What You Can Learn About Online Fundraising from 152 Canadian Charities | npENGAGE

What You Can Learn About Online Fundraising from 152 Canadian Charities

By on Feb 5, 2019


Have you ever signed up to get email updates from 152 Canadian charities? What about receive, read, and analyze 1,234 emails from those organizations? Or how about make $25 donations to each and every single one of those 152 charities? The answer is probably ‘no’ because that would be an insane thing to do right?

Well, in January of 2018, that’s exactly what I did (and yes, it is a pretty insane thing to do and I have the Twitter stream to prove it). I did this to learn more about how Canadian charities were doing online fundraising in 2018 by becoming a follower and donor to these organizations and then created a report based on what we found to help marketers and fundraisers in 3 critical areas for online fundraising:

  1. Email Signup
  2. Fundraising Emails
  3. Online Giving Experience

We scored all 152 organizations on 44 different points and the end product was 90 pages of glory called The Canadian Online Fundraising Scorecard. It has all the stats and key findings as well as 5 ideas to test and 5 things to do ASAP and can be downloaded for free here.

Over the next few weeks I’ll share some of those ideas — based on the study and our other experiments and research — to help you improve your email fundraising and optimize your donation pages but here are some overall insights and highlights from the report.

Learn more from Canadian experts about increasing your organization’s impact and fundraising capacity in Blackbaud’s “True North Speaker Series.” Register here.

Everyone can improve. A lot.

Overall, not a single organization scored higher than 82%, only 10 organizations were between 70% and 79%, and 100 of the 152 organizations received an F.

Wha-wha :(.

For the final report, we actually had to grade on a curve because no one wants to read a report that just says ‘everyone kind of sucks… so good luck!’ (and there were some organizations doing some really good work).

It wasn’t like organizations were great in one area and not in another either as there were 117 Fs for email signup, 112 for fundraising emails, and 105 for the online giving experience.

This is partly because these experiences — signing up for emails online, getting emails that point you online, and giving online — are somewhat related. It’s kind of hard to be great at sending emails but brutal at getting them and getting donations. And that’s kind of the point, good online fundraising does a lot of things well, not just one thing.


It wasn’t very clear why you should signup to get email updates.

When it comes to giving, the key question an organization needs to answer in the mind of a donor is: “If I am your ideal supporter, why should I give to you, rather than some other organization, or not at all?”

That’s the value proposition question and when it comes to getting people to sign up for your email updates, that question becomes something like this: “If I am your ideal supporter, why should I sign up to get email updates from you rather than some other organization or not at all?”

Because that’s the reality people face. They have options. Their inboxes are full. And there are literally thousands of other charities let alone the millions of other email lists they can subscribe to. And when it came to answering that question, generally speaking, the organizations in the study did a pretty poor job:

  • 2 out of 3 organizations used less than one sentence to communicate why someone should sign up
  • 81% of organizations did not make it clear what you would receive by signing up
  • 90% of organizations had an average or weaker value proposition (a reason why you should sign up)

We saw a lot of this:

Would you want to sign up for that? Do you know what you’re actually signing up for?

Organizations need to make it more clear why someone should signup and what they get when they do.


Fundraising appeals, if they came, weren’t overly compelling or clear

When we analyze our client data we almost always find that email is the number one source of online revenue — which is why email acquisition is so crucial to online fundraising — so we were really interested in how organizations were doing when it came to their appeals.

Here are a few highlights from the study:

  • 58% of organizations didn’t send a fundraising email appeal within the first 90 days
  • 42% of organizations had multiple calls to action
  • 39% of organizations do not make it clear to the reader how their donation will be used

The end result was emails that looked kind of like this:

I circled all the different things that you can do from the email from donate to share to follow on social. If you’re getting that email, do you know what you’re supposed to do? What you’d want to do? Or why?

Organizations need to be more clear with how a donation will be used without other distractions.


There was quite a bit of ‘friction’ when it came to making online donations.

Just because someone clicked the donate link in an email or button on your website doesn’t mean the job is done. They are still making decisions like ‘should I really give’, ‘how much should I give’, and ‘is my information secure’. These are friction points and the messaging, design, and form for the online giving experience can help answer those questions and negate the friction points.

Some not so good findings however:

  • 45% of organizations had an incongruent message from their email appeal to their donation page
  • 32% of organizations required 2 or more pages/steps to complete a donation
  • 3 out of 4 organizations had distracting buttons, menus, or other navigational elements

Here’s one of the worst/best examples of distractions in a giving experience:

All those red dots are links away from the donate page (yes that is a donate page). That’s just the top 2/3 of the page. And there’s another page after this as well.

Organizations need to continue the message and streamline the giving experience.



Those are just a few of the highlights from the study and as I mentioned, in the coming weeks I’ll share ways Canadian charities can improve their email fundraising and optimize their donation pages. I’ll also be presenting a webinar on the key findings and ideas from the study (register here). In the meantime, you can download the full (and free) Canadian Online Fundraising Scorecard here.






Brady is the Managing Director of the NextAfter Institute where he performs original research, develops evidence-based resources, and provides data-driven training to help organizations raise more money online to fund their life-changing work.

A charity nerd, adjunct professor, and international speaker, his thoughts have been featured in The Huffington Post, NPR, and The Chronicle of Philanthropy among others. He was the lead researcher and author of The Canadian Online Fundraising Scorecard, The State of Nonprofit Donation Pages, and The State of Nonprofit Email Cultivation. Brady is also a host of The Generosity Freakshow — a podcast discussing how we can improve, optimize, and grow giving.

He lives just outside Dallas, Texas with his wife, Liz, son, Hendrix, and dog, Melly. You can connect with him on LinkedIn, in/bradyjosephson, and follow him on Twitter, @bradyjosephson.

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