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5 Online Fundraising Habits to Stop in 2021

Published by Nathan Hill

At the start of a new year, there’s a universal sense of resolve to look at our lives and consider what we’d like to do differently in the year to come. While it’s healthy to do this in our personal lives, it’s also essential to a healthy online fundraising program.

To help you hit the ground running with your online fundraising in 2021, I’ve outlined 5 online fundraising habits that you need to stop doing right now.

But a new year is also a time for new beginnings. So I’ve also included 5 online fundraising habits and strategies that you need start using this year if you haven’t already.

The Top 5 Online Fundraising Habits You Need to Stop 

1. Stop Using Heavily Designed Email Templates

Time and time again, our ongoing testing and research has shown that personal, humanized emails greatly outperform heavily designed email templates. People give to people, not email machines. So when an email looks like marketing that was sent to thousands of people, donors tend to ignore or delete it.

In experiment 7466, this organization sent wondered how dropping their heavily designed email template would affect clickthrough rate:


Using a plain-text style email led to a 19.7% increase in clickthrough rate.

2. Stop Using “Donate” Short-cut Buttons on Your Donation Pages

Not every donor visiting your donation page has actually decided to give. This seems like a generally understood idea, but most fundraisers create opportunities to short-cut donors right to the donation form.

The most common example of this is a page with a “Donate Now” button in the navigation that jumps the visitor right to the form. The problem here is that it lets the visitor bypass the reason why they should give, and decrease the likelihood of them actually donating.

In experiment 2107, this organization wondered if they could increase donations by letting donors bypass the copy and jump straight to the donation form:


Using a donation shortcut button actually led to a 52% decrease in revenue.

3. Stop Calling Your Donors “Friend”

The quickest way to let your donor know that you don’t actually know them is by starting your email with “Dear friend.” Nearly every email tool on the market today allows you to insert the recipients first name. And as it turns out, when we call our donors by name, our email performance improves.

In experiment 5707, this organization wondered if they could improve their email response by calling the donor by their first name:


Personalizing the email by calling the donor by their name led to a 270% increase in clicks.

4. Stop Using Words That Every Other Organization Uses

If you were to go look at the donation pages of 10 different organizations, chances are that you would see several common phrases across all of them. Give hope. Stand with us. Join the fight.

Phrases like these are generic, and can apply to almost any cause. To improve donations, we need to communicate our message and the reason to donate in a way that is unique. The way that your organization solves a particular problem or fills a specific need is exclusive to you, and your copy should communicate this.

In experiment 5729, this organization wondered if a more unique and exclusive value proposition would impact donations:


By streamlining the page design and making their value proposition and call-to-action unique to their organization, they saw a 134% increase in donations.

5. Stop Using Donation Verification Pages

Once someone fills out your donation form and clicks the “Make my donation” button, that natural assumption is that they’ve completed their donation. Yet, many donation pages include a confirmation or verification page for a donor to review their gift before making it is final.

This extra step creates unnecessary confusion because most donors will click the “X” and assume their donation is complete – causing you to lose a donation without your donor ever knowing it.

In experiment 3712, this organization wondered if they could increase donations by simply removing the gift verification step:


Removing the gift verification step led to 175% increase in donations.

The Top 5 Online Fundraising Habits and Strategies You Need to Start

1. Start Personalizing Your Emails

Personalization is more than just inserting a first name here and there. It’s about making the entire email feel personal to the recipient – as if you sat down and wrote an email specifically to them. This includes personal sender names, subject lines, and copy.

In experiment 4307, this organization wondered if they could increase email results by making the whole email feel more personal:


Making the email feel more personal led to a 137% increase in clicks.

2. Start Writing Emails Like a Human Being

It’s not always just the details of your email appeal that make a difference in donations. The tone of your email has a huge impact on the likelihood that someone will open, clicks, and respond. Use a tone that sounds like a human wrote it, rather than a brand or marketing machine.

In experiment 4171, this organization wondered if a more personal tone in their email copy could increase donations:


Using a more personal tone in the email copy led to a 145% increase in donations.

3. Start Writing More Copy for Your Donation Pages

Most fundraisers want to keep their donation pages short and sweet. Maybe this is because of the common notion that “people don’t read online.”

Or maybe we assume that people coming to our donation pages are already fully motivated to give.

But testing says that using copy to thoroughly explain why someone should give to you will increase conversions and revenue.

In experiment 6623, this organization wondered if more value proposition copy on their donation page could impact donations:


Adding more value proposition copy to the donation page led to a 150% increase in donations.

4. Focus on Growing Recurring Giving

I’m sure you know this…but the lifetime value of a recurring donor can be up to 4x as much as a one-time donor (that’s according to Target Analytics).

And recurring donor retention rates are through the roof compared to one-time donors.

In fact, Blackbaud says recurring donors are 4x more likely to still be giving to you 10 years down the road.

The questions is…how do you actually increase recurring donors?

Two tips for you on growing recurring giving:

Tip #1 – This may sound overly simplistic…but most organizations we’ve worked with have seen rapid and major growth in recurring giving by doing this one, super-secret, magical fundraising trick…

Just send an email and ask people to become recurring donors.

Now, you’ll likely need to explain how a recurring gift helps your donor make a more significant impact, but asking for a recurring donation is step #1.

Tip #2 – Try defaulting to a recurring gift on your donation form.

WARNING: Having your donor choose their gift amount before showing them their gift is monthly could have a negative effect.

However, we’ve seen this “tabbed” style donation form be effective.


Defaulting to a “monthly gift” using a tabbed donation form increased recurring donations by 366% and total donations by 91%.

5. Start Optimizing

The only way we know that any of the strategies above actually work is because they’ve been a/b tested, and proven to increase (or decrease) donations and revenue.

You can blindly implement changes to your emails, donation pages, website, and advertising and hope they lead to growth. But the only way to actually know what works to increase generosity and giving is to use test.

Make it your new year’s resolution this year to start a/b testing and optimize.

You can even start small: plan to run a simple a/b test this month in your email fundraising just to get the hang of it.

If you’re not sure how to test or where to start, there’s a handy blog post called the A/B Testing Guide for Nonprofits that will walk you through each step and give you handy tools to help.

Published by Nathan Hill

Nathan Hill is Vice President, NextAfter Institute.