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10 Online Fundraising Ideas That Are Proven to Grow Your Revenue

Published by Brady Josephson

10 Online Fundraising Ideas Proven to Grow Revenue - Blog Image

After spending a year observing every online fundraising idea, test, and experiment being run by all the optimizers here at NextAfter, I found 10 online fundraising ideas that you need to be testing and implementing this year.

Let’s get right to it!

1. Focus on the 3 online fundraising metrics that really matter.

There are a ton of shiny objects in digital fundraising and marketing to get you distracted from real goal: increasing revenue.

3 Online Fundraising Metrics

To optimize your online fundraising, you’ve got to get laser-focused on the 3 metrics that we call The Flux Capacitor of Online Revenue Maximization.

The three online fundraising metrics that really matter are:

  1. Website Traffic
  2. Donation Conversion Rate
  3. Average Gift Size

Increasing any single one of these metrics is going to lead to more revenue. But increasing 2 or all 3 of these metrics is going to lead to exponentially more revenue.

To learn more about the FCORM metrics and how they relate to online fundraising revenue, read this blog post by Nathan Hill. Here, he breaks down what it is and how nonprofits can leverage it for higher online revenue.

But here’s the basics of what you need to know…

Key Online Fundraising Idea

Use these 3 metrics as your strategic framework. Anytime you and your team make a decision about a new online fundraising idea, activity, or strategy, ask yourself these questions:

  • Will it produce more traffic to my website?
  • Will it drive more of my traffic to donate?
  • Will it encourage donors to make bigger donations?

2. Think of your donor funnel as a donor mountain.

The Donor MountainReally this is more of a way of thinking than a strategy. But changing your perspective on the how your donors interact with you is critical.

We can’t pretend that donors are organically falling into a typical “sales funnel.” They’re not falling in at all. In fact, making a donation can be a lot of hard work.

A donor rarely wakes up thinking, “I’m going to donate to ORGANIZATION today.” Something has to prompt them to consider giving. And it’s your job to help them make the journey from being prompted, to actually completing a donation.

Your message is your main tool to help your donor up the mountain.

From the moment a donor is prompted to consider giving, there are distractions and micr-decisions all along the way.

You have to use the copy in your emails, on your landing pages, and on your donation page to explain why someone should keep moving forward to the ultimate goal of donating.

Key Online Fundraising Idea

A donation doesn’t happen in one step. You have to help your donor take a lot of little steps towards the ultimate goal of donating.

3. Your emails and donation pages need to be longer than you might think.

It’s often considered “best practice” to keep your copy (or your message) really short. But over and over again, testing and research shows that almost every organization needs to write longer copy.

Here’s why…

How more copy on an email signup form increased conversions

In this experiment, we wanted to increase email sign ups. The version on the left is what the vast majority of nonprofit email signup forms look like.

Online fundraising idea - Email newsletter signup form test image

The treatment on the right really has one substantial change…there is more copy explaining why you should sign up!

The new version says this: “Get exclusive access to breaking campus reform stories as they happen. Sign up below and we’ll keep you in the loop too.”

Adding two sentences and tweaking a headline increase email signups by 28%.

Key Online Fundraising Idea

Use more copy to communicate why someone should sign up, click through, or donate.

Keep in mind, it’s not the length of copy that improves conversion. It’s how well your copy communicates why someone should give, or click, or sign up.

If you want to dig deeper into how you write better copy to increase conversion, you can check out this post on improving your value proposition.

4. Send your fundraising emails from real people to real people.

Almost every single email best practice out there recommends using some form of a designed email template. But here’s something most experts will never tell you (because they don’t dare test it)…

All the hours you spend designing emails are costing you donors and revenue.

“Well, how else are you supposed to do it, Brady?”

Just write an email like an average, everyday human being who doesn’t know how to create a flashy HTML email.

This is how real people write emails to their friends and family — and that there is a multitude of experiments and data to show that sending plain-text style emails is far more effective for raising money.

Here’s just one of numerous experiments that strongly suggest that a personal approach performs better than a heavily designed email.

How a more humanized email increase donations…by a lot!

Online fundraising idea - write a more personal email - imageIn the control on the left, you can see some graphic elements like the corporate logo and the big blue button below. The recipient’s name is personalized with their first name.

In the treatment on the right, we’ve removed these graphical elements and saw 145.5% increase in donations.

With these results in mind, try experimenting with your own email fundraising by:

  • Removing design elements so it looks more like a personal email.
  • Using copy/text that’s more personal and about your donor (like the second-person pronoun “you”).
  • Using a real person’s name and email as your email sender
  • Personalizing the email with the recipient’s name.

Key Online Fundraising Idea

People give to people, not email marketing machines. The more human and believable your email is, the more successful your online fundraising will be.

For more on making your emails more human, you can dive into a free online course on Email Fundraising Optimization here.

5. Send emails when others aren’t.

When I check my email in the morning, I often have 10, 20, 30 or more emails to sift through – depending on the day. But when I check email throughout the day, there’s not nearly as much to sift through all once.

You can stand out in the inbox by sending emails when others aren’t!

So what days are organization sending emails? Well, I’ve got some data for you on that.

In the month of December, we looked at all the emails we received in our aggregate donor inbox from hundreds of organizations and charted them.

Online fundraising idea - send email on the weekend chartWe found that weekends present an opportunity for nonprofits to stand out because they have lower send volumes from “competitor” organizations.

In fact, not only were email open rates optimized, the data shows an increase in average gift size from emails sent on the weekend too.

Key Online Fundraising Idea

Try publishing your emails on weekends and during afternoons and evenings, when fewer organizations are sending emails. By sending during relatively quiet times, you’re more likely to be noticed.

6. You don’t always have to send more email to bring in more donations.

You can always send more emails to try and bring in more donations. But you don’t always have to do this to increase donations.

You can increase donations without adding more email sends to your calendar by using content marketing.

This is one of the coolest experiments in our research library. And it’s a perfect mashup of how direct mail and online fundraising come together to make even stronger donors.

Online fundraising idea - uses brand ads with direct mail imageIn this experiment, one half of the donors were sent a direct mail letter with a donation ask.

The other half were sent the same direct mail letter, but they were also targeted with brand ads on Facebook.

The goal wasn’t necessarily to get people to click on the ads. It was to make sure they were continually reminded of the organization.

The group that was targeted with brand ads saw a 25% increase in donations.

Key Online Fundraising Idea

Create content (both organic and paid advertising) that reinforces the impact of donating. Use this to cultivate and prime your donors in order to make your direct donation asks even more effective.

Here’s another super cool experiment that shows how a personal post-card (without a donation ask) can lead to greater year-end giving.

7. Throw away your boring confirmation pages, and start using instant donation pages instead.

Last year, I went around and signed to receive emails from 152 organizations. And I made this startling find…

Only 48% of organizations used a confirmation page after an email signup.

You might be saying, “Why does that matter? My form shows a thank you message without using a new page.

Online fundraising idea - use an instant donation pageBut here’s the deal… A real confirmation page will let you:

  • Improve the user experience by letting users be 100% they’re done.
  • Continue the engagement by providing more interesting and useful content.
  • Track completions and conversions easier

Now, for those that are using confirmation pages, only 8% actually asked for a donation right away.

“But Brady…that’s so rude to ask someone who just signed up for an email to donate.”

I prefer to let the donor be the judge of that. And time and time again, we see new contacts becoming new donor instantly when using an instant donation page.

Key Online Fundraising Idea

Instead of just showing a thank you message or standard confirmation page after someone signs up for an email, use an instant donation page to start acquiring new donors right away.

You can dig into the ins and outs of instant donation pages here.

8. Stop designing to make things look pretty. Start designing to make things more effective.

Don’t get me wrong…I’m not anti-design.

I’m very pro-design. But that design has to be communicating the right message in a way that is empathetic to our donors.

Designing for the sake of being modern or pretty often leads to some pretty negative results. And just because Charity Water has a really cool looking page doesn’t mean that it’s the most effective thing for you.

We need to design with our donors in mind.

Take a look at how redesigning a donation page to make it more personal affected the actual revenue coming in from the page below…

How design impacts conversion on a donation page

Online fundraising idea - design your donation pages for effectiveness imageYou can see the original page here. It’s just one giant form. No value proposition copy. Hardly any personal copy at all. There’s also a load of distracting button links across the page.

Now, here’s the treatment version of that donation page.

You can see quickly how the design changed drastically on this page to be much simpler and have more value proposition copy.

This new layout saw a 340% increase in revenue.

In this experiment, we see how a “pretty” page became a lot less pretty – but it drastically improve donations.

Online fundraising idea - pretty design isn't always effective image

You don’t have to read the copy to see what changed in the design. The treatment opted to use less imagery and more copy to help donors understand why they should give.

The “less pretty” page saw a 134% increase in donations.

Key Online Fundraising Idea

The goal of design isn’t to be the prettiest, or the most modern. The goal is to get more donations.

Here are some of the essential elements we’ve found are proven to increase donations on your page.

9. Get rid of all other links on your landing pages and donation pages.

One of the easiest ways to improve and optimize your donation page performance is to remove all the unnecessary distractions from your donation page.

Every other link on your donation page is an opportunity for a donor to get distracted from the primary goal, and head off down a rabbit trail to something else.

Even something like a link to “login” can actually hurt your donations – primarily because remembering a username and password can be so incredibly frustrating.

Other examples of distracting links include:

  • Share this on social media
  • Follow us on Facebook
  • Look at Planned Giving options
  • Subscribe to our newsletter

The list goes on and on.

All of these options create friction in the process of giving and reduce the likelihood that your page visitor is going to donate.

Online fundraising idea - remove extra links imageRemoving the navigation from the donation page saw a 195% increase in donations!

In this experiment, we went a step further. It’s not just navigation links that can hurt donations. Even the most well intended links can be holding your donations back.

Online fundraising idea - remove other ways to give imageRemoving the “Other Ways to Give” link saw a 5.5% increase in donations.

