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2023 Rescue Mission Benchmarks: Revenue holds strong, donor volume softens

By now, you’ve probably had a chance to review our 2023 Rescue Mission Benchmark Report. If not, be sure to check out the findings as they point to some important takeaways that will impact how missions connect with donors.  

For now, here are a few points to note:  

  • Fewer donors are giving higher gifts. So, although donor volume declined 6% in 2022, revenue was still 27% higher than it was in the years leading up to the pandemic.
  • Because of this, donor value is reaching new heights, sitting 28% higher than 2018 levels.
  • Retention is softening across lifecycles. This comes as no surprise after two years of heavy surges in donor counts—however it should be watched closely in 2023. 

With these takeaways in mind, it’s important that rescue missions focus on a few key strategies in 2023, including expanded digital, story-driven creative, retention and donor journeys. Here’s a look at how we’re using this insight to shape our mission client strategies in 2023: 

1. Expand digital acquisition investment. 

Direct mail acquisition was the hardest hit channel for missions in 2022. With the rise of inflation and the fall of COVID-elevated giving, we expected to see this impact—which is why we’ve been working with our clients to expand digital acquisition efforts. 

Digital held steady or grew for most missions last year and should be an area of continued investment throughout 2023. In order to fully leverage the opportunity in digital channels, we’re using data and analytics to study the digital tipping point for our clients. This analysis helps us understand exactly how much to invest in digital to see the highest return on investment. 

2. Test new story-driven creative. 

Over the last few years, people have begun to get increasingly frustrated with the homelessness crisis. To better understand why they’re frustrated—and if it’s causing compassion fatigue—we're conducting behavioral market studies for our clients.  

In the meantime, we’re testing story-driven content, messaging and offers that focus on reviving generosity. As missions continue to evolve, messaging should help differentiate missions as organizations who are not necessarily there to solve the homelessness crisis but rather to transform lives, one at a time.  

3. Lean into retention efforts.  

Although overall donor counts declined in 2022, missions received larger average gifts and higher overall revenue from the donors who continued to give. 

As acquisition continues to be a challenge—especially in direct mail—missions will need to sharpen retention efforts to keep current donors on their files. We’re starting to incorporate AI-driven selection modeling to mail more effectively in cultivation and drive overall retention efforts. 

4. Develop omnichannel donor journeys. 

Rescue mission donors are changing. Gone are the days of looking at revenue by channel. Now more than ever, donors give because of effective omnichannel journeys.  

To lift overall revenue, missions should be focused on delivering dynamic experiences tailored by lifecycle and other audience traits. These journeys deliver meaningful and cohesive experiences through touchpoints across all channels.  

As we move into 2023, missions are stronger than they were before the pandemic. In order to continue the upward trajectory, the focus should be on strategic investment in digital, retention and understanding their evolving donor base.  

Heidi Riehl

Heidi has provided strategic fundraising counsel to rescue missions across the U.S. for more than two decades. As Vice President at RKD Group, she works closely with client partners to create integrated marketing plans that increase donations, attract new donors and heighten brand awareness. Also an accomplished executive in the nonprofit industry, Riehl worked at Olive Crest as the National Director of Marketing and Public Relations, leading strategic fundraising and marketing initiatives. Her experience in both agency and organization settings provides a valuable perspective for clients.

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