age. Well, okay, I’m still working on the book.

But the thinking about being digital part led down a path of inquiry about ethical use of data. I drafted an atlas of opportunities; then come colleagues and I tried to develop a typology of approaches. Together, we conducted digital asset inventories and categorized activities and resources and functional responsibilities. I spent the last few months as a visiting scholar road-testing a suite of learning materials, policy options, and tools.

After my year was up, with the Foundation’s blessing, I took a slide deck, worked with the Technology Affinity Group and the Markets for Good Community, and turned it into digitalIMPACT.io.

The goal of the website is to support individual organizations and learning communities in using digital data safely, ethically and effectively. The digitalIMPACT project, started to help one foundation address the opportunities ahead, is now a flagship project for the Digital Civil Society Lab and Markets For Good.

DigitalIMPACT intends to help nonprofits and foundations co-create and share practices for using digital data that align with their missions. We believe that these practices, policies, and tools need to be invented by the sector, for the sector. The website is a hub of materials to get this capacity-building effort started: the digitalIMPACT project.

The project has two parts: a website and a set of community partnerships. The digitalMPACT.io website offers three types of information:

  • Easy-to-understand explanations of how and why digital data are different from time and money, (the assets that nonprofits are used to managing), and why that matters
  • A guide to the type of governance decisions that organizations need to consider to manage their digital data ethically, safely, and effectively—and policy templates to help inform their choices
  • Tools, such as checklists and guidelines, designed by and for nonprofits to inform their use of digital data

Civil society organizations already collect and use data from individuals toward achievement of their mission. We built this new tool primarily to support civil society in developing and sharing practices for the safe, ethical, and effective use of such digital data.

All of the materials on digitalIMPACT.io are guided by a set of principles derived from the nature of civil society. These are called out on the site as the “Three Principles” of using digital data ethically, safely, and effectively. The Three Principles are informed by a definition of civil society as the place where we voluntarily use our private resources for public purpose.

The Three Principles are:

  • Consent: The data you need that come from your constituents are theirs. Ask for them and treat them with integrity
  • Privacy: Protect those data. They’re valuable. Best approach to protection? Minimum viable data collection
  • Openness: You’re here to serve a public purpose. Design your data practices with openness and sharing in mind from the beginning

The digitalIMPACT.io site was built and is maintained by the Digital Civil Society Lab at Stanford University’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society (also home to Markets For Good). Materials on the site have been contributed by an ever-expanding network of nonprofit and foundation partners and are available for free download and use.

The digitalIMPACT.io site is just the first part of the project. Building from the website, we will be conducting workshops and demos, seeking to co-create materials with and for specific functional areas of work, with affinity groups, and for global actors. We are eager to create working groups, task forces, user testing, and alliances with existing networks. Contributions of materials are welcome and can be submitted directly through the site.

You can use the contact form on digitalIMPACT.io to get in touch, to share or request materials, and to inquire about ways we might work together.

State of Nonprofit CloudWhen we previously conducted research about the use of cloud services in the nonprofit sector, it was 2011. In that original report, we noted that many nonprofit staff were using hosted services, such as email, without realizing that they were accessing the cloud. We also found that there was strong concern for security of cloud systems, such as databases, though those same organizations were using hosted services for accessing and sharing sensitive data.

At the end of 2015, we partnered with Microsoft Philanthropies to conduct another round of research to get a better sense of the cloud services being used by nonprofits; fears or struggles around using the cloud; and plans for potential expansion.

>> Download the report

We anticipated that some notable changes might have occurred in the years since the last report and certainly have proof of those changes in this new report. Some key findings include:

  • Cloud services are a core part of nonprofit operations, with 100% of survey respondents indicating they use at least two cloud services, up from 80% of survey participants in our last survey.
  • The newest addition to organizations’ cloud services ecosystems is document storage.
  • In comparing installed versus hosted services, respondents noted staff training as important but not likely to have a difference in their selection (contrast this to the results in NTEN’s annual Tech Staffing & Investment research, where respondents indicate that they have the tools they need but not the training to use those tools well).