Key Online Fundraising Idea

Reduce friction anywhere you can. In your email marketing, donation pages, and website.

Wondering how much friction is actually on your donation page? Take the Friction Self Assessment and find out how you can optimize your donation pages!

10. Focus on recurring giving.

Recurring donors are worth a lot more in a year — and over their lifetime – than your other donors.

The State of Modern Philanthropy report shows that recurring donors are worth 5.4 times more than one-time donors over their lifetime.

Yet when we looked at 150 nonprofits in the U.S., we found that only one out of 11 organizations had a value proposition that explained why a donor should become a recurring giver.  

To increase the number of recurring donors, you need to answer the question: “Why should I give a recurring gift to you rather than a one-time gift… or to another organization… or not at all?”

How a recurring donation prompt increase recurring donor conversions

In this experiment, this organization showed a pop-up right when you clicked the “Donate” button. Before the gift was processed, they asked if you wanted to upgrade to a recurring donation.

It gave some strong reasons why a recurring donation (even with a smaller initial donation) was more effective.

Online fundraising idea - recurring donor popup

Using this recurring donor prompt led to a 64% increase in recurring donations.

Key Online Fundraising Idea

Increasing recurring donations can be transformational for your fundraising, and there are tons of ideas to test to try and grow this essential donor segment. Here are two ideas:

  • Give a reason as to why someone should make a recurring gift on your one-time donation page.
  • Place a recurring donation ask right before someone completes a one-time donation.

And if you want to go really deep on recurring giving, you can check out the free Nonprofit Recurring Donation Benchmark Study and get 30+ new strategies and online fundraising ideas to test based on data and research.

You can get the recurring donor report at recurringgiving.com

Need more ideas to grow your online fundraising?

Email Fundraising Optimization Course imageWe’ve developed (are continuing to develop) a series of online fundraising courses that will show you everything we’ve learned from 1,415 online fundraising experiments. These courses cover proven strategies to help you:

  • Grow your email fundraising
  • Improve conversion and revenue on your donation pages
  • Acquire more emails from your email acquisition landing pages
  • Use Facebook to acquire new donors
  • Set up and run a/b tests to learn what really works to grow
  • Create an effective online year-end fundraising campaign

Every single course is available for free. So if you want to dive deeper and learn proven ways to keep growing, you can activate your free courses at courses.nextafter.com

About the author:

Brady Josephson

Brady Josephson is a charity nerd, entrepreneur, digital marketer, professor, and writer. At NextAfter, he focuses on business development and partnerships, content creation, and marketing. He's also a huge Liverpool FC fan. #YNWA


New Course: A/B Testing & Optimization for Nonprofits. Learn how to set up and conduct A/B tests »Learn More »

AB Testing Guide for Nonprofits

A/B testing is something that not a lot of nonprofits are doing well – but those that are running a/b tests are seeing major lifts in donations and revenue. So how exactly do you start setting up and running a/b tests at your nonprofit that lead to major lifts? I’m going to show you how in the A/B testing guide for nonprofits.

In the 8 steps below, you’ll learn exactly how to find where to test, what to test, and how to test. But before we get there, let’s look at why you need to be testing.

Why is a/b testing so important?

The answer here is actually really simple. Relying on your own intuition is no better than flipping a coin to determine which version is better.

But why should you take my word it? Let’s look at an example or two…

Which of these donation pages is going to bring in the most donations? The all text page or the page with a video?

Text vs Video a/b test

 

If you’ve read more of our blogs than just this one, you probably know the answer already. But this is an area we get questioned on more often than almost anything else.

The correct answer?

The all text page saw a 560% increase in donations!

Without testing, we would have no idea. And even if you’re one of the few fundraisers that would have picked an all text page over a page with a video, would you have been willing to risk a 560% change in donations without testing it first? 

Let’s look at one more test that’s a little more nuanced.

Which email below brought in more donations? If you can’t read the text, just click on the image to pull it up full screen.

Email A vs Email B - a/b test

Honestly, I could make an argument for why either of these should win based all the fundraising “best practices” that are circulating out there.

Here’s the answer…

Email B increased donations by 360%!

Did you get that one right? Even if you did, were you 100% confident? Confident enough to risk a 360% change in donations?

Where should you start a/b testing?

The simplest answer is to ask yourself the question, “Where can I get the most return for my effort?”

But I bet if you asked that question even to your closest colleagues, you would get wildly different responses. So here’s what I would suggest…

3 Key Online Fundraising MetricsStart testing areas of your fundraising that influence these 3 key metrics: web traffic, donations, and average gift.

These 3 metrics each have a direct impact on revenue. And if you’re a/b tests start improving revenue, it will be much easier to get others to care about what you’re doing.

If you want some specific test ideas to start with, check out these 5 common fundraising “best practices” that you should stop assuming work, and start testing new, proven strategies.

Ok. I could go on and on about where to start testing, but let’s get into the A/B testing guide. Here are the 8 key steps to launching an effective and valid nonprofit A/B test.

1. Identify Your Conversion Goal

First, you need to define the goal that you’re trying to accomplish. Without a clearly stated goal up front, you will never have a clear understanding of whether or not your test was successful.

Your conversion goal will give you the framework to design your a/b test and craft your hypothesis.

If you want to improve your donation page, your conversion goal might be the “total number of donations.”

If you want to traffic from a banner ad to a landing page, your conversion goal might be “clicks” or “landing page visits.”

If you want to improve your email newsletter form, your conversion goal might be “form submissions.”

Once you’ve identified the specific metric you’re hoping to improve, you can move on to step #2.

2. Make Sure You Can Measure Your Conversion Goal.

If you can’t track it, you can’t A/B test it. And if you can’t A/B test it, you can’t optimize it. And if you can’t optimize it, well…then you’re potentially leaving huge amounts of donations on the table as you saw in the examples above.

Google analytics is your essential tool for measuring your goals.

To measure your conversion goals, there is one thing you need to set up, and one thing you really, really should set up to get the most out of you’re a/b testing.

You need to set up conversion goals in Google Analytics.

Need some helping setting up your Google Analytics goals? There’s a great post from Neil Patel on 4 types of Google Analytics goals. In short, you can set up 4 different types of goals based on:

  • URLs
  • Visit Duration
  • Pages Per Visit
  • Google Analytics Event

For almost all of the a/b testing you’ll start out with, you’re going to either use a URL goal (triggered when someone visits a specific URL like your donation form’s confirmation page) or a Google Analytics Event goal (triggered by an event that fires when a form is submitted).

Google Analytics Goal Types

You really, really should set up eCommerce tracking.

Now, I understand that eCommerce tracking is much harder to set up than a basic conversion goal. So if you can’t get it set up right away, that shouldn’t stop you from testing. But the more you run a/b tests, the more you’re going to want to track the actual revenue that’s resulting from your testing.

Why is eCommerce tracking so important?

eCommerce tracking will let you see exactly what you’re a/b tests are doing to your revenue. In some cases, you might be getting more clicks or visits to a landing page, but actually hurting your revenue. This may sound counter-intuitive, but it happens more often than you might think.

Here’s an a/b test where we an increase in email clicks, but a decrease in donations.

If you don’t measure revenue, your test could appear to be positive, but actually hurt you where it matters most.

3. Craft Your A/B Testing Hypothesis

Once you know exactly what you want to improve, and you know that you can measure your goal, you need to define your hypothesis.

A good hypothesis will address the specific idea that you can think can make an impact on your conversion goal.

Example Hypothesis:Removing friction from the giving process by eliminating unnecessary form fields will increase donations.”

This hypothesis tells you the specific variables that you’re a/b test will look at. It makes it clear that your treatment or challenger page will have fewer form field than your control (original page).

In this example, your treatment might remove fields like “gift designation,” or “Make this gift in honor of…,” or other fields that are not absolutely essential to processing the donation.

Changing multiple variables at once

Some would argue that your hypothesis has to isolate one specific variable. If you change too much, you don’t really know what part of your test actually made an impact.

While this is true, your hypothesis can be crafted in a way that allows you test multiple elements at once – so long as they support the foundation of the hypothesis.

Example: A more personal email will lead to more donations.

This hypothesis addresses a specific idea, but it opens the door to change multiple elements in your email. Your control could be a heavily designed template, and your treatment can be a plain-text email with more personal copy. While multiple elements are changed, it all supports the underlying hypothesis.

Here’s an a/b test where multiple variables changed, yet the experiment remained sound.

Once you have your hypothesis created, write it down! You don’t want to forget why you ran the test, or what the over-arching idea was. You’ll want to keep your hypothesis so you can document what you’ve learned after the a/b test is complete.

4. Calculate Your Estimated Sample Size

Before you run your a/b test, you need to make sure that it’s possible to get a valid result.

To do so, you have to calculate your estimated sample size. All this means is that you need to figure out how many people need to see your a/b test in order to get a reliable result.

For instance, if your test increases donations by 50%, but only 20 people actually visited your donation page, it’s possible that this increase in donations was just the result of random chance.

There are some great tools out there to calculate exactly how many people need to see your a/b test in order to get a valid result. Here are a couple to choose from:

A Quick Walkthrough of Sample Size Calculation

If this is all new to you, here’s a quick explanation of how to use the Optimizely tool I listed above.

First, enter you Baseline Conversion Rate

This is the conversion rate that you would normally expect to see. If it’s a donation page, your conversion rate would be the number of donation divided by the number of visitors.

If your conversion goal is email clicks, your conversion rate would be the number of clicks divided by the number of emails sent.

Second, enter the Minimum Detectable Effect. This is the minimum amount of change you’d like to be able to measure. So if you hope to see a minimum of a 20% increase in donations as a result of your test, enter 20%.

Third, enter your desired level of Statistical Significance. We always recommend using 95% for this number. Statistical Significance is the likelihood that you’ll see this same result in the future.

