Digital strategy, Fundraising
End-of-Year 2023 Digital Fundraising: Final Report
Before we dive in, take a moment to exhale – you did it. Another end-of-year fundraising effort is complete, and in a year full up on challenges at that.
We’ve spent the first few weeks of the year breaking down the data from our digital results to assess from every angle the trends for the end-of-year season, combing through every detail to identify which takeaways will be most valuable for your 2024 strategy. (And stay tuned for a direct mail-focused report as those results come in later in Q1!)
Between changing and diversifying channels, external influences on the fundraising environment ranging from the upcoming election to the ongoing humanitarian crises around the world, and more ever-shifting variables, we’re analyzing results from a fundraising season that was more nuanced and complex than we’ve seen in recent years.
So while the takeaways below won’t be a one-size-fits-all, hard-and-fast set of instructions to take you into 2024, what we’re offering here is something, we think, more exciting. As we’re making sense of what happened across 2023 end of year, we’re sharing the strategies nonprofits leveraged to find opportunities for growth in a challenging fundraising landscape: the multi-channel campaigns, smart list growth investments, and bold, moving creative that drove revenue wherever possible to maximize the potential of their end-of-year efforts.
While 2024 will bring yet another round of unique challenges (we know, we know), we hope these insights remind you: Your donors are out there, and they want to support your world-changing missions to respond to crises around the world, prevent disease, stave off climate crisis, and make this world healthier, safer, and stronger.
It was an honor to work alongside our partners this year to help them raise essential revenue to power their missions into 2024:
Psst – Join us on Feb. 21 from 12-1 p.m. ET for a roundtable featuring leaders from Sandy Hook Promise and Share Our Strength all about 2023 EOY takeaways, and how to apply them to 2024 fundraising strategies. RSVP here:
Without further ado – let’s dive into those takeaways:
1. Revenue by day followed a less traditional path.
Across the end-of-year giving season, the highest revenue days were impacted by a number of factors this year. The day after Giving Tuesday saw major results for our nonprofit partners – and since Dec. 30 fell on a Saturday, typically one of the strongest days of the season saw softer results before things ramped back up on Dec. 31, with year-end deadlines bringing in high revenue.
For organizations setting mid-month deadlines, running additional seasonal campaigns, or offering flash matches, driving revenue on nontraditional days helped take the pressure off those high-traffic, high-competition moments like Giving Tuesday and the final days of the year. Making your own moment can really pay off!
2. As nonprofit email volume ticks steadily up, outside email volume is rising even faster.
Year after year, the trend has been consistent: Email volume is on the rise. And while this year we saw that growth hold steady, with an average of 42 emails per organization across our nonprofit partners, we felt the impact more intensely than ever this year as inboxes crowded with not just e-commerce messages, but with political emails getting into the year-end mix ahead of the 2024 election year.
With volume increases hitting from more than one direction, nonprofits are contending with the fact that now, more than ever, the risk of your supporters missing your email feels very real. But many nonprofits were able to navigate this challenge by embracing multi-channel campaigns, expanding their revenue streams to meet donors in other active channels.
3. Investing in multi-channel approaches paid off – but which channels made the difference varied by organization.
Most nonprofits didn’t see every single channel up year over year – but the channels that saw growth varied from one nonprofit to the next. Some saw digital ads perform well, while others saw texting results soar – especially organizations with still-growing SMS programs.
A dip in performance over one channel doesn’t have to soften your overall results – with eye-catching creative and strong engagement tactics, strength in one channel can more than make up for dips in another. For one nonprofit partner, effective, breakthrough campaign strategies that leveraged celebrity signers helped them see significant gains in email and SMS despite seeing softer web revenue. And the strength of their SMS and email campaigns paid off – overall, they achieved a 47% increase in revenue across end of year. Take a look at how their revenue growth across channels varied:
Another nonprofit partner was able to grow across the board through investments in acquisition and channel diversification ahead of year-end. This ultimately led to a 93% increase in overall revenue, 108% increase in gifts, and 74% increase in new donors. A significant area of growth for them came through launching a peer-to-peer acquisition texting program, which drove a 357% ROI in December.