>> Download the report

We hope you find this report valuable. If you have observations, feedback, ideas, or requests as far as how we can help you and your organization use technology, please let us know.

“If you build it, they will come” is a frequently quoted but also frequently misguided philosophy for the design and development of technology and software. This approach puts the developer or organization creating the product in front of the needs and desires of the community and intended users. As organizations look to increase engagement with communities they often think technology is the answer, and many move quickly to choosing a platform. In the nonprofit sector often, the result is wasted resources in an already resource-scarce environment; and, worse, the creation of a product that few use.

How do you avoid creating a tool that ends up in the Internet graveyard of good intentions? My participatory research on the process of technology development by and for communities revealed a principle that I want to shout from the mountain tops: Voice matters. The community of intended users, the developers, and the leadership are all stakeholders that contribute to the success of the tool, and a listening strategy to account for these voices has to be incorporated from the beginning. We must listen first and ask, what matters most to the community we want to use this tool? In doing so, we account for their values and needs, clearing the way to make informed technology and design choices. A tool is more likely to be adopted if it reflects the values of and meets the needs of a user. Listening to and accounting for different stakeholder voices early on makes all the difference.

To illustrate why voice matters and what putting a community listening strategy into practice looks like, I’ll use my most recent engagement with the Agora Journalism Center and Journalism that Matters. The two organizations put on a conference, Experience Engagement, in October to bring together journalists, civic leaders, and citizens who share interests and a commitment to community engagement. The leadership behind the conference wanted to build a tool to support and sustain the community beyond the conference.

In advance of the conference, I spent time with the leadership and listened for their intentions and goals for the technology project. Initially, we discussed a simple resource tool that centered on the value of information exchange and creating a repository of resources that anyone could contribute to or search.

With the support of leadership, I used the conference to apply my listening methodology to explore community voices and surface their desires. The leadership understood that listening now would save time and energy, and perhaps resources later. If the needs of the community jived with the originally envisioned project, wonderful! Full steam ahead! But if potential users wanted something else (or maybe nothing at all) the leadership team wanted to know before devoting funds, time, and energy into the project.

During the conference, I actively sought out insights that would inform our understanding of the potential tool. I listened as community members talked to one another, and I sat down with several of them throughout the conference. I discovered that the value other stakeholders saw in a potential tool went far beyond the idea of information exchange. This community wanted to build a tool that yes, supported exchanging of information, but they also wanted a place to collaborate with one another and network, as well. The civic leaders and non-journalists especially voiced the desire for the creation of “safe” place where they could connect and share stories with one another and with journalists in order to spread knowledge and and share lessons learned. The community clearly wanted something more than the conference leadership’s initial idea of a resource repository. In fact, the repository idea was challenged by several attendees. “It’s going to take a lot for me to regularly check in on a website… and if it’s just a bunch of links, I’m not going to bother,” one told me.

Often the only “listening” strategy for technology development is put into practice during “user design” or usability stage—after resources have already been spent. As we saw with this project, incorporating the listening strategy much earlier in the process led to important insights that are continuing to shape and inform the development process. Just two weeks out of the conference, we are now actively examining what types of platforms already exist that can support the different values and functionalities sought by various stakeholders.

And listening doesn’t stop here. As is the case in this project and whenever I work with an organization to develop their technology and communication strategy, I make sure we incorporate elements of listening first and listening frequently throughout the process. If an organization is planning on building or implementing a community tool, make sure to start first with the community and not the tool. Time and again, it’s the best way to make sure the organization and the community it serves will both reap the rewards later.