For example, a 95% statistical significance essential means you’ll see the same result 95 out of 100 times. A 50% statistical significance is basically the equivalent of a coin toss – the result could go either way with equal odds.

After entering these 3 numbers, you’ll receive your Sample Size per Variation. This is the amount of traffic (or people) you need to see each version of your experiment. If you need 1,000 samples per variation, that means 1000 people need to see your control and 1000 people need to see your treatment.

Example A/B Test Sample Size Calculation

Once you’ve calculated your needed sample size, you need to make sure you’re a/b test is actually capable of getting enough traffic.

If your donation page doesn’t get enough traffic, test something earlier in the donation process. Try testing a fundraising email first.

5. Design Your Treatment

Half way there. The planning stage of you’re a/b test is done. Now it’s time for the fun part: designing your treatment.

Your test design is made up of at least 2 variants – your control and your treatment. The control is your original page, email, form, etc. The treatment is your challenger or the new design you want to test.

To design the treatment for your a/b test, you’ll want to keep your hypothesis in mind. If your hypothesis is as simple as “Removing the image in the email will increase clicks,” then your design will be really easy.

All you have to do is get rid of the image.

Designing for a more complex hypothesis gets tricky. If your hypothesis is something like “A more empathetic messaging tone will increase donations from an email fundraising appeal,” you have a little more work to do.

Every element you change has to support your hypothesis. With the example above, you shouldn’t change the color of your call-to-action links, or use a completely different email design. But you would likely have major changes to your email copy throughout.

This can get pretty complicated, so it’s best to have a colleague double check your a/b test design to make sure aligns with your hypothesis.

Our friends at ConversionXL have a great post on how to craft one of these more “radical redesigns.” You can read more about radical treatment designs here.

Once your treatment is designed, you’re ready to set up your experiment.

6. Set Up Your Experiment

You’re getting to the home stretch! Time to set up your well-planned experiment.

Setting up an experiment on your website

It used to be that you had to shell out some cash for a tool like Optimizely in order to run a good a/b test. But with Google Optimize, the vast majority of your testing can be done for free.

So that’s what’s next. If you don’t have a Google Optimize account, you can create one just using your normal Google Analytics login. If you need help getting it set-up, this post from Google has got you covered.

Once your account is all set up, you’ll create a new experiment. In many cases, you can edit the actual page elements right from Google Optimize without having to touch any code.

You can set your URL targeting, change what percentage of your web traffic sees your control and treatment, and set your conversion goal. Remember how we set that up in step 2? This is where all that hard work pays off.

Google will even help you preview your experiment to make sure everything’s being tracked properly. Here’s what your dashboard looks like once your experiment is running.

Google Optimize Screenshot

Once you’ve got everything configured, do one last test to make sure everything’s firing properly. Open the page you’re testing in an “Incognito Window” and see if it gives you the control or treatment. Then close the window and open a new one until you’ve seen and tested both your control and treatment.

Setting up an email experiment

Most email marketing tools will let you run an a/b test without any additional tools, fancy coding, or jerry-rigging of the platform. If you don’t know how to do it with your email tool, contact customer support.

If your email tool can’t run a/b tests, there’s a way to hack it. You can manually divide your email list into 2 parts and send two separate emails. Just make sure your lists are divided randomly, and not between key segments like “donors vs non-donors.”

*If you have to hack it like this, you’re using the wrong email tool. Time to start looking for a new platform.

If you don’t have an email tool, start with Mailchimp. It’s free up to 2,000 contacts and it will let you run a/b tests. It’s by far the best tool to use if you have a small list or are just starting out. Plus, there are tons of integrations to get your data into other common online fundraising tools.

7. Validate Your Results and Document Your Learnings

You’re a/b tests don’t matter if no one learns from them. 

If you don’t document your results, you’ll never remember what you learned. And one day you’ll be sitting in a meeting where someone asks, “Why don’t we have a video on our donation page anymore?”

If you document your experiment, you can easily show that the video on your page was killing donations. If you don’t document your experiment, it’s just their word against yours.

Logging your experiments is super easy and totally free on WinstonKnows.com 

WinstonKnows a/b test tool Screenshot

It has never been easier to document your experiments. We built this slick tool called WinstonKnows.com that will give you your very own research library, allow you to log every experiment you run, and give you an infinite archive to keep track of everything you’re learning.

Plus, there’s a cool dashboard to show all your big wins. You can use that to help get yourself a little promotion when the time is right.

Winston Knows Dashboard and Library

But it gets even better…

You can also connect your Google Optimize account, Mailchimp, Hubspot, Unbounce, and other common testing tools so your a/b test results get pulled in automatically. It’s literally like magic.

When you’re all done logging you’re a/b test, WinstonKnows.com will give you a short little URL that you can use for step 8…

8. Share Your Results and Change the World

If what you learned from you’re a/b test never gets seen by anyone else besides yourself and your closest colleagues, how can you ever hope to see major growth?

If you work at a nonprofit, sharing these learnings can lead to entire organizational culture transformation. And organizational culture change can be one of the biggest factors leading to online fundraising growth.

If you’re a consultant that works with nonprofits, the best way to get more buy-in from those organizations is to share your learnings with them. And by doing so, you empower those nonprofits to apply those learnings in other areas in order to increase their impact.

No problem or challenge is ever solved by withholding data. So if you want to see generosity increase and the causes you care most about have a bigger impact, sharing your learnings is essential.

Need some new ideas to test in your online fundraising?

The Year-End Donation Page imageCheck out our free online courses covering donation pages, landing pages, email fundraising, year-end fundraising, donor acquisition, and more. You’ll find research driven and proven ideas to test in your fundraising in order to grow your revenue and impact.

Learn more and activate a free course at https://courses.nextafter.com

About the author:

Kevin Peters

Kevin is a proud Fightin' Texas Aggie. Enough said.


New Course: A/B Testing & Optimization for Nonprofits. Learn how to set up and conduct A/B tests »Learn More »

5 Online Fundraising Habits to Stop in 2019

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 2019, 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, we saw a 19.7% increase in clicks by dropping the heavily designed email template:

How stripping out branding in an offer email affects clickthrough rate (Experiment #7466)

Control

Treatment #1

19.69% Increase to Clicks

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, we saw a 52.6% decrease in revenue when we used the short-cut button:

How creating a "shortcut" to the donation form affects conversion (Experiment #2107)

Control

Treatment #1

28.16% Decrease to Conversions

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, we tested inserting the recipient’s first name and saw a 270% increase in clicks.

How first-name personalization affects email engagement (Experiment #5707)

Control

Treatment #1

270.07% Increase to 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, we saw a 134% increase in donations by using more exclusive value proposition copy:

How a radical redesign that reduces friction and increases the force of the value proposition affects donor conversion (Experiment #5729)

Control

Treatment #1

134.19% Increase to Conversions

5. Stop Using Donation Confirmation 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, we removed the verification page and saw a 175% increase in revenue:

How additional friction from a verification screen affects revenue (Experiment #3712)

Control

Treatment #1

175.62% Increase to 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, we saw a 137% increase in clicks by creating a more personal email:

How subject line personalization affects open rate (Experiment #4307)

Control

Treatment #1

137.19% Increase to Opens

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, we used a more personal tone and saw a 145% increase in donations:

How a personal tone affects donations in an email fundraising appeal (Experiment #4171)

Control

Treatment #1

145.5% Increase to Conversions

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 this is because some fundraisers just simply don’t know what to write.

Regardless of the reason why, testing says that using copy to thoroughly explain why someone should give to you will increase conversions and revenue.

In experiment 6623, we saw a perfect example of how more copy on a donation page increased donations by 150%:

How the addition of value proposition impacts donor conversion (Experiment #6623)

Control

Treatment #1

150.15% Increase to Conversions

4. Start Tracking Your Campaigns Properly

UTM MakerEvery time we start working with a new nonprofit partner, the first thing we do is look at all of the analytics and donor data to find where the greatest opportunities are. Yet, most organizations aren’t properly tracking their campaigns with consistency or accuracy.

Kevin Peters created this fancy little tool called UTM Maker that will make it super easy to track all of your campaigns back in to Google Analytics. Just enter your URL and a few pieces of info about your campaign, and it will generate a perfectly tracked link to make sure your analytics are clean.

5. Start Optimizing

Every learning in this entire blog post is a result of ongoing optimization. Every day, we’re testing new ideas and hypotheses across donation pages, email, advertising, articles, and more. And every new experiment leads to greater learnings and understandings of what works to raise more money online.

Make a commitment this year to start testing and optimizing your own online fundraising. And if you need help getting started, we’ve got a blog post that will walk through the steps of setting up your first experiment.

About the author:

Nathan Hill

Nathan is the Marketing Director for NextAfter. He spends every day working to help nonprofit organizations discover how testing and optimization can transform their marketing and fundraising, leading to greater impact and organizational growth. He is also a giant Star Wars nerd.


New Course: A/B Testing & Optimization for Nonprofits. Learn how to set up and conduct A/B tests »Learn More »

4 Reasons Donors Don’t Give to You that You Can Fix with Better Copywriting

Published by Nathan Hill

4 Reasons Donors Don't Give to You that You Can Fix with Copywriting image
 
Amy Harrison pictureGenerating traffic is only half the battle. Amy Harrison of
Write with Influence shares how you can write persuasive marketing copy that will help you get a donor from “No” to “Yes, I’ll give!”

Good copywriting is essential to optimizing conversions on all of your digital marketing campaigns. So today, we’re bringing you an excerpt from Amy Harrison’s 2018 NIO Summit session on “Getting Past No.”

If you’d like, you can actually, watch the entire session in the video below.

And if you want to be there next time for more high-quality, field-tested wisdom like this to optimize your digital fundraising success, sign up for the next Nonprofit Innovation & Optimization Summit!

 

Copywriting: The Marketing Amplifier

People don’t do things because it’s the right thing to do. And they don’t do things just because they’re told to.

You’ve got to persuade them — and copywriting is the language of persuasion.