Senior Vice President Trista Murphy, who just last year was in-house leading a fundraising program for a top 100 nonprofit through the EOY fundraising season, describes a pendulum effect she’s often seen in her in-house nonprofit work, where search and ad results might go up in a year where email sees softness or web results might go down in a year that email goes up. “By thinking about your interactions with donors holistically as a broader conversation that spans multiple channels,” she explains, “you can find the spaces where your audience is most likely to engage and tap into those pockets of performance to boost and sustain your program.”
4. Paid search remains an important part of a strong multi-channel campaign.
As a part of this pendulum effect, many nonprofits saw strong returns this year over search ads. Through more granular bid and keyword optimization strategies to increase the efficiency of every dollar spent during this critical time of year, a large number of our partners drove year-over-year improvements:
- For one of our nonprofit partners, these changes helped them see a 4x return on investment compared to last year – which resulted in a 128% increase in revenue YoY while decreasing spend by 12% YoY!
- For another of our long-standing nonprofit partners, a revamped search strategy that broadened their targeting and narrowed their bid strategy helped them increase revenue 27% YoY.
With paid search driving strong results in major moments for a few years running, one takeaway is clear: If you’re not optimizing your search campaigns to make the most of this revenue stream, you’re missing the opportunity to leverage one of the biggest trends in today’s fundraising environment.
5. The Digital Co-Op helped members find their donors at EOY and break even in record time.
By investing in efficient, data-backed list growth through The Digital Co-Op, nonprofit members were able to connect with active new donors across channels this year, powering year-over-year growth despite the challenges of the current nonprofit landscape.
For one member, more than 60% of their email revenue in the final week of the year came from co-op delivered leads. And 16 nonprofit members saw co-op investments made in September, October, or November pay back 100% by Dec. 31. On Giving Tuesday alone, The Digital Co-Op helped to raise $1.3 million across our nonprofit partners.
6. Urgent and clear creative motivated donors.
The end-of-year giving season is a critical time to tell the compelling story of your program’s work and mission – and bold and innovative creative is a powerful way to make those stories come to life and motivate engagement. We worked with our nonprofit partners to hone their creative strategy as a central part of developing results-driving year-end campaigns.
Across top-performing campaigns, we saw a few creative approaches shine this year:
Movement makes graphics engaging and clickable.
For many of our nonprofit partners, GIFs powered top-performing creative content this year by expanding what a graphic, or even a donation button, is capable of – a critical tool for catching eyes in crowded email inboxes during major campaigns.
Hand-drawn graphic elements offer authentic connection.
We’ve shared over recent years how bold photos at the top of an email drove strong results. A few of our partners expanded on this insight this end of year with unique, hand-drawn graphics to create a stronger sense of authentic connection with donors.
Well-known faces amplify campaign messaging and response.
For organizations who have well-known leadership, or who were able to secure a celebrity signer during the end-of-year season, emphasizing these known voices by including a direct-to-camera GIF, or a headshot in the signature, helped amplify appeals and boost response rates.
Strong subject lines are essential to standing out in crowded inboxes.
With email volume at an all-time high with every new year and increased competition from e-commerce and political emails in the leadup to 2024, compelling subject lines played a critical role in the success of end-of-year email campaigns.
We saw the strongest subject lines leverage personalization, deadline-driven urgency, and matches and multipliers to drive opens – the first essential step to any top-performing email campaign.
We hope you’ll find an opportunity here to leverage what’s useful to your unique audience and mission to inform your 2024 planning!
As always, there are more trends and takeaways than we can fit into a single report – but we’re always eager to keep the conversation going! If you’d like to chat about how these tactics can power your strategy in the new year, or you have another insight you’d like to share, reach out to us at [email protected].
And while we may be wrapping up our Digital End of Year Report, we’re already excited to break down more data and trends as our direct mail results continue to roll in. Stay tuned for a comprehensive review of the next round of trends and takeaways in our Direct Mail End of Year Report, soon to come in the next few months!
In the meantime, have you signed up for our biweekly nonprofit newsletter, Recurring? Join the list now to get regular updates straight to your inbox!