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Decoding Donation Fluctuations: Turning Data into Action for Your Nonprofit


By Dara Daly

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Published November 3, 2023 Reading Time: 6 minutes

This blog was written by Dara Daly, who brings over a decade of experience in managing paid advertising campaigns for a diverse range of B2B and e-commerce companies. Dara is the Manager of Digital Marketing and SEO at Classy.

Nonprofit fundraising can be a roller coaster of emotions.

Imagine the excitement of wrapping your latest crowdfunding effort, only to realize your donation volume fell short. On the flip side, the moments of celebration following a successful fundraising event or Giving Tuesday campaign are blissful and fulfilling in such a unique way—they can reaffirm the value and purpose of your work.

Understanding “the why” behind each outcome will allow you to turn campaign data from mere numbers into valuable insights and action.

In this blog, we explore how to pinpoint the underlying reasons behind challenges when your figures take a dip and distinguish the sources of success during upswings. These valuable insights pave the way for enhancements to your current donation experience, offering a chance to adapt, grow, and scale in direct response to donors’ engagement.

Identifying the Right Performance Indicators

When analyzing online donations, there are a few numbers to focus on:

  • Page and sitewide traffic
  • Conversion rate
  • Average donation amount 
  • Difference in recurring donations versus one-time donations

Together, these metrics influence donation volume and help tell a story.

For example, you might observe a 25% increase in traffic to your nonprofit website but notice a 30% decrease in the conversion rate while everything else remains unchanged. This scenario results in no additional donations despite increased website traffic.

But you now know which two metrics to analyze to get to “the why.” Why is traffic up but converting at a lower rate?

Indicator #1: Traffic Changes

Observing shifts in traffic to your nonprofit’s website or individual donation websites is crucial for gauging engagement and interest. Understanding the nuances of these fluctuations equips you to make informed decisions and strategic adjustments, ensuring your efforts align with audience interests and maximize impact.

Source Accurate Traffic Metrics

For advanced ways to analyze your website visitors’ actions and behavior, start with Google Analytics 4 (GA4), Google’s next-generation website analytics tool.

To utilize GA4 reports effectively, navigate through the following steps to generate a period-over-period report:

  1. Access the GA4 platform
  2. Proceed to the Reports section
  3. Select Acquisition
  4. Select Traffic Acquisition

This gives you the necessary data to compare different periods, enabling a comprehensive analysis of your website’s traffic sources and fluctuations over time.

Evaluate Your Findings

Now that you have the raw numbers you need, look at your acquisition channels to identify which one has caused the changes.

Organic Traffic

While GA4 is a helpful tool for identifying overall website performance, we recommend using Google Search Console to dive deeper into your organic metrics specifically. This will allow you to look at traffic, impressions, click-through rate (CTR), and average ranking position.

But keep in mind that Google is consistently evolving how the search engine results page (SERP) looks and operates. Google’s Search Status Dashboard is a great tool to stay up to date on the latest algorithm updates and determine the best path forward based on shifts in ranking.

Are you affected by algorithm updates or looking for ways to grow your organic traffic? Check out ways to implement Google’s EEAT guidelines—short for experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness—into your nonprofit’s SEO strategy.

Mastering Google’s EEAT Guidelines

Paid Traffic

If you observe that your Google Ads traffic has shifted, it’s critical to find the outlier. Start at the campaign level to determine which campaign has changed, whether positive or negative, then dive in at the ad group and keyword level.

Pull a Search Term Report

Analyzing a search term report can provide insights into whether a new keyword is gaining traction or whether incorporating negative keywords is necessary to refine traffic toward your intended audience.

Negative keywords are specific terms or phrases deliberately excluded from a campaign to prevent ads from showing to users searching for those terms.

Check Auction Insights

If everything looks good there, check auction insights. New competitors coming and going in the space can cause fluctuations in your ad performance.

When a competitor gains a larger impression share than before, and it negatively affects your performance, you’ll want to look at raising your budget to increase your share.

To fund this, pull a 60 or 90-day report to identify which ad groups and keywords are your lowest converters or have a low return on ad spend. Be sure to max out your budget on your top-performing campaigns.