The rest of this post will look at 4 reasons why your ideal donor often says “no” to donating that can be overcome with better copywriting.

Here we go…

Why is your ideal donor saying “No”?

When you sit down to write copy, you’re probably thinking, “Why should the donor give to my organization?”

But that’s not the right place to start. It’s better to ask, “Why are they not donating?”

This starting question makes you more inquisitive and more critical of your copy. It helps you to eliminate the barriers that stop your donors from giving.

Here are the four most common barriers donors have to giving to you.

They can’t see your offer.

The first reason donors don’t give is because they can’t see the offer clearly. It may sound crazy, but the truth is there are a lot of funny things we do that hide our offer from the donor.

Often we try to be too clever with our words, passionate in our tone, or too emotive in our message. Donors get lost in it and don’t see what you’re asking them to do.

Don’t try to be mysterious or clever in your copy. Tell your donor what’s going on in simple language.

Take this email experiment for example. In the control email subject line, we’re trying to arouse the donor’s curiosity.

Email Subject Line - Control

But in the second email line, we get a little more direct and tell the donor what’s inside the email.

Email Subject Line - Treatment

It’s about the best stuff we’ve read this week. There’s still mystery, but the donor now knows what kind of mystery it is.

The second email saw a 26% increase in traffic.

The Danger of Ambiguity

Another way organizations inadvertently hide their offer is by being ambiguous, or as Amy puts it, “easy oasy.”

“Easy oasy” is the feeling you get when you read fundraising copy and it’s as if the nonprofit really doesn’t have an opinion on whether or not the donor gives. They could donate, or they could go do something else. “I’m easy oasy.”

Easy Oasy Copywriting example

Whatever. Give if you like. Don’t give if you don’t like. Either way, we’re fine. We’re “easy oasy”!

But do you see what happened in this experiment when ambiguity was removed, and the call to action was clearly articulated?

There was a 78% increase in conversions over the “easy oasy” control. Don’t hide your offer in ambiguity.

They have beliefs that make them say “No.”

People use false beliefs all the time to put off doing something. False beliefs include…

“This is impossible. My gift won’t do anything.”

“There’s no real urgent need, so I’ll give later.”

That’s why you’ve got to use your copy to address those false beliefs and show them why they’re wrong.

This is demonstrated in the results of an experiment we conducted with a public policy group that was gathering signatures for a petition.

The objective of the landing page was to thank the petition signer and persuade them to top it all off with a donation to the cause.

Donation Page Headline Control

In the control, the offer is clear, but it doesn’t emphasize just how much the donor’s gift will mean for the cause.

The donor may very well be thinking, “Great, I signed a petition. But what good will this do?”

So in the treatment, we ramped up the idea of what an individual donation can do right now. Instead of a basic “Thank you for joining the fight” headline, the treatment said “Thank you! Your signature at a time like this is critical for three reasons…”

Donation Page Headline Treatment

The new donation page that emphasized how critical the donor’s participation is produced a 125.6% increase in revenue compared to the control.

So tackle the false beliefs your donor might have straight on –and remove them one by one.

They don’t think what you do is important enough.

When a donor hesitates to give because they don’t think your work is important enough, it’s usually because the copy does not articulate the impact of what you do well enough. There are a few levels of showing impact in your copy.

Here’s an example of an organization that provides food to families in areas where disaster has stuck. First, they can show what their organization can do with the gift. For example, a donation of $35 can provide enough food to sustain a hungry family for a month.

Second, there’s the impact level of what the family is able to do when this basic need is met. Having this need met means the family doesn’t have to split up to find food. They can be together, comfort each other, and ensure each other are safe.

And lastly, there’s the final level of impact that shows the ultimate outcome for this family. The donor is providing peace of mind, less stress, and one less difficulty to sort out as they figure out what’s next.

All of this, for $35. And that sounds a whole lot better than just buying some cheap groceries.

Your copy needs to remind donors of the impact their gift can make using examples of each level of impact.

This increases desire in your donor to give.

They don’t trust you.

We live in a broken world with many nonprofits that mishandle donor gifts or simply aren’t able to make a significant impact with the funds they’re given.

Understandably, many donors don’t blindly trust the claims of organizations or businesses for that matter.

To get around this barrier, write copy that shows how you’re different than all those other organizations without calling them out or criticizing them.

Identify potential frustrations your donors might have with other organizations (that shall remain nameless) and show them why they can trust you to be different. We call this exclusivity, and you can read more about it in our research study on nonprofit value proposition.

One frustration many donors have is that organizations can be impersonal and corporate-like.

So in the experiment below, we took a standard email appeal and stripped away all the corporate branding and imagery. You can see in the test email that without all the corporate brand elements, the email looks more personal, like it came from a friend.

Email Template Example

Friends don’t use logos when they send emails. They just type.

The more personal email saw an 80.3% increase in traffic by addressing a common donor frustration.

You don’t have to go head to head with “competitors” and explain why your organization is better. You just have to identify frustrations and then show how your organization is uniquely equipped to serve your cause well.

There’s so much more! But I can’t fit it all into a single blog post.

Every speaker session from the 2018 Nonprofit Innovation & Optimization Summit is available to you watch for free. These 16 speakers have tips and ideas related to search, analytics, data, copywriting, recurring giving, advertising, and much more.

About the author:

Nathan Hill

Nathan is the Marketing Director for NextAfter. He spends every day working to help nonprofit organizations discover how testing and optimization can transform their marketing and fundraising, leading to greater impact and organizational growth. He is also a giant Star Wars nerd.


New Course: A/B Testing & Optimization for Nonprofits. Learn how to set up and conduct A/B tests »Learn More »

Gift Arrays: When to use them, and how to optimize them.

Published by Jon Powell

Gift Arrays

If there is one thing that is almost entirely unique to the world of nonprofit websites (compared to the for-profit companies I have assisted for the past 10 years), it is the part of the donation form we call the gift array.

This is also referred to as an ask array, an ask ladder, or suggested gift amounts. This assembling of giving options (or buttons, depending on the site) seems to be a common staple on just about everybody’s main online donation form.

In the for-profit world, we really only see this in buying gift cards. And though a gift is about to happen, the situation is different as it is expected that there will be some sort of product/service that comes with that. So here’s my question:

Has anyone really asked why we use gift arrays in the first place?

Why not just let donors tell us what they want to give? Chances are, we put them there because someone once said that they inspire people to be more generous, or to give when they wouldn’t have. And actually, that may well have been true for a given situation and time.

Does a gift array, and its presentation, really have any impact on generosity RIGHT NOW?  Is it OK that fundraisers default to using gift arrays? And is it OK that gift arrays start with a higher amount rather than a lower amount?

Why do many gift arrays go from high to low?

While working on a recent online fundraising research study, we noticed that a) organizations are all about using the classic gift array and b) a LOT of organizations like to start with HIGHER amounts first in the eye-path.

Here is an example (left to right):

website donation form

Or a mobile example (top to bottom):

Mobile donation form

Why would you start with a higher amount? What is the logic?

“Well, it’s going to encourage people to give more,” someone thought, “because higher amounts are presented first as their options…and by emphasizing giving more we will convince them to give more!”

Is that how we really think of our donors?

The real question we need to ask is this: what effect does the gift array’s presentation truly have on individuals who are contemplating a donation? Does it really affect them?

Obviously some people will not care and make their donations regardless. But if there is a large enough group of people that DO care, I wouldn’t want to lose them at this donation opportunity (and possibly forever) because of my array presentation.

Testing the Order of the Gift Array

We wanted clear answers, so we put it to the test.

One of our partners, CaringBridge, offers free personal, protected websites for people to easily share updates and receive support and encouragement from their community during a health journey. Here is what their gift array on most of their donation pages looks like:

The Control (original)

The control (original) uses a rising suggested amount approach, starting with $50 on the left (assuming visitors in this case naturally read left to right) and ending with $250 on the right. On mobile, it stacks on top of each other with the lower amount first.

The Treatment (test version)

donation gift array

For the treatment (or the test version), we switched the $50 and $250 options, so that people reading left to right would see the HIGHER option FIRST. And the same in mobile… the higher amount was stacked first.

The Results

So what was the result?

The treatment’s high-to-low emphasis approach achieved a whopping 15.7% DECREASE in donations, and an 11.3% DECREASE in Average Gift size, resulting in a total 25.2% statistically significant DECREASE in revenue. You can see the full results and write-up here.

By showing the larger amount first, many visitors were LESS likely to donate, and LESS likely to give in larger amounts.

And that was the ONLY change. Nothing else. But why?

Why does the gift array order affect donations?

“We have found that people give to not-for-profits not as faceless organizations, but humanize them as people…”  -Josh McQueen

It is possible that people see your gift array as more than just a gift options. They also see the way in which you present the array as a point of communication from you, much like how body language communicates in real life. If this is the case, then let’s examine what this high-to-low approach subtly communicates to someone:

  • Lower amounts are less acceptable.
  • “Sure, we’ll TAKE your donation, but we might not appear as happy about it, or, we really don’t prefer the lower amounts… that’s why they’re last… duh.”

This would explain the drop in completed gifts altogether. Some people (to the tune of 15.7%) probably felt that their small gift wouldn’t be appreciated, simply because it was at the bottom of the list. It would be no different if the gift array started at $500 and moved its way up the ladder to $5,000.

“Anything less than $500 isn’t significant,” the array says. Even though any gift is better than zero, that is not communicated here. When the gift array is ordered from high to low, the lower gifts are devalued psychologically.

But wait… shouldn’t the average gift amount have at least gone up??? After all, we are emphasizing larger gifts, so even if we lose some donations, the larger gifts should have made up for it. That’s the fundraiser’s mindset, not the donor’s. To that stereotypical fundraiser, it’s money-ball, statistics, number crunching… winning the game. To the actual person giving the gift, it’s something entirely different.

Gift arrays from the donor’s perspective

Let’s think about the donor that wants to give $50.

