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Waking up on New Year’s Day is for two things: taking stock of whether you already regret your new year’s resolutions, and immediately refreshing your end of year fundraising data to see if anyone gave that final gift at midnight on 12/31.

We could barely wait to see how things shook out, so we’re doing a quick look at year-end fundraising, and we’ll be back with more nuance and numbers at the end of January. We compiled results from 34 of our nonprofit clients, covering data from November and December… 

So… what did we see?

Who you are can matter more than what you sayResults were mixed overall — while many nonprofits reported a decline in year-over-year revenue, there were many bright/interesting/promising spots. Some of the nonprofits that reported the largest increases in revenue are those providing direct relief in Gaza and Ukraine — urgent, headline-driven campaigns coinciding with the end-of-year season can yield record-breaking results. 

Strategic choices sparked success for other top performers. Addressing deliverability concerns and reactivating lapsed subscribers allowed some nonprofits to land in a great many more inboxes this December — and those larger audiences drove revenue growth. 

As is often the case during this period, we saw big differences by channel and by sector, and BIG opportunities in certain channels. So let’s dig a little deeper.

Ads are always tricky to compare since there can be so much variance from year-to-year in spend and even in tracking (hello, iOS 17 tracking changes, and Chrome going pixel-less in 2024). That said, most organizations who were able to compare 2022 to 2023 saw an increase in ads revenue, and even more saw an increase in donations. Whether that’s a result of more overall investment in ads, better or different tracking, or improved performance in some particular channel or approach will take a bit more time to parse.

Email… up and down… again. After some promising returns on Giving Tuesday we closed out Year End with our clients basically evenly split on email returns, but after the past few years of declines on email year over year, we’ll take it as a win. This softness seemed to track more closely to softness by sector than a softness of email as a fundraising channel. For nonprofits that did see large gains in email revenue, expanded audiences were a key driver of success. Whether through new acquisition or reactivating lapsed subscribers, bigger audiences meant higher revenue even where response rates held steady. (One good source for warmer audiences? Scout Quest, our data co-op! Check it out!)

No surprise here: SMS is becoming a more and more critical part of a fundraising program. Organizations who had an SMS program saw revenue either flat or up year over year. One client reports SMS outraised email in December! But the days of targeting everyone on your list are over. With most smartphones having a spam / promotions folder now, the open rates are going down and a strategic approach is critical. If you don’t have an SMS program it’s probably time to start!

Average gifts were down – but large gifts may have switched channels. After years of seeing average gifts trending up, many nonprofits reported a decline. In at least some cases, this drop was largely attributed to fewer gifts of $1,000 or more — giving levels where even a small change in the number of gifts can make a big difference. At the same time, we are seeing big increases in Donor-Advised Fund giving. That tracks with the Giving USA report that saw 2022 was the biggest year for DAF giving ever, bucking an industry trend of a decrease in charitable contributions. 

It’s too soon to draw a reliable connection, but we may be seeing a shift in how donors want to give, rather than how much. In any case, as DAF giving becomes more widespread, making DAF giving easy and building a reliable attribution model are essential to tracking and converting donors at this level.

One last thing! It feels weird to say this, but: weekends are the worst.

Just like last year, the 12/31 deadline fell on a weekend this past December, which first of all is rude to those of us who need to be monitoring results, tracking optimizations, and otherwise stressing about every little detail until the very end. The weekend deadline created real uncertainty about how much supporter audiences would be paying attention to those last-chance appeals. The biggest year-over-year declines we saw this year took place on 12/30, which had the misfortune to be both a Saturday and not a deadline. 

Fundraisers can breathe a sigh of relief that 12/31 will be on a Tuesday in 2024. (And it’s never too early to start planning for the next weekend deadline — Sunday, December 31, 2028.)

One additional last thing! The only thing better than a bunch of data that helps spot trends and identify opportunities and get us excited for what comes next is… more of that kind of thing. That’s why we are very excited to be collecting data for our upcoming M+R Benchmarks Study. Sign up here to be the first to know when the latest Benchmarks is released.

Johanna Levy is an Account Supervisor at M+R based in New York City. When she’s not planning fundraising campaigns, you can find her drinking iced coffee at the beach.