5 Big Takeaways from the 2021 M+R Benchmarks Report UK

When we found out that the M+R Benchmarks Study was coming to the UK for the first time ever, to say we were excited is a major understatement. Working with our good friends at Rally, M+R have compiled data from 55 UK charities over 2019 and 2020 to form a comprehensive set of benchmarks for digital, covering email, fundraising, social media and more. The report offers a wealth of comparative information, taking in both organisation size and sector into account, as well as trends separating the UK and US charity sectors, meaning there is truly something for everyone.

UK charities now have a fantastic opportunity to compare their digital campaigning and fundraising data against the benchmarks. And after a year that forced more attention on online activity across the sector than ever before, it’s good to have an idea of how you’re performing. There are two major benefits to doing this:

  • You can see where you are ahead. Woohoo! Give everyone who works in that area a high five. Celebrate for a bit. Then double down and keep doing whatever you are doing. Scale it up. Do a skillshare with other teams. Work out what your secret sauce is and serve it up everywhere.
  • You can see where you are behind. You probably already suspected it. And if you know the reasons why, or have a good idea of how to fix it, now you have the data to make your case. Invest in the things you need to improve and set a goal to be above average this time next year.

So dig out your data, get your team together and work out where your organisation fits into the digital charity landscape. Okay, you’re ready? Read on…


There’s a lot of data to digest, but what are the big headlines and trends you need to know? Panic not, we’ve scoured the report from top to bottom, and here are our 5 top takeaways from the M+R Benchmarks UK Study AND what that means your organisation should be doing as a result. Let’s dive in!

1. More people gave £, but will they keep on giving long term?

What the report shows: UK nonprofits saw a massive 65% increase in revenue from cash giving, receiving 27% more gifts than the previous year. Basically, there was a surge in online cash giving, with more people donating single gifts, and joining email lists.

What that means you should do: Make sure your new cash donors are getting a warm welcome. Have a short welcome series of emails to introduce them to the amazing work you do, point them to other things they can do like take campaign actions or volunteer. And work on turning that single gift into a regular one by showing the impact their money makes, and well, asking them regularly.

We recently discussed this topic in depth in our webinar with Greenpeace, so take a look if you’d like some inspiration on how to drive regular giving from email.


2. Go wild for digital ads: use both social and search, and don’t forget to test!

What the report shows: Spending on digital ads shot up 62% year on year. Paid search saw the highest return on ad spend (£3.91 for every £1 spent) followed by social media (£0.96). Head to the report for lots more detail behind those headlines.

What that means you should do: If you are not already, start exploring and testing paid digital ads. Crucially, run a mix of social media AND paid search – the report shows return-on-ad-spend is on average 4 times what paid social generates, yet it’s only allocated 29% of online fundraising budgets in the UK (yes, yes, we know there’s a big conversation to have about attribution, but we’re going off the data available).

Try a mix of direct fundraising and lead gen ads with a strong conversion journey bolted-on (our favourite example of this is the handraiser journey). Draft up different ad creatives for each channel and test test test. No matter what your budget is, you should be testing to find what works best for your organisation. Go wide, start with a small budget and scale up when you get a return on ad spend that you like.

If you want to read more about testing, and our approach to it, these blogs are for you:


3. Think you’re sending too many emails? You’re probably not sending enough

What the report shows: We all sent more emails in 2020, in fact, email volume went up by 45%. But email revenue in the UK still pales against the US, with just 5% of all online income generated by email, compared to their 20%. US orgs are also sending as many fundraising ask emails alone as their UK counterparts send across all asks and messages.

What that means you should do: Send more email, send more email, send more email – and use some of those emails to raise more money. Advocacy emails get a better response rate (5.9%) than fundraising emails (0.63%), but a good email programme needs to include both.

Yes, fundraising emails will get fewer conversions, but each action taken will tie the supporter more closely to the organisation, meaning they’re more likely to donate down the line. Each supporter is on their own journey, so offering them a ‘dancefloor’ of engagement opportunities will mean more engagement, including donations, overall. If you feel you don’t have much to talk about, there are always creative ways to conjure up compelling emails. Here are some examples of how Greenpeace does it.


4. Be realistic about what organic social can do

What the report shows: You don’t need this report to tell you organic social doesn’t travel far. On Facebook, an average organic post reached just 7% of fans, and engagement rates can be wildly inconsistent.

What that means you should do: First up, if you have any colleagues who still think that un-promoted posts will reach your followers, show them this data. The good news is that you can make a big impact with a small budget on social media, but it’s worth taking the time to set your primary goals, and the metrics to track. Then, as mentioned before, go out and test it.


5. Are your donation pages leaking valuable £££? Start plugging those holes

What the report shows: The average UK donation page conversion rate is 16%, which means there is serious room for improvement. There’s a significant disparity across the sector, so check out the report to see how your pages stack up.

What that means you should do: First things first, do an audit of your donation pages. Look at the data to see where people are dropping off. Is your form as streamlined as it could be? Does the page shine on mobile and load quickly?

Once you know where you can improve, it’s time to get to work. A/B test some different layouts. Try and find an organisation that is hitting 30%+ conversion rates and take notes. Finetune the on-page messaging. Keep tracking the performance of the donation page to ensure that it’s working as hard as it can and the conversion rate is as high as possible. If you want some examples of how we went about successfully optimising our partners’ donation pages, you can read all about it here.

Make sure you are ready to test and optimise your donation pages if your organisation or cause suddenly hits the headlines and you get a surge of traffic to your site. Hunger and Poverty organisations saw their online revenue grow by 88% in 2020 as our thoughts turned to vulnerable families and school meals in lockdown.

Our partner Refuge also experienced this, when lockdown exacerbated domestic abuse, and visits to their website increased by a massive 950%. By testing small, low-cost optimisations across their donation pages and other tactics, they brought in 6,325% more donations. Something for all organisations to take from this is to make sure your key funnels, like signing up and making a donation, are being consistently optimised and are working as hard as possible. This means you’ll be in a position to take full advantage of any increased traffic to the website or attention on your cause.

We hope you enjoyed both the M+R Report, and our takeaways from it, and we want to take this opportunity to say a massive “Thank You” to everyone involved in bringing it together – and all the organisations who shared their data. Do you agree with our takeaways? We’d be excited to discuss it more with you. Feel free to get in touch here.