When the array is presented high to low, a $50 donation ALREADY looks bad. If the donor upgrades to $60 or $75, what difference does that make?

According to the high-to-low gift array, the organization doesn’t really notice. They notice the big gifts, so there is no additional benefit to the donor to give a little more because it seems like the organization doesn’t want it or care.

What about the low-to-high gift array?

So back to the $50 giver. The first option they see is the lowest – $50. And they are thinking… “You know, I really appreciate this organization so much… how about I give a little more?” And all the sudden that increase in giving becomes an UPGRADE.

Now the donor feels like their slight donation increase just morphed into a mid-tier gift, instead of being an “unappreciated low tier gift.” The gift rose above what appears to be what the organization deems as desirable. (We often interpret the first option as what is considered desirable and acceptable, similar to how we interpret a body that leans into a conversation as interested).

The big takeaway

“Users [of digital experiences] will infer a psychology whether or not the designers intended this. For this reason, I believe designers must embed appropriate psychological cues.”  -Dr. B.J. Fogg

Your donation page carries a conversation with the person whether you like it or not. People read into this stuff!

It is our responsibility to make sure our digital experiences communicate how we truly feel about our donors: deep appreciation. And if we truly don’t want to accept someone’s lower donation amount and only want donors willing to give a minimum large amount, then we get what we deserve.

This was originally published on npENGAGE and can be found here.

About the author:

Jon Powell

Jon Powell

As Senior Director of Research and Education, Jon Powell is wholly focused on taking everything the NextAfter team is learning and transforming it into insightful, practical and immediately actionable advice for marketers and fundraisers, regardless of their organization size. Jon knows firsthand the challenges marketers face: he has experience building an entire digital marketing department from scratch as Director of Digital Marketing at B+B SmartWorx and has more than eight years of hands-on marketing optimization experience gained through managing hundreds of A/B and multivariate tests at the MECLABS Institute. In addition, Jon has already conducted multiple in-depth meta-analyses of the thousands of case studies that are held in the research library of MECLABS Institute, one of the largest independent databases of experiments for marketing and sales in the world.


New Course: A/B Testing & Optimization for Nonprofits. Learn how to set up and conduct A/B tests »Learn More »

5 Year-End Fundraising Ideas to Actually Grow Your Revenue

Published by Nathan Hill

5 Year-End Fundraising Ideas
Almost every fundraiser or marketer I’ve talked to has a similar story about year-end fundraising: they spend hours and hours coming up with new ideas and new strategies, only to end up doing the same thing they did the year before.

Doing the same thing over and over again will never help you grow your year-end fundraising revenue. You have to try something new.

Here are 5 simple year-end fundraising ideas that you can easily apply to your campaign this year to help grow results – all based on data and results from over 1000 online fundraising experiments.

Idea #1 – Don’t be afraid to write a long email (or a really, really long email).

One of the most common questions about email fundraising is, “How long should my emails be?” Here’s the short answer:

“Your emails should be as long as it takes to thoroughly explain why someone should give to your organization.”

The hard part is understanding exactly how much information is needed for your donor to trust that investing their money with your organization is the right decision.

For example, in this experiment, we started with a really, really long email appeal. We thought that we could condense the same information down into an email appeal that was half the size (maybe even shorter).

Year-End Fundraising Ideas - Write a longer email

The results? The shortened email got more clicks, but it saw a 57% decrease in donations. This contradicts every best practice out there.

Here’s the main takeaway: It often takes much more copy than you think to thoroughly explain why someone should give to your organization. Don’t be afraid to write long emails for your year-end fundraising appeals.

Idea #2 – Ask donors for a phone number, and send a thank-you voicemail afterwards.

Generally speaking, adding more fields to your donation form is a bad idea – especially if you’re asking for excessive or too personal of information.

But if you don’t ask for a phone number, you can make phone calls or send voicemails to cultivate your donors. And according to a study from GuideStar, donors may give up to 42% more after 14 months if they receive a thank you call from a board member (more on how to make this super easy and scalable in a second).

How do you ask for phone number without asking for too much information? Make your phone number field optional.

According to our testing, using an optional phone number field doesn’t affect donations. But requiring a phone number can decrease donations by 42.6%.

Year-End Fundraising Ideas - Ask for an optional phone number

Once you have the phone number, you need to be able to make some thank you calls. But depending on the size of your organization, that may seem impossible.

The good news – there are services popping up left and right that will let you send voicemails in bulk to your donors without having to even ring their phone. Obviously it’s better if you can make a personal phone call, but here are some tools to make it easier:

Idea #3 – Use content as a bridge to ask for a donation; especially for new donors.

It’s tempting to flip all of your communication channels to ask directly for donations during year-end fundraising. But not everyone is going to be ready to give, especially those that have never donated before.

Here’s what I’d recommend…

If you have any acquisition campaigns (free downloads, online courses, email sign-ups, quizzes, petitions, etc), keep them running. But try using what we call an instant donation page as your confirmation page.

In short, the instant donation page becomes your confirmation page after someone submits a form. This page briefly thanks them for downloading your ebook, opting in to your email series, or whatever the offer was. But it then pivots into a donation ask, making an appeal related to the original acquisition offer.

The key here is to make sure your donation form is on this page – don’t make people have click again to get there.

Here’s an experiment that illustrates the model, and shows its effectiveness:

Year-End Fundraising Ideas - Use an instant donation page

The direct donation ask resulted in zero donations. The content offer to instant donation page resulted in a 209% increase in clicks, and a 1.18% donation conversion rate.

Want to learn more about how to use the instant donation page? You can read a quick blog post about it here. You can download a free template here. Or you can take the free online course (it’s covered in session 7).

Idea #4 – Don’t use videos to make your donation appeal; use them to prime donors for your appeal.

People get angry when they hear this, but videos are not the most effective way to ask for a donation. At least not directly. Here’s an example:

Year-End Fundraising Ideas - Don't use a video on your donation page

In this case, replacing the video with text that explained the same message led to a 560% increase in donations.

Let me say that again…Removing the video led to a 560% increase in donations!

If you think this is just a one-off example, check out these other experiments showing the same type of result:

If you want to (or have to) use a video in your year-end fundraising, use it as a primer to show your potential donors the value of your organization before you make your appeal like this:

  1. Send it in an email towards the start of your campaign without any sort of donation ask.
  2. Then send a direct ask donation appeal without a video within 2 weeks. 

Idea #5 – Ask donors to upgrade to a recurring donation when they click to submit their gift.

Recurring donors can be up to 4x more valuable than a one-time donor. And with year-end fundraising being the biggest giving season of the year, increasing the rate that donors become recurring donors could make an enormous impact on revenue.

One way we’ve found to help boost recurring giving numbers is to use a pop-up prompt on your one-time donation form. It works like this:

  1. Donors come to your donation page.
  2. They put in all their info for a one-time gift.
  3. They click the button to submit the donation form.
  4. A pop-up appears that asks the donor to upgrade their gift to recurring.

We tested this model and saw a 64% increase in recurring donations – all without affecting the overall donation conversion rate. In other words, we had the same total number of donors, but a larger percentage were recurring donors.

Year-End Fundraising Ideas - Use a recurring gift pop-up prompt

Need more year-end fundraising ideas?

Year End Fundraisng - Cut Through the ClutterWe have a whole eBook called Cut Through the Clutter that is devoted to year-end fundraising. You’ll find 10 unique ideas to help your fundraising stand amount to your ideal donors, all based on real-world research and field-tested experiments.

Get your free copy of Cut Through the Clutter here.

Have other ideas you’d like to share? Just drop them in the comments below.

Planning a year-end fundraising campaign can be a huge stressor – in particularly if you’re caught in a rut of running the same campaigns over and over again, hoping it brings in as many donations as last year (or more). This free online course on year-end fundraising will give you a fresh look at your year-end fundraising, and help you craft a plan based on data, testing, and research that will bring in more money this year-end than you thought possible.

About the author:

Nathan Hill

Nathan is the Marketing Director for NextAfter. He spends every day working to help nonprofit organizations discover how testing and optimization can transform their marketing and fundraising, leading to greater impact and organizational growth. He is also a giant Star Wars nerd.


New Course: A/B Testing & Optimization for Nonprofits. Learn how to set up and conduct A/B tests »Learn More »

19 General Donation Page Ideas to Test

Published by Nathan Hill

Your general donation page (or main/primary donation page) is the cornerstone page of your online fundraising program. If someone organically visits your website with the intention of giving, they’re going to land here.

Visitors to your general donation page tend to have the highest motivation of any other online traffic source. With this level of motivation, you would assume a general donation page would have a 99% conversion rate. But in reality, we consider pages that have a 30% conversion rate to be successful.

This disparity leads us to a core question that I’ll try to shed some light on in this post:

“Why would a highly motivated donor who visits your donation page abandon the process before making a donation?”

What Does Google Have to Say About General Donation Pages?

The first place most people go to solve these kinds of problems is a Google search. Let’s see what “donation page ideas” are out there…

General Donation Page Ideas Google Search

Now, the first page results look something like this:

  • 12 Donation Pages That Don’t Suck
  • 10 Great Nonprofit Donation Pages
  • 28 Nonprofit Donation Page Best Practices
  • Donation Pages – Best Practices 2017
  • Etc…

There are a few common threads in each of these articles.

First, each article broadly assumes that there is one donation page to rule them all.

Second, there is no supporting data to back up why any of these “best practices” are better than anyone else’s best guess. Blindly applying these “best practices” is about as reliable as flipping a coin.

Third, these articles primarily address superficial design choices. None of them get at our core question of “Why would a motivated donor abandon the general donation page?”

The answer to this question is the most important distinction between a general donation page and any of the other types of donation pages.

Get Out of the Way!

A highly motivated donor wants to do one thing: donate. So anything we put between them and the donation button is friction that could knock them off the path.

So you’re saying I should just have a page with a super simple form and nothing else?

