5 Facts About Online Average Gift Size | npENGAGE

5 Facts About Online Average Gift Size

By on Aug 4, 2017


Data from $1.9B sheds light on online average gift size to non profits

I have a confession to make. I used to believe that online average gift size was a vanity metric. It made for interesting tweets and blog post headlines about online giving trends, but it wasn’t very useful.

The big reason for my troubles with average gift amounts are because of the outliers in the data that can skew the data. When we replace averages with medians, it provides a more accurate and less overstated view of giving. As you’ll recall from your last statistics class, a median is the middle value between the largest and smallest in a set of numbers. That means that half the online donations are above the median and half of them are below the median.

Using online median gift amounts provides a much better picture of giving trends. With that in mind, Blackbaud analyzed $1.9 billion in online gifts in 2016 from more than 4,000 nonprofit organizations in the United States. Each organization has also been classified by sector using the National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities (NTEE) code. Those classifications have been grouped into one of ten sub-sectors to provide a better view of what is happening with different types of nonprofits.


Here are 5 facts about online average donations:

Average Online Gift Size to Non Profits

1. Median Online Gift Size was $178 in 2016: Online gifts tend to be larger than traditional offline fundraising gifts, especially direct mail giving. As a point of comparison, in 2016 the median offline gift less than $1,000 was $20.

2. Education Institutions have the Largest Online Median Gift Size:  K-12 Schools had a median online gift amount of $276 and Higher Education institutions had a median online gift of $232 in 2016. For many years now this trend has held up when analyzing online giving.

3. Medical Research Organizations have the Smallest Online Gift Size: The Medical Research sector has an online median gift size of $89. The prevalence of smaller peer-to-peer fundraising gifts contributes to a lower gift size compared to other sectors.

4. Online Median Gift Size has Seasonality: The size of an online gift changes a lot during the year. Every single sector sees fluctuations throughout the entire year. This reinforces the need to be change your online ask amounts throughout the year.

5. Median Gift Sizes are a better measure than Average Gift Sizes: We know that it is common for nonprofits to receive online gifts of $1,000, $5,000 or more. These outliers tends to skew averages and for that reason median gift sizes are better measurement of online gift amount trends.

What should you do with these online donation statistics?

Compare your own online median gift size trends to the chart above. How are you trending? Consider adjusting your online donation form ask amounts over time. Optimize your donation pages to encourage monthly giving. Test different ask amounts with different groups. Understand the behavior of your online donors. Whatever you do, just don’t keep doing the same things over and over again.

2016 Charitable Giving Trends


Steve MacLaughlin is the Vice President of Data & Analytics at Blackbaud and bestselling author of Data Driven Nonprofits.

MacLaughlin has been featured as a fundraising and nonprofit expert in many mainstream publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, USA Today, The NonProfit Times, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Bloomberg, and has appeared on NPR.

He is a frequent speaker at events including the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), Association for Healthcare Philanthropy (AHP), American Marketing Association (AMA), Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), Direct Marketing Fundraisers Association (DMFA), Giving Institute Summer Symposium, National Association of Independent School (NAIS), Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC), Institute of Fundraising National Convention (United Kingdom), Civil Society Conference (Netherlands), International Fundraising Congress (Netherlands), Ask Direct Fundraising Summer School (Ireland), and a keynote speaker at several conferences across the social good sector.

Steve previously served on the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) Board of Directors and is currently an adjunct faculty member at Columbia University.

He is a frequent blogger, published author of a chapter in the book People to People Fundraising: Social Networking and Web 2.0 for Charities, and is a co-editor of the book Internet Management for Nonprofits: Strategies, Tools & Trade Secrets. His latest book, Data Driven Nonprofits, became a bestseller in 2016.

Steve earned both his undergraduate degree and a Master of Science degree in Interactive Media from Indiana University.

Comments (11)

  • Katherine Swank, JD says:

    As always Steve, this is great information. I think that your comment about increasing gift options on the donation web page is a key take-away from your post. Did you do any spot-checks to see if Higher Ed provides the highest donation amount options and, conversely, if Medical Research offers the lowest? Since fundraising is often a self-filling prophecy – you get what you ask for – differences like become best practice lessons that each vertical should be discussing.

    • Steve MacLaughlin says:

      Good question. This is something that I’ve looked at for years now and a few patterns have emerged.

      First, most organizations do little to no ask array optimization. These ask arrays tend to under-ask and there isn’t nearly enough targeted giving done. This is true across many different types of organizations. Mind boggling when you consider how much testing is done in direct mail to improve performance.

      Second, educational institutions, both K-12 and Higher Ed, have always had much higher online gift amounts. I believe that has more to do with donor behaviour, than something magical about the internet. For many of these institutions, online giving is a transaction channel of convenience and the gift amounts reflect larger annual and mid-level giving patterns.

      Finally, the lower median gift amounts for Medical Research are highly influenced by the significant amount of peer-to-peer fundraising done by these organizations. These gift amounts have always been much lower — a combination of lower ask amounts and donor behaviour. If my friend is running in an event, a $50 to $80 donation is pretty high. Very different than if I’ve got relationship with the charity where stewardship and engagement are happening over time.

      Does this help?

      • Katherine Swank says:

        Yes. Your expanded commnets are very helpful. I usually find that the data behind the data just as interesting! My experience is complementary to yours – Higher Ed and Hosptial fundraisers seem to be the most sophisticated and confident in strategic solicitation methods like using ask arrays. Other verticals fall in rank and order often according to the sophistication and longevity of its staff members. When staff turnover is high the organization’s progress toward such methods suffers from start and stop and start over patterns. I think there are many reasons why we see higher average gifts by category as you’ve reported and our conversation exposes only a few.

  • Penelope Burk says:

    Steve, thanks for this interesting comparison. Did you also remove online gifts over $1000 before doing this calculation to coincide with isolating direct mail median figures for gifts under $1000?

  • Steve MacLaughlin says:


    No, we did not specifically remove online gifts above $1,000. Although we have done research on online gifts of $1,000 or more.

    Measuring median online gift size and no longer using averages helped to remove the influence of larger outlier gifts.

  • Mary Casey says:

    Do you know what the median online gift is for animal groups? Shelters mainly.


  • Amanda Greenland says:

    Is there any similar data that is specially Canadian?

  • Jim Cummings says:

    In the past most gifts, by far, made online were to larger non-profits. Is this still the case and would any data support that that is because they have more resources to “better ask” online?

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