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5 Ways Charities Can Optimize Their Online Giving Experience

Published by Brady Josephson

Online fundraising can seem complex. You’ve got so many different tools to figure out. All that data you can get and track. Rules, regulations, and ‘best practices’ are often changing. A lot of different people have different ideas on how you can do online fundraising. And, for many of you reading this, online is just one part of what you do, not all that you do.

To help shed some light on this subject as it relates to Canadian charities, last year I signed up to get email updates from 152 Canadian charities and then made $25 donations to all of them. I captured and scored each area — email signup, fundraising emails, and online giving experience — to produce The Canadian Online Fundraising Scorecard.

The study is free and in it you’ll find all the stats and key findings but today I want to focus on a simple framework to help with how to think about online fundraising and then provide some ideas to improve your online giving experience based on the research study and some real examples from the world’s largest online fundraising experiment library.

Three strategies to grow online fundraising

When it comes to growing your online fundraising, everything you do should really fit under one of these three main strategies:

  • Get more (quality) visitors to your website.
  • Get more of the people visiting your website to make a donation.
  • Get those making a donation to give more on average.

And the beauty of those simple strategies is that they correspond to the 3 Online Fundraising Metrics that Every Nonprofit Needs to Track:

  • Traffic
  • Conversion Rate
  • Average Gift

If you multiply those three metrics together, you get revenue. So if you increase traffic, and the other two remain the same, you’ll raise more money. And if you can increase traffic and conversion rate, with average gift staying the same, well then you’ll raise even more money.

That’s pretty straightforward — I hope — but understanding how to get started is one of the biggest questions we get asked. So much so, that we recorded a whole podcast episode to answer it, When It Comes to Online Fundraising, Where Do I Start? I’ll spoil part of the podcast and let you know that, often, one of the easiest things you can do to raise more money online is to optimize and improve your donation page so more of your current visitors — as many or as few as you get — are more likely to donate.

So with that here are…

Five ways to optimize your online giving experience

1. Be clear with what their donation will do.

Clarity trumps persuasion. It’s one of my favourite sayings around the office because experience shows it to be true but being clear is something every organization has the capacity and ability to do. It may be hard to be creative, or unique, or have some amazing offer but everyone can be clear. And being clear in terms what someone’s gift will do on your donation page can make a world of difference.

Because why should you give if you end up here:

Unless you’ve 100% made up your mind that you’re going to give your money away, that page could stop you in your tracks (and you may never come back).

But look at this simple experiment where the addition of a few short paragraphs of copy/text helped communicate what a donation would do and increased donations 150%:

In the research study, we saw that 64% of organizations used more than one sentence of copy to share their ‘why’ but if we would’ve looked at how many used more than 3 sentences, that number would drop to 30% or so.

If you want to tell people how their donation will help — and you need to — you have to tell them. Be clear. Be simple. Use copy.

2. Give people a reason to make a monthly donation.

Monthly giving is hugely important to long term success in fundraising but if you only look at the online giving experience you would never guess that to be true. Only 10% of organizations gave us a reason to make a recurring donation (as opposed to a one-time donation). The rest just had something like this:

Does that seem like something incredibly valuable to the organization? Or being positioned in a way where it looks like a valuable way to give for the donor? Not really…

And this isn’t unique to Canadian organizations. We also did a study on recurring giving last year with 115 nonprofits in the United States and found pretty much the same thing where just 9% of organizations had a ‘why’ or value proposition for recurring giving on their main donation page.

We saw some neat recurring giving focused ideas in the study like a pop-up at the time of one-time donation, impact calculator, and special donation anchors, but even doing something more subtle and simple like this can help:

You can see that they first answer why a donation is needed and what it will do before communicating just how valuable a recurring donation is.

If it’s important to you, you need to prioritize it but make sure you communicate the value of it not through your eyes but through theirs. Is it more impactful? More convenient? Do they get any special treatment? Then tell them.

In this example, words like ‘vital funds’ show the importance of the donation, ‘automatically’ gets at convenience, and ‘change or stop’ is empowering to a donor so they don’t fear signing up and never being able to stop.

3. Eliminate unnecessary, distracting, and conflicting links.

One of the easiest ways to optimize your donation page is to do this:

  1. Take your donation page/form out of your website template to get rid of side, top, and footer navigation
  2. Remove all the additional ways and options of giving other than online
  3. Take away any other calls to action and links that don’t help the donor complete the donation process

All those extra and unnecessary links create friction for the donor and when the different types of friction — more on the 7 types of friction here — become too much, people will abandon their donation.

They clearly have some interest in giving otherwise they wouldn’t have clicked something to get to your donation page, so confirm your message and then get out of their way. You don’t want them to sign up for your newsletter or connect with you on social media at this stage, so why have those links and options even available?

Here is a very extreme version of all the friction a donation page can create for a donor:

Look at all the distractions and decisions they are making the donor — me in this case — make. It’s so overwhelming I’d just give up if I wasn’t doing it for this study. If the visitor wasn’t actually looking to make a donation for some reason then they can use the back button or dig a bit for a link to take them away. They don’t need to see all the other things you do or things they can do so just remove them.

4. Build trust where, and when, you need it in the giving process.

It’s an unfortunate reality but many donors, especially high value older donors, are concerned about the trustworthiness of the organization and the security of their information. So why not make it easier for them to trust you and feel that their information is safe.

Add your charitable registration number, privacy policy, and even third party ‘evidentials’ — testimonials, seals, etc. — that let people see why they should trust you more. And when it comes to security, adding a little ‘lock box’ and shading the Credit Card area — where people are most information sensitive — are small things that can be a pretty big difference. Like a 14% increase in donations in this case:

Those are a few things you can do pretty easily to help put your donors at ease (and help you get more donations) but not all organizations are doing that:

  • 39% did not have their charitable registration number present on the page
  • Only 31% of organizations had ‘trust’ marks
  • 33% had no privacy policy available

Remember the monthly giving example from Ducks Unlimited? Here’s what the bottom of their page looks like:

You are a trustworthy organization with good data management and security systems so show your donors that you are when and where it matters.

5. Have a really good, warm, and thankful confirmation page.

You’ve secured the donation, nice. But the work of continuing to build the relationship with the donor is just starting. And that starts with your confirmation or thank you page. Confirming that the donation was successful and thanking them is the bare minimum (something that 12% of organizations didn’t do) but the majority of organizations said something like this:

Makes you feel all warm and tingly inside doesn’t it? Compare that to something like this form UNICEF:

There are some strategic things you can do on the confirmation page like ask for more information (how did you hear about us), give them an action to take (will your employer match your gift?), or even ask them to give again to another project or as a monthly donor but it’s easy to make sure they are thanked in a meaningful, warm, human way.


Those are just a few ideas and examples of how you can improve and optimize your donation page. You can see 19 different areas of your main donation page that you can test and download a guide here, and get the full Canadian Online Fundraising Scorecard here

This post was orginally published on Charity Village and can be read in full here.

Published by Brady Josephson

Brady Josephson is Managing Director of the NextAfter Institute.