Well, not quite. Because there’s flip-side. As human beings that are constantly calculating risk, these highly motivated donors are also second-guessing their choice and looking for reasons they should turn back.

To combat this, we have to give our donors reasons to keep going and to complete their donation. We call this the value proposition.

So I need a simple page, with a clear value proposition about why they should give?

Yes! But the way you craft you value proposition on a general donation page is very nuanced. My friend and colleague Jon Powell likens it to the message in a fortune cookie. 

Fortune Cookie

Imagine you opened a fortune cookie, and your message read: “Tomorrow, you’re going to wake up with a brand-new car in your driveway.”

That fortune wouldn’t be believable, unless you happen to be heading to the car dealership after you finish your meal. It’s too specific to be believed.

Now, imagine your fortune read: “You’re about to eat a fortune cookie.”

That fortune is broad enough to apply to everyone reading it, but it’s not really a fortune. It’s just a statement of fact that tells you basically nothing.

What the heck do fortune cookies have to do with a general donation page?

Great question. And it’s one I asked of Jon when he first told me this analogy.

Don’t Make It Too Specific

The people visiting your general donation page have a high motivation, but the specific motivation can vary significantly. If your message (or fortune) is too specific to a particular campaign or initiative, it’s not going to apply to the vast majority of people considering donating.

They’ll come to your page, read your overly specific copy, and say “Oh, this isn’t for me.”

Don’t Be Too Broad

If your copy just says “Give a gift today” or has too vague of a value proposition (i.e. “A gift today will make a big impact.”), then you’re going to lose the donation. You have to provide real value statements about what a gift is going to accomplish.

How Do I Find the Sweet Spot?

Let’s go back to the fortune cookie. Here’s a great example of a fortune.

Good Fortune Example

As you can see in the caption, the original reader saw the application of the fortune because their wife was pregnant. The short stranger would be their new born baby.

But this same fortune could apply to anyone who might be considering getting a dog or a cat. It could be that someone meets a new friend who is simply shorter than they are. Honestly, you could make up a ton of different scenarios that work.

Your general donation page copy needs to work in the same way. It needs to be broad enough to appeal to the majority, and it needs to be specific enough to be believable.

19 Donation Page Ideas to Keep In Mind

Getting the copy right is the hardest part. And it’s something you’ll have to test to make sure you’ve hit the sweet spot.

If you want some quick wins that we’ve tested and proven over and over again, I’ve got a few tips for you too. (And yes, they’re all backed with data and research. I’ve linked up supporting experiments.)

  1. Intro Copy – It’s tempting to keep this vague, but your intro copy should make it clear immediately that a donation is a worthwhile investment. (150% Increase in Donations)
  2. Body Copy – We don’t want to get in the way of our highly motivated donor. So keep your body copy concise. (23.1% Increase in Donations)
  3. Videos – Don’t use a video or other multimedia content to explain your value proposition. Text conveys the message more effectively. (560% Increase in Donation with text-only)
  4. Transition Copy – Use a short statement to transition from the body copy to the donation form. (166.4% Increase in Donations)
  5. Header Exit Links – Keep your header simple. Don’t include any navigation links that would take someone away from the page. (195% Increase in Donations)
  6. Side Exit Links – It’s common to put links in the right column to other pages, but you should avoid this. Don’t distract your motivated donor with reasons to leave. (20% Decrease in Donations with Additional Links)
  7. Header Donate Button – Sometimes we’ll see a donate button in the header that jumps the donor immediately to the form. Don’t use these as they skip your donor right past your carefully crafted value proposition. (28.2% Decrease in Donations)
  8. Text-formatting – Make sure you text is easy to read. It needs to significantly contrast the background. (67.6% Decrease in Donations with Hard-to-Read Text)
  9. Suggested Gift Array – If you have a gift array, make sure you use big rectangle buttons rather than the tiny little circle buttons. (22.9% Increase in Donations)
  10. Multiple Choice Array – Gift arrays aren’t a guaranteed revenue booster. Make sure you test them. If you have a relatively high average gift size, an open field might be more effective. (125.9% Increase in Donations with Open-Field and High Average Gift)
  11. Up-sell Copy – No one wants to be up-sold. Using up-sell copy can make your donor think “They just want more money” and could give them a reason to abandon the gift. (34.5% Decrease in Donations with Up-sell Copy)
  12. Recurring Gift Selection – Don’t default to a recurring gift. This can feel deceptive, and no one wants to feel like they’re being deceived, especially when it comes to money. (56.7% Increase in Revenue when Single-Gift Defaulted)
  13. Input Fields – Keep it simple. Avoid asking for more than you really need. And arrange your essential fields to shorten the length of the page, rather than stacking them all vertically. (39.4% Increase in Donations)
  14. Phone Field – Keep the phone number field optional. A required phone field often decreases conversion rates. (42.6% Decrease in Donations when Required)
  15. Alternate Payment Methods – Test in to using alternate payment methods. PayPal almost always creates a decrease because it takes the user away from your page. And methods like Apple Pay may not make a difference in conversion at all. (65.3% Decrease in Donations with PayPal present)
  16. Verification Pages – Your donor should be able to complete their donation all on one page. If you have additional review or verification pages, your donor may think they’ve given after page 1 and leave before they’re finished. (121.5% Increase in Donations when Eliminated)
  17. In-line Reviews – Reviews are a great idea to establish credibility, but they don’t always help when they’re place in line with the rest of your copy. Make sure you test them, and try placing them in the right column. (48.5% Decrease in Donations when Used In-Line)
  18. Credit Card Input Section – Make sure your donors know your form is secure. Simply placing a box around the payment fields and adding a padlock icon reinforces this message, and can lift conversions. (14.4% Increase in Donations)
  19. Text Below the CTA Button – Add a little bit of copy right below your final “Make My Donation” button that reinforces the value of the gift. (31.3% Increase in Donations)

That’s a lot of donation page ideas. Do you have a template?

General Donation Page GuideWhat a convenient question!

We’ve outlined 19 elements on a printable poster that you can download for free, print out, and keep by your desk. We don’t like to call it a template because we’re always learning new things that can affect the performance of your page.

And more importantly, you should always test new ideas to see exactly what effect they have on your donors.

Use this free guide as inspiration the next time you’re dreaming up a test on your general donation page. Fill out the form below to get your free copy of the General Donation Page guide.


About the author:

Nathan Hill

Nathan is the Marketing Director for NextAfter. He spends every day working to help nonprofit organizations discover how testing and optimization can transform their marketing and fundraising, leading to greater impact and organizational growth. He is also a giant Star Wars nerd.


New Course: A/B Testing & Optimization for Nonprofits. Learn how to set up and conduct A/B tests »Learn More »

How a Campaign Donation Page Can Boost Your Online Revenue

Published by Nathan Hill

The campaign donation page is one of the 3 essential types of donation pages that every single nonprofit needs to be using in order to grow their online fundraising. If you’ve ever sent an email appeal or run some sort of advertising campaign to acquire donations, you’ve more than likely used a campaign donation page. Or at least, you should have.

One of the most common mistakes that online fundraisers make is assuming that your general donation page is good enough to use for all of your fundraising efforts.

And on the one hand, it makes sense:

  • All your tracking is consolidated into one page.
  • Any updates you make affect all your campaigns
  • You only have to ever send your donors to one URL.

But all these are focused on the needs of your organization, not the needs of the donor.

The truth is, having only one single donation experience is going to keep your donors and potential donors from being as generous as they could be. And your cause will pay the price.

How can we create a catered donation page experience for our donors that motivates them to give? The campaign donation page is the first step.

When and Why Should You Use a Campaign Donation Page?

When should you use a campaign donation page?

Campaign Donation Page SourcesThe answer to this question is fairly simple. If someone isn’t naturally navigating your website to make a donation, you more than likely should be using a campaign page. These types of pages are used whenever you are specifically asking someone to make a donation.

For example, this could include:

  • A monthly email appeal
  • Social media campaigns
  • A high-urgency campaign (like a giving day or year-end)
  • Radio or broadcast campaigns
  • Display advertising campaigns
  • Print based campaigns (like magazines or newsletters)

Why should you use a campaign donation page?

The answer to this question is really the heart of this post. Effective fundraising isn’t so much about the specific practices and tactics as it is about understanding why donors decide to give.

And the reason why you need dedicated campaign donation pages is because the motivation of a donor from a direct response channel like email is drastically different than that of a donor visiting your general donation page.

On a general donation page, we just want to get out of the way. A donor on this type of page already has a high degree of motivation to give. And the motivation can be for a wide variety of reasons, so we can’t be too specific.

On a campaign page, a donor has arrived for a very particular reason. You’ve asked them to donate from a specific appeal. This may be to raise money for a particular need that has come up. It could be related to a specific thank-you offer. Or it might simply be because you had a unique story to tell that led into a donation ask.

While the specific reason that a potential donor clicked through to your campaign donation page may vary campaign to campaign, the point is that you’ve primed them with a particular reason for being there.

As a result, your campaign donation page needs to be specifically written and designed around that particular reason.

Campaign donation page should match your call-to-action

What makes a campaign donation page unique?

There are 21 elements to keep in mind as you craft campaign donation pages that we’ve identified in our research so far. Now, each one of the 21 elements are backed and supported by multiple experiments, and they’ve been tested and proven with data.

We’d be here all day if we tried to fully explore all the data we have on each element, so I’ll give them to you in rapid-fire fashion. (I’ve linked up experiments that show some of the data if you want to dig in).

