We’ve spoken at length about how 2020 could be one of the most disruptive fundraising seasons ever. And with Giving Tuesday in the books, we’ve got our first look at year-end data.

The good news is that while this year felt different, donors are still responding positively. As a whole, Blue State’s fundraising portfolio of nonprofits generated record returns. 

There wasn’t a singular pathway to success. But we do believe that there are some recurring themes that are worth sharing:

Black Friday and Cyber Monday were more challenging than expected.

Some groups had very strong Black Fridays and Cyber Mondays. But an unusually large number of clients struggled with efficiency rates (the ratio between impressions and dollars.) 

We’re yet to pin down why this was, but a leading thesis is that retailers were more aggressive online than years past due to the pandemic, leading to email and “take out your wallet” fatigue for our supporters.

Where we were able to score wins, it was primarily due to: 

  1. Additional focus and care being spent on conditional content; 
  2. A new investment in the quality of creative, or;   
  3. A strategic expansion of volume for highly qualified targets. 

Giving Tuesday delivered.

Giving Tuesday was another story. With so much riding on the day to make up for Black Friday and Cyber Monday deficits, we finally began to see efficiency and response rates stabilize and then grow in the morning, followed by large peaks of revenue coming later in the day than expected for many of our clients. 

We had clients increase their haul by more than 100% year-over-year over the course of the day — worth an additional seven figures. Many others saw increases in the 20-30% range — adding six figure sums to their year-over-year results. While not a clean sweep, the majority of our clients had a very positive day.

Deliverability raised its head. 

Thoughtful list management throughout the year and during Giving Tuesday was vital to much of this success — although we did see some issues with Microsoft and Gmail domains with certain clients. Proactively cutting back on targeting to our highest quality prospects was vital to our success here and gave the highest likelihood that our messages were delivered. 

One client was able to double the number of recipients opening their emails by implementing aggressive holdout criteria. 

Matches rule.

We know that meeting your donors where they are is key. And partly because of Black Friday and Cyber Monday and partly because of the precedent that the industry has set itself, matches (or indeed, not having a match) can have a disproportionate impact on your fundraising results. One client who had a match in 2019 but not in 2020 saw significantly decreased returns this year.

In addition, we saw more organizations than ever use a 10x match incentive throughout Giving Tuesday which, if not sourced credibly and legitimately, risks having a long term negative impact on donor trust. While the tactic may boost short term revenue, ultimately longterm strategy will beat tactics.

Paid media paid off.

Paid search continued as a dominant force in our clients’ media mix. Many saw year-over-year gains (with ROAS as high as $7.50 for one client!) with more users searching for ways to donate to clients who had to cancel or postpone in-person fundraising events throughout the year. Certain clients saw a weaker response on Facebook, partly due to increased restrictions on advertising across the platform and a decreased ability to test new creative. This will be a factor to watch throughout the rest of December and will demand even more forethought to get the right creative in front of the right people. Given the high levels of organic web traffic, we’re also looking at how expanded paid media attribution windows factor in — and we’re seeing earlier touches in paid having strong long-term revenue implications.

Greater cross-channel integration is being led by digital.

One of the most refreshing and interesting developments in this year’s end planning has been seeing digital take an evermore dominant role in cross planning and integration. More than ever before, Blue State acted as the lead omnichannel creative partner for our clients — creating the themes and narratives that are explored and iterated in the materials donors and prospects experience — no matter the channel.

Still, the march to December 31st continues. It’ll be fascinating to see how the economy, the pandemic, the vaccine, and a shift to digital in commerce will continue to impact fundraising results. 

For now, our nails have been bitten a little shorter than we’d have liked — but we’ve shared a lot of (virtual) high fives since Giving Tuesday wrapped.


If you’d like to talk through what you saw this Giving Tuesday, or how some of these tactics can work for you, get in touch here.

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