Read Next: Calculate, Analyze, and Amplify Your Nonprofit’s Return on Ad Spend
Segment to Remove Spam

Are you seeing a large uptick in traffic, but it seems like spam?

Segment your report and see if there’s an uptick in search partner’s traffic. Search partners—websites affiliated or partnered with Google—can cause large traffic and performance fluctuations.


Social traffic is the most susceptible to having tracking parameters stripped, especially from mobile devices. To avert this, pull your direct traffic and compare any changes in sessions to the shifts observed in your data from social media.

This analysis can help determine if there’s a correlation between the changes in direct sessions and the shifts in social media traffic.

If everything looks good from a tracking perspective, review your social plan. How often did you post during that time? What was the copy? How did you link to your calls to action?

Finally, analyze your individual posts and determine how to replicate or elevate your content in the future.

Fundraising Social Media Posts to Inspire Your Strategy


When evaluating email metrics, the first step is to identify and isolate the emails that most likely contributed to your spike or dip in traffic. You can do this by pulling a report on all emails sent during the impacted period.

From there, find any emails with CTRs significantly higher or lower than your standardized benchmark for that metric.

If you discover emails with abnormal CTRs, evaluate them to determine what could have caused the change in traffic. Things to consider would be:

  • Format: Is the email using a new template? Or is the format shorter or longer than usual?
  • Audience: Did you target a different cohort?
  • Email content: What tone and voice did you use in the email copy? Is the content shorter or longer than usual? Is your CTA presented differently? For example, did you use a button instead of a hyperlink?
  • Send day and time: When did you send the email?

If you don’t find any outliers, that may indicate a technical issue. Two key technical elements to evaluate include:

  • Tracking links: Check that your tracking links work and record engagement in Google Analytics accurately. Then, ensure proper formatting and redirecting of the links in your emails.
  • Bounce rate: Check that your bounce rates hover around or below your standardized benchmark for that metric. If higher than normal, there may be something interfering with your email deliverability, which could cause a decrease in traffic.

Indicator #2: Conversion Rate

It’s critical to have your team perform a thorough audit of your site’s traffic levels, as these relate to your conversion rates.

If conversion rates are declining but traffic is surging, this may indicate you’re driving the wrong type of traffic to your site. Or a lack of priming traffic for conversion. Dig into the nuances of your traffic shifts to identify which one it is.

But if traffic is steady and conversion rates are still declining, evaluate your landing pages’ user experience and test your donation checkout flow to ensure a streamlined, simple, and secure process.

Double-check that everything works on desktop and mobile devices through the purchase process. After that, take a look at any tweaks or changes made to the page. You’d be surprised how even small things, like switching up headlines or playing with colors, can make a big difference in your conversion rates.

Your Nonprofit’s Donation Page Checklist

Indicator #3: Average Donation Amount

Whether fluctuating up or down, your nonprofit’s average donation amount can have a large impact on total donation volume.

If you’re starting to see a shift toward more microtransactions, don’t panic. Think about how you can scale the number of people you drive to your site to secure more small and midsize gifts.

Or perhaps one major gift came in, skewing your overall donation volume.

Segmenting by donation amounts and pulling reports identifying how many donations come in at each gift level will allow you to analyze these shifts and plan to market to different cohorts in the future.

Indicator #4: Difference in Recurring Donations versus One-Time Donations

Similar to average donation amounts, the number of recurring versus one-time donations you receive can also affect your numbers. If you see that most of the micro-transactions you’re processing are recurring donations, calculate the lifetime value of those users to understand the real impact.

If you see recurring donations are on a downward trend while one-time donations are up, think through your donor stewardship process and how you help recurring donors feel the impact of their donation over time.

The time to start re-engaging a recurring donor isn’t when their involvement lapses. Make sure to acknowledge their contribution each time it comes in and tie it back to impact for a constant reminder of the difference they make.

5 Email Templates for Stronger Recurring Donation Appeals

Inform Your Decision-Making with Timely Data

Understanding and acting on donation fluctuations is pivotal for any nonprofit’s long-term health and sustainability.

By leveraging data insights, nonprofit organizations can adapt strategies to navigate these fluctuations effectively. Embracing a data-driven approach empowers nonprofits to make informed decisions, optimize outreach, and enhance their impact within their communities.

Copy Editor: Ayanna Julien

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