Ready? Here we go:

  1. Get rid of the navigation at the top of your page. And please don’t put a “Donate” button that jumps your visitor right to your form. It sounds like a good idea, but it decreases donations.
  2. Don’t over-invest in design. As long as your page is readable, additional design elements rarely make a significant difference.
  3. Clearly spell out the effect of someone’s donation right in the headline.
  4. Try using either a progress bar (showing how close you are to a fundraising goal) or a count-down clock to a specific giving deadline. But don’t put them both in the same spot.
  5. If you use a background image, make sure it’s directly related to the reason why someone should give.
  6. After your headline, write in introductory paragraph that relates to the specific reason someone clicked through to your page. (Your email call-to-action, for example.)
  7. Don’t use videos. I know most people hate hearing that, so here are 3 times we tested using copy instead of a video and increased donations by 203%, 342%, and 560%.
  8. More images does not mean more donations, but we’ve found that a representative graphic can help bolster your value proposition.
  9. For the rest of your copy, use a narrative and story-driven approach. Don’t spend too much time in the details.
  10. Make sure your main message is framed around the donor and the impact their gift can have.
  11. You can use a premium offer (like a free book), but make sure they come at the bottom of your copy. And be clear about when it will arrive.
  12. Right before your actual donation form, insert a final call-to-action. Don’t use call-to-actions throughout your page.
  13. It’s normally best to ditch the gift array and use an open gift amount field instead.
  14. Don’t default or over-emphasize a recurring gift. Donors don’t want to feel like you’re trying to coerce them into giving more.
  15. Avoid using “Recent Gift” call-outs next to your form. We’ve seen these actually hurt revenue.
  16. Pre-populate as much basic donor info as you can. And make sure your “Phone Number” field is always optional.
  17. Condense your form fields as much as possible to reduce the length of the page. Don’t stack them one on top of the other.
  18. Visually box out the area with your credit card/payment fields. Add a lock icon to communicate that donating is secure.
  19. Use alternate payment methods with caution. Pay-pal often decreases donations, and options like Apple Pay don’t always make a significant difference.
  20. Add 3rd party credibility indicators near your donate button (Charity Navigator, GuideStar, BBB, etc.). And add a short sentence or two below the button reinforcing the value of donating.
  21. Get rid of any gift verification screens. Donors often think they’ve completed a gift after the first page, and end up abandoning before verifying the transaction.

Campaign Donation Page TemplateCampaign Donation Page Guide

Whew! That was a lot.

I’ve spent a ton of time studying all 3 of these donation page outlines, and it’s still hard to keep everything straight. That’s why we’ve created a free download that you can print out, keep at your desk, or put up on your wall as a reference every time you set up a campaign donation page.

You can download the free campaign donation page guide using the form below. I hope it’s helpful for you!


About the author:

Nathan Hill

Nathan is the Marketing Director for NextAfter. He spends every day working to help nonprofit organizations discover how testing and optimization can transform their marketing and fundraising, leading to greater impact and organizational growth. He is also a giant Star Wars nerd.


New Course: A/B Testing & Optimization for Nonprofits. Learn how to set up and conduct A/B tests »Learn More »

Instant Donation Pages: How to turn new subscribers into new donors instantly.

Published by Nathan Hill

Over the past several months, we’ve been uncovering a new way of thinking about donation pages. There is no one-size-fits-all donation page that will ensure high conversion. And there is no ultimate donation page template. What we’ve found from 300+ donation page experiments is that there are 3 types of donation pages: general donation pages, campaign donation pages, and instant donation pages.

You can probably guess what the general donation page is…this is the page that your potential donor lands on when they click the “Donate” link in your website navigation.

Campaign donation pages are the second most common. These are stand-alone donation pages that are used in conjunction with something like an email appeal or an ad with a “donate” call-to-action.

Instant donation pages are the least commonly used donation pages. Although, as you’ll see in this post, they should be one of the most commonly used donation pages in your online fundraising.

What is an instant donation page, and why is it so important?

If you’re not already using instant donation pages in your fundraising, these could be transformational for your fundraising. To understand what they are and why they’re effective, we have to put ourselves in the mind of the donor.

The Donor MountainWe often talk about the concept of a donor mountain…the potential donor starts at the base, and it’s the job of the fundraiser to help them up the mountain to the peak. The peak, in this case, represents the donation. Along the journey up the mountain are decision points where someone can say “no” and turn back.

It’s our job to turn each “no” into a “yes” and keep the donor moving up the mountain towards a donation. For example, if a potential donor sees an ad from your organization on Facebook, they have the choice whether or not to click the ad. If they say “yes,” they move on to a landing page – a new decision point.

On that landing page, they have the choice to either subscribe to your email file (or download your eBook, register for your course, etc.) or to abandon all together. If they say “yes” and accept your offer, they’re another decision point closer to a donation.

All along this journey, your potential donor is gaining momentum. Each little decision gives them more momentum, helping them to say “yes” to an even bigger decision at the next step. And once your potential donor has said “yes” to your content offer, you have an increased likelihood of them saying “yes” to a donation ask.

This is where the instant donation page comes into play. After someone fills out a form (a content offer in particular), you can direct them to an instant donation page rather than your standard confirmation page.

Although you won’t see massive conversion rates of 50-60%, an instant donation page will allow you to start converting your brand-new subscribers into new donors instantly. This means no more waiting around for 12 months hoping they organically donate.

Here are some benchmark donation conversion rates you can expect from various types of content offers:

Instant donation page conversion rates

But this instant donation page won’t be effective if it reads just like any other donation page.

How is it different than any other kind of donation page?

The key differentiator between the instant donation page and your other donation pages is motivation.

Someone visiting your general donation page has navigated there with the intention of donating, or at least considering a donation. They need less convincing.

Someone visiting a campaign donation page has been prompted by something like an email appeal. They’re coming to the page with a specific reason for giving.

Someone visiting your instant donation page has ended up there after engaging with content in some way – not by clicking a clear “donate” call-to-action. As a result, this page has to be significantly different.

Donation Page Comparison

The key to a successful instant donation page is the copy.

Keep in mind that a potential donor visiting this page did not land here knowing they were going to presented with a donation ask. As a result, we can’t slow them way down with a long and drawn-out explanation of why they should give (like you might on a campaign page).

At the same time, we can’t just bullet point out why they should give (like you might on a general donation page), or else they’ll never gain a full understanding of why they should give.

We have to meet in the middle.

So then let’s take a look at the 16 core elements that make for an effective instant donation page.

How do you create an instant donation page?

1. Use a simple, no-nonsense page header without navigation or extra donate buttons.

2. If you use a background image, make sure it focuses on your cause of value proposition.

3. Write a headline (personalized if possible) that clearly acknowledges the previous action.

4. Write brief intro sentence or two that outlines the immediate next steps.

5. Write a brief transition paragraph that gives reasons to donate closely related to the original offer.

6. Make sure paragraphs are brief, and use bolding on key words or phrases.

7. Avoid in-line supporting content such as: videos, links that lead away from the page, countdown clocks, in-line reviews.

8. Use a premium offer only if you want to increase average gift. Beware…it may decrease your conversion rates.

9. Write a call-to-action header that reiterates the donation ask and how it advances your cause.

10. Use a gift array with big buttons. Make sure your first option is below your average gift size.

11. Keep these three things in mind when laying out your donation form:

  • Use headers with numbers to clarify decision points.
  • Arrange form fields to reduce page length.
  • Avoid adaptive place holders or other fancy form field technology.

12. Pre-populate form fields with first name and last name if possible.

13. Visually separate credit card fields and add a lock icon to indicate that your page is secure.

14. Test adding supporting content (i.e. testimonials or endorsements) in a right column.

15. Add third-party credibility indicators (GuideStar, Charity Navigator, etc.) near the call-to-action button.

16. Eliminate any gift verification pages.

Where do I start?

First things first, you have to have some sort of email acquisition or content offer on your website. Identify the email acquisition offer with the largest volume. Instead of using a standard confirmation page or message after the form is submitted, redirect your users to an instant donation page.

Craft your page using the free instant donation page guide. You can print it out, keep it at your desk, and use it every time you’re setting up a new page or looking for a brand-new idea to test.

Once you get a page up and running, would you let me know? I’d love to see what you put together. And if you’re running a test on an existing page, I’d love to help you document your results in the research library.

About the author:

Nathan Hill

Nathan is the Marketing Director for NextAfter. He spends every day working to help nonprofit organizations discover how testing and optimization can transform their marketing and fundraising, leading to greater impact and organizational growth. He is also a giant Star Wars nerd.


New Course: A/B Testing & Optimization for Nonprofits. Learn how to set up and conduct A/B tests »Learn More »

Google Search Donations: What Every Nonprofit Needs to Know Before They Sign Up for the Google Donate Button

Published by Tim Kachuriak

Google has recently introduced a new, easy way to donate to nonprofits called Google Search Donations, but before you run to go and sign up, you should read this post.

Introduced leading up to Giving Tuesday, Google has added a new ‘Donate Now’ button that shows up in the right information panel when you search for some nonprofit organizations.

Google Search Donations

The good news is that unlike Facebook that charges a 5% transaction fee, Google claims that 100% of the donation goes directly to the organization. Great Right?

How Google Search Donations Works

The functionality is pretty slick. One click of the Google Donate button and you can quickly complete your transaction in just two easy steps:

  1. First, you select your donation amount (if you don’t want to choose one of the gift array options, you can also add your own custom amount):Google Search Donations Array
  2. Second, you enter (or confirm) your payment information. If you have ever used Google Payments and asked Google to remember your payment information, all of those payment options will be displayed by default.Google Search Donations Payment

But here is where it gets a little interesting. If you read the fine print, you will see that the donation actually doesn’t go directly to the organization. It goes to Network for Good, a Donor Advised Fund. And they also get “exclusive legal control” of your contribution:

Google Search Donations Fine Print

If you are used to working with Donor Advised Funds (DAF), then you know that this is pretty standard procedure. DAFs act as a clearing house for individual donor contributions and make lump-sum distributions to donor-selected nonprofits based on funds collected on behalf of those nonprofits. The advantage of DAFs for smaller nonprofits is that they don’t have to invest in significant infrastructure to collect donations. In the example of Google Donate, smaller nonprofits can instantly have a ‘Donate Now’ button that shows up whenever anyone searches for their organization (by name) in Google.

What are the positives?

