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Fundraising ROI largely held up in pandemic year, study shows

LarkOwl report cover

ROI across fundraising activity largely held up in 2020/21, and was higher in a number of areas than the previous year, according to a study of charities by LarkOwl.

LarkOwl’s third benchmarking study, Unchartered Territory: Fundraising ROI’s 2021, collates data on the ROI for different types of fundraising to determine the average return on investment. Results were gathered from 45 charities during June and July 2021 – up from 39 participating organisations last year, with ROI expressed as the sum raised in return for every £1 spent on a fundraising activity.

Across all types of fundraising, LarkOwl found that the average ROI in 2020/21 was £8.61, compared to £7.16 in 2019/20. A third of respondents had an ROI of £10 +, compared with a quarter of the previous year’s 39 respondents.


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ROI for charities with an income of £1m+ was £8.07 across all types of fundraising, up from £6.72 the previous year, while for those under £1m it was higher, at £9.27 – up from £7.77.

ROI was also up from trusts and foundations, at £10.69, individual giving at £8.82, and community at £5.09. Areas where ROI fell were grants, major donors, corporate, and events. Digital was seen as a vehicle for giving spanning all areas of fundraising rather than a stand-alone category.

Questioning respondents on their experiences last year, the survey found that many felt empowered and excited by the changes in fundraising practice that were necessitated by the pandemic, with a sense of optimism.

The study also found:

New questions for 2021 included how engaged senior leadership teams and trustees were in fundraising on a scale of 1-5. The majority of respondents (63%) scored their senior leadership team as a 4, quantified as being supportive and engaged, attending events and donor visits and meetings, and acting as an advocate with clear guidance. 24% gave them a 5, meaning they see them as active in making introductions, willing to open their black books, donors, and event hosts and advocates.

Trustees however were seen as less engaged, with 50% scoring them as a 3 – only mildly interested, responding to occasional meeting requests, responding to requests for information within a reasonable timeframe, and occasionally attending events. 36% gave their trustees a 4 here, and only 7% gave a 5.

The full report can be downloaded from the LarkOwl site.