Since the last post, we’ve had a chance to dig through all the data and apply design methodology to surface lots of useful information to inform the next steps in building the platform.
First, we identified several values that are shared across the different stakeholders in the project that will drive the types of features we incorporate in this tool. For example, collaboration, networking, and information exchange are important to this community, and so we are working on identifying a platform that supports features that reflect these community values. This is much more specific than our initial ideas of creating a resource repository—we are learning that what matters to this community is much richer than simply sharing links.
Additionally, we realized that a particular segment of the community—non-journalists, including civic leaders, community organizers, and artists—were not well-represented in our initial data gathering. Thus, to make sure we incorporate their needs and desires ,we are currently conducting a series of stakeholder interviews with this group and inviting their voices in the process of developing the platform to make sure what we launch is representative of the community needs and values at large. After accounting for more voices and incorporating them into our design thinking, we hope to launch the community platform within the first months of the New Year.

Recently at BBCON, Blackbaud released the 9th edition of the Luminate Online Benchmark Report. It is the largest online fundraising and marketing report in the industry and provides the most comprehensive metrics on the state of online fundraising.

  • 685 organizations
  • $1.5 Billion Raised
  • Nearly 22 Million Transactions
  • 6.3 Billion Emails Sent

I don’t consider myself a data nerd by any stretch of the imagination, but I am a fundraising nerd. I get excited by reports, examples of success (and failure), and stories and ideas that can help nonprofit organizations get unstuck. This report is overflowing with useful information; the trick is knowing how to use it.

Eighty percent of the organizations analyzed in this report raised less than $2 million online last fiscal year. When the analysts and authors created the report, they did it with everyone in mind, looking at the highs, medians and lows, mission verticals, and sizes. That breadth of data and analysis enables organizations to put things in context.

The Highlights

Here is a short list of the statistics that stood out to me.

Donors continue to move to online. For the 5th year in a row, online revenue has grown. Here is more good news: the number of gifts made to organizations is also up across all verticals.

Housefiles—the number of usable emails on file—are growing, and most organizations saw the number of donors that are giving increase from FY 14 to FY 15.

With these increases, it’s no surprise that organizations are sending more solicitations to their audience, a 17% increase year over year in the number of fundraising appeals sent.

While the median conversion rate is down again, it has slowed. This is a positive sign when you consider the jump in the number of appeals going out to constituents.

One of the most impressive statistics in the whole report is, when looking at first time gifts v. repeat gifts, first gifts make up 38% of total revenue; repeat gifts amazingly make up 61% of total online revenue. When you consider that the Association of Fundraising Professionals Fundraising Effectiveness Project Study identifies that every 100 new or renewed donors is offset by the loss of 103 donors, our 61% statistic shows you just how effective online fundraising is for today’s nonprofit.

Now let’s get down to business and answer, “What now, Danielle?”

Whether you are an organization that has been dabbling in online fundraising but doing so without a net (aka a plan); or an organization that has a comprehensive, multichannel strategy created to make the leap from good to great, here’s some practical advice to put things in motion. Let’s break it down by different types we see and sort out the nuggets that will be most useful.

The Dabbler

The Dabbler is the organization that:

  • Sends emails, but not consistently
  • Has one or two online fundraising appeals a year
  • May or may not coordinate efforts between marketing and development
  • Has email, forms, and donations housed in different systems
  • Is limited by budget, technology, or both
  • Wishes they could invest more time in expanding knowledge

If most, but not necessarily all, of these things sound familiar, the first action item is to use the report to benchmark your results against your organization’s metrics for the past 2-3 years (the report has a handy tool to do this super easily!). Once you’ve got the numbers, do what Jim Collins recommends and have a “hard truths” meeting with all stakeholders. Now is the time to remove the silos. I like to call this turning on the GPS: before you can progress, advance, or move on to better things, you need a starting point. A good guideline for making this conversation productive: conduct a SWOT analysis. Learn what strengths, opportunities, threats, and weaknesses you have to mitigate or exploit.

Now you’re ready to develop a plan based on realistic goals and identified opportunities. Obviously, there are a lot of steps in between, but there are many resources such as blogs, webinars, and reports to help you along the way. And if technology is identified as a serious pain point limiting your growth, then leverage the benchmark report and your SWOT analysis to make the pitch to leadership for an investment in new online technology.