So, let’s list the positives about Google Search Donations:

  1. Google Search Donations is free. You’ll need to first set up a Google for Nonprofits account, but once you do that, enabling Google Search Donations is as simple as a few clicks to get set up.
  2. Google Search Donations is fast. Once you have the Google Search Donations Button activated, anytime someone searches for your organization in Google, a simple, two-step donation opportunity will show up in the right info panel on the search results page.
  3. Google Search Donations doesn’t require you to do anything except cash checks. All processing of the gift, receipting, and tax forms for the donor is completely handled by Google and Network for Good.
  4. There are no transaction fees for Google Search Donations. That means that your organization gets 100% of the donation made through the Google Donate Button.

Pretty sweet, right?

Well, let’s take a closer look.

Are there any downsides? Oh yes.

If you dig around a little bit, you will eventually stumble on to the FAQs. The first one is a killer:

Google does NOT provide the nonprofit with the contact information for donors that make a gift using Google Search Donations.

Everyone knows that the key to building a lifelong relationship with your donors is regular, consistent, and relevant communication. In fact, even Google knows this and acknowledges it in the FAQ! But, they still aren’t giving you the names and contact information for your donors. OUCH!

To me, this is a killer. It’s why I originally hated text-to-give in its early configuration—because no matter how many $10 gifts I get from phone companies, I have no way of even thanking my donors for their gift. And Google Search Donations seems to be making the same mistake with their Google Donate Button.

Fundraising is not just a transaction. It is a relationship. And even though big tech companies like Google acknowledge that, they still don’t understand the profundity of that simple idea and how essential it is for us when it comes to retaining and growing our relationship with our donors.

And not receiving the donor contact information also creates more complexity and confusion in the mind of your donor.

It’s not just tough for fundraisers; it’s confusing for donors.

For example, gifts made through the Google donations system can’t be receipted by your organization:

So, follow me on this little mental journey a donor goes on when they give a donation using Google Search Donations:

  1. A prospective donor that has never given a gift to you before receives an acquisition direct mail piece at their home.
  2. They open the letter; read it, become completely inspired by your cause, and are compelled by your appeal. They decide to donate!
  3. But they don’t like messing around with a checkbook so they go to Google and search for your organization by name.
  4. The search results come up and in the right hand info panel of the page, they see your organization name and logo—the same logo that’s on the mail piece you mailed to them. And that’s when they spot the “Donate Now” button.
  5. Now, they use Amazon all the time and instinctively see this as a “one-click” donation option that will save them some time. Boom—two clicks and they are done! Wow, wasn’t that so easy!

Here’s where it gets rough…

Then, your brand-spanking new donor receives an email from Google and a receipt from Network for Good. They don’t even think anything of the receipt since they have never heard of Network for Good and their “receipt” just meshes together with the rest of the junk mail they typically receive.

But guess what never happens next—your donor never gets to hear from you. That donor that you most likely spent between $10 and $100 to acquire, is never going to give to you again.

Whoof!

Unless, of course they decide they actually want a refund. And they Google you again and this time go to your web site because they need to actually talk to someone to get a refund on their donation.

So they call and explain they made a donation to you, but because they never heard from you, they want their money back.

You go into your fancy CRM system, look them up, and try to explain to this obviously irritated donor that you show no record of their transaction.

Still, they persist. And so you give in out of the interest of trying to win over the upset donor and avoid some sort of negative social media tirade later that causes you to lose a Charity Navigator star.

You refund the amount of the gift.

Then you realize that this may have been a donation given through Google Search Donations via Network for Good. Maybe you can reach out to them and at least recoup the amount of the donation that you had to refund.

And then you find out that Google Search Donations does not give refunds:

I know, you probably feel like this right about now: 

Now, let me tell you what’s really jacked about Google Search Donations.

When donors give to your nonprofit using the Google Donate Button, they bypass your website, which means they are never exposed to the #1 factor that we have discovered most greatly influences: a) their probability of giving a gift, and b) the amount of their gift.

Do you know what that factor is?

The number one factor influencing online fundraising

This month we will publish our 1,000th online fundraising experiment. And based on all our experiments, spanning a combined sample of more than 123,424,714 donor interactions, we have found that the number one factor that influences giving behavior (that’s within your control) is the force of your organization’s value proposition. That’s it. It’s not ease of giving (although that is certainly a factor). It’s not the technology that you use (although that helps facilitate online gifts). And it’s not even how ‘pretty’ your web site is (in many cases pretty = poor performance—sorry to all my designer friends!).

What is the value proposition, you say? It’s the answer to a simple (yet extremely profound) question:

If I am your ideal donor, why should I give a gift to you, rather than some other organization (or not at all)?

Now, there is an incredible amount packed into this one simple question, so let’s take a moment to unpack it:

If I…

This is a first-person question, so it requires a first-person answer. And do you know who the first person is? Here’s a hint—it’s not you! It’s your donor. This question needs to be answered from the perspective of your donor. But you have a significant problem here right from the start—you are not your donor. If you try to answer this question from your point of view, you will completely miss the mark. So, what are you to do? How can you answer this question from your donor’s point of view? The answer is Research. You need to start by researching your donor and beginning to piece together:

  • Who they are (demographics)
  • Where they come from (analytics)
  • What interests them (psychographics)

Until you form a basic understanding of your donors, you will be shooting completely in the dark.

…ideal donor….

But hold on—it’s not just any donor’s perspective, it’s your ideal donor’s perspective that you are after. That means you need to get really clear on who your best donors are and be willing to focus all of your attention on them. That also means that you must be willing to accept tradeoffs. In other words, you have to be willing to accept that you can’t expect to reach everyone with your message—only those who are the best fit for you and your organization (i.e. that may mean that you need to stop trying to reach Millennials!!).

…why should I…

A value proposition is not your mission statement. It’s not what you do. And it’s not your three-point plan. Ultimately, a value proposition is a reason. It is a reason why someone should move from their status quo and take a new action. For you, that means donate. And so, a value proposition is essentially an argument. You need to ‘make your case’ before the jury of potential donors. You need to appeal to both their emotions and their intellect. You must inspire them.

Here’s a hint: if your value proposition statements don’t begin with the word because it’s probably not a value proposition.

…rather than some other organization….

In order for it to be strong, your value proposition must be unique; it must be exclusive. It must be something that you do that no one else can do—or something you do better than anyone else. If your value proposition has an -est modifier (biggest, fastest, strongest), or a most differentiator (most efficient, most trusted, most effective), then that’s a good start.

Now, I know, we don’t like to ever talk about competition in the not-for-profit space. After all, we are all making the world a better place, right? We are all inspiring people to be generous. One of my mentors once put it so eloquently, “there is not competition among lighthouses.”

But the reality is that we compete every day for donor dollars. Data suggests that although the amount of money that is donated to charity continues to grow, the number of individuals that are giving continues to shrink. That means the total universe of ‘probable’ donors is shrinking. So not only do we need to acknowledge that competition in the nonprofit space exists, but we need to prepare for even more fierce competition for donor dollars in the future.

…(or not at all).

And to further exacerbate the issue of competition, we need to acknowledge the null hypothesis. That is, the donor has a third option. They can decide to give to you. They can decide to give to some other organization. Or, they can decide to not give at all!

What this means is that we are not just competing against other nonprofits, but against every organization on planet earth (both nonprofit and for-profit) that is trying to generate revenue. This means that your value proposition either needs to be so compelling that it moves your donor to give to you rather than buy something for themselves.

I know that is a lot to digest, so let me give you a little bit of a break to process that by showing you a few experiments that illustrate the power of the value proposition in action.

Experiment #111 – How Copy on a Donation Page Affects the Force of a Value Proposition

I love this experiment because it is so clean and so perfectly illustrates the power of the value proposition on your donation page. The most dangerous mistake you can make is to assume that your potential donor firmly grasps your value proposition by the time they click on the ‘Donate’ button and land on your donation page.

I liken it to fishing. If you have ever been fishing then you know that once you hook a big fish, you can’t just put your pole down and expect the fish to swim into shore of its own accord. Any seasoned angler knows that the key to landing a big fish is to keep the tip up—keep the tension on the line—and keep reeling until you land the fish on dry land.

Tim Kachuriak with a fish
(yes, that’s me with a ‘bow I caught in Broken Bow, OK)

The same is true on your donation page—you need to continue to ‘sell’ the donation all the way through the transaction.

Here are a few more experiments from our research library that highlight this point:

Experiment #6623 – How Value Proposition Impacts Donation Conversion

Control

Treatment #1

150.15% Increase to Conversions

Experiment #3793 – How a radical redesign of the value proposition affects donation conversion rate 

Control

Treatment #1

146.54% Increase to Conversions

Experiment #1780 – How the right value proposition can impact donation conversion rate

Control

Treatment #1

186.46% Increase to Conversions

And finally, check out this last experiment that illustrates how dangerous it is to bypass the value proposition by introducing a “quick donate” button that skips past your copy:

What I really think about Google Search Donations

So as you can see, value proposition is extremely important to your online fundraising success. And that’s why when I see new technologies like Google Search Donations, I’m always a little bit leery. I think the Google Donate Button is a step in the right direction. And I love the spirit behind this initiative—Google and Network for Good are obviously trying to make giving easier for donors so that they give more to causes that inspire them.

But instead of bypassing the nonprofit’s web site, I wish that the Google Donate button actually took you directly to the organization’s donation page—or at least make that an option! That would undoubtedly send significantly more traffic to this critical conversion pathway by creating a shortcut for donors to jump right to the place where they can make their gift.

And if organizations can benefit from a boost to traffic to their donation pages, then we could validate experiments faster, which means we can learn faster what works and what doesn’t. And if we can validate experiments faster, we can accelerate our mission of decoding what makes people give so we can unleash the most generous generation in the history of the world!

About the author:

Tim Kachuriak

Tim won "Best Stage Presence" for the 1991 Pittsburgh Boys Choir.