The Practitioner

  • Perhaps your organization is beyond dabbling and instead has:
  • Consistent monthly communications
  • Multi-message fundraising appeals
  • Messaging that is targeted and most of the time segmented
  • Coordinated offline and online communications
  • Social media playing a big roll
  • Integrated technology

If this is your nonprofit, my bet is that you already benchmark your results— if not quarterly, at least annually. Next time you do, use this report to compare how organizations of similar size are performing. I also recommend conducting a hard truths meeting, because before you can add new tactics or projects, you should stop doing something else that isn’t working well. Frankly, this self-editing process is one of the hardest for organizations to master, yet helps ensure the things you do can be well-executed and resourced.

Since your current plan is performing well and results are solid, you need to figure out what it will take to go from good to great. What you need now are fresh eyes—a consultant who can look at everything you are doing objectively and can provide strategic, actionable advice on what’s next. Perhaps you need to budget for Facebook ads in major appeals; profile your constituents to send more targeted, custom messages; expand your digital footprint with an engagement campaign; or tap into Millennials with peer-to-peer fundraising. Whatever new projects or activities you consider, be smart and weigh resources against opportunities.

One Final Tidbit

Here’s a little advice to help you on the journey of success.

People: The team is your most important asset. They are the glue that holds it together. Invest, teach, celebrate, and promote the group and the individuals.

Culture: You hear about this everywhere, with good reason. The culture has to be right to transform your success. Embrace risk, strive for innovation, have the courage to be honest, and embody the spirit of philanthropy.

Technology: Invest in technology that enables the organization to implement a program that meets today’s needs and is ready for tomorrow’s opportunity (and constituents). And please make sure the team has the training and knowledge to use the technology.

Strategy: It should be multichannel and integrated. The silos have to be removed; marketing & development must work in tandem and be focused on the greater good and greater goal.

No matter what your situation or status – stay the course; lasting change doesn’t happen overnight. To evolve your program, you need a practical (yet exciting) plan to keep everyone on track.

You can go download the report and compare your performance at www.LuminateBenchmarkReport.com. Then stay tuned to npENGAGE.com for blogs filled with opinions, insight, and advice from internal and external experts.


Your Voices: 2015 NTEN Community Survey ReportEvery year, NTEN conducts an annual Community Survey to find out more about the individuals and organizations in the NTEN Community. We strive to be a community-driven organization, in all aspects of our work, to offer the kinds of programs and services that will benefit our constituents. Our annual Community Survey is one way we listen to your needs and experiences to inform our work.

The annual Community Survey serves us in two critical ways. First, as a key mechanism for collecting and distilling feedback, both qualitative and quantitative, about what’s working, which programs are most valued, and where we have opportunities to make changes or additions. Second, components of this annual research are put directly into our public evaluation data—indicators of where we may be making impact towards the outcomes we are striving for in this Community and with the nonprofit sector. The report also gives us a chance to share how we are integrating your feedback into new improvements, initiatives, and resources based on your needs.

Here are a few key findings from the report:

  • We continue to see Executive Directors/CEOs as a growing constituency among the Community, especially among Non-members, and see more Fundraising/Development professionals participating in the Community as Members this year.
  • We see a significant increase in the percentage of respondents whose organizations have technology-related training and professional development allocations in their budgets: 71% this year, compared to 49% previously.
  • As might be expected, “funding” and “budget”—in other words, money—is a key issue for respondents. Like last year, we see that the word “integration” appears frequently, especially among responses by current NTEN Members. For Non-members, the word “management” showed up often.
  • A new question on this year’s survey asks respondents about their key projects and priorities over the coming twelve months. Respondents indicated they were most likely to be “Expanding existing program or services” in the coming year.

Learn more about what we found this year by downloading the full survey report.

What do you think about the survey findings? Let us know in the comments.