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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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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 Optimization Evangelist 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.

Free Webinar January 30th: 10 Essential Strategies Proven to Grow Your Online Fundraising in 2019RESERVE YOUR SPOT »

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 Optimization Evangelist 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.

Free Webinar January 30th: 10 Essential Strategies Proven to Grow Your Online Fundraising in 2019RESERVE YOUR SPOT »

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.

Free Webinar January 30th: 10 Essential Strategies Proven to Grow Your Online Fundraising in 2019RESERVE YOUR SPOT »

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 Optimization Evangelist 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.

Free Webinar January 30th: 10 Essential Strategies Proven to Grow Your Online Fundraising in 2019RESERVE YOUR SPOT »

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 Optimization Evangelist 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.

Free Webinar January 30th: 10 Essential Strategies Proven to Grow Your Online Fundraising in 2019RESERVE YOUR SPOT »

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 Optimization Evangelist 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.

Free Webinar January 30th: 10 Essential Strategies Proven to Grow Your Online Fundraising in 2019RESERVE YOUR SPOT »

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 Optimization Evangelist 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.

Free Webinar January 30th: 10 Essential Strategies Proven to Grow Your Online Fundraising in 2019RESERVE YOUR SPOT »

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.


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


Treatment #1

150.15% Increase to Conversions

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


Treatment #1

146.54% Increase to Conversions

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


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.

Free Webinar January 30th: 10 Essential Strategies Proven to Grow Your Online Fundraising in 2019RESERVE YOUR SPOT »

Online fundraising is hard. If you’re selling a product for a profit, you normally have market research to tell you that people need what you’re selling. All you have to do is find the right people with that need, and communicate why your product meets their need. (I’m oversimplify, but you get the picture.)

But nonprofits have a fundamentally different challenge. No one considers their money to be some sort of burden that they need to get rid of. So as a fundraiser, you have to find people who identify with your cause, and get their attention, and explain to them in a relevant way why they should give you their money to do something that – in most cases – will not benefit the donor directly.

That being said, we can’t just pick up the latest best practices from Amazon’s checkout process, mimic the brand advertising of Coca-Cola, or send email appeals that look like a weekly ad from Target.

We have to think about online fundraising differently.

The 4 experiments below are all really simple to recreate, and showcase some of the key ways we need to think about online fundraising in order to grow our revenue.

You need more copy on your donation page

This experiment is similar to many others in our research library – we took a fairly empty donation page and added value proposition copy to it.

The control, the version without any real copy, made the assumption that everyone who visited the page was already convinced that they’re going to donate. It gave no additional reasons why someone should give. And it didn’t explain what impact a donation would have.

Many of the best check out processes (I’m thinking of Amazon) don’t continually give you reasons why you need the items in your cart up until the transaction is made. But in the donation process, our conversion rates and total donations are – in most cases – going to plummet if we don’t continually communicate value all along the way.

Here’s Tim explaining this experiment in a quick video:

When we tested the page with value proposition copy, we saw a 150% increase in donations. That’s no small change. Over time, that will multiply the online revenue for this organization significantly.

Emails appeals should be personal…and that means more than just using a first name.

Effective email fundraising is radically different than best practices you often see from many of the major email marketing platforms. Over and over, when we’ve tested a plain-text style email against a big, fancy, heavily-designed template – guess which one wins?

Let’s look at an experiment and see.

This was a three-way test with Harvest Ministries, trying to see which email version would have the biggest effect on donations. The control version was a typical designed HTML template, complete with borders, colors, images, and text links.

The first variation had the same design and layout, but we added some more urgent messaging.

The second variation is a radically different email. It has no designed elements. It looks like an email you might get from a friend or a co-worker. It uses what looks like a copied and pasted URL. And it reads like a human wrote it.

Here are the three emails…


Treatment #1

36.31% Increase to Conversions

Treatment #2

116.28% Increase to Conversions

After running the A/B/C test, we saw a 36% increase in donations from the high urgency email. That’s a pretty significant lift.

But the personal email had a 116% increase in donations. We’re not talking about opens or clicks – that’s 116% more people who donated, resulting in a 75% increase in revenue.

Although many fundraisers are taking their email queues from for-profit ecommerce templates, you need to test using a more personal and humanized approach.

Email acquisition doesn’t have to happen above the fold

“Above the fold” web design is a thing of the past. It used to be a key component of putting any page together. If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s the idea that you need to put the most important part of your page (typically your call-to-action) in a place that every visitor to the page will see the moment that your page loads.

The idea, and the phrase itself, comes from direct mail marketing and fundraising. Direct mail marketers wanted the most important content to literally be above the fold to ensure it was seen.

But you know what’s more important than an “above the fold” design? Context and motivation.

In this experiment with Focus on the Family, there was an email acquisition offer placed within an article. It broke up the reading path, with the goal of ensuring that everyone on the page would see the offer and have to decide whether or not to take it.

The logic is sound, and it’s something you see all across news sites, blogs, and other web sites with lots of articles. But we thought that by moving it to the very bottom of the page – literally as far down as you could scroll before hitting the footer – that the visitors would experience more of the content, causing them to be more motivated to take the offer.

Here’s what the two versions looked like…


Treatment #1

101.2% Increase to Clicks

Our hypothesis was correct. The offer at the bottom of the page increased the click-through rate by 101%.

Now, I know this experiment isn’t truly “Above the fold” vs “Below the fold.” But it’s the same principle. Placing something higher up on a page doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to improve your performance metrics. Context and motivation play a major role in the likelihood that someone will click-through and accept your offer.

Effective advertising doesn’t mean ‘short’ and ‘sweet’

There’s this common idea that people don’t read online. And there’s some truth there in the sense that most people reading an article tend to scan or skim unless they’re incredibly interested in the subject matter.

But, somehow, this common notion of “People don’t read online” has found its way into online advertising. Most ads you see on Facebook – or really anywhere – have short copy, are image heavy, and have a call to action that asks way too much of you compared to the amount of information that’s been given.

So as we’ve run Facebook ad campaigns to acquire new emails and donors, we’ve put this notion to the test. Let’s look at one of those experiments that we conducted with Harvest Ministries.

The Facebook ad was an email acquisition offer, trying to get people to sign up for Harvest’s daily devotional. The original ad was 3 short sentences, which is already longer than many ads I see in my own Facebook feed.

The treatment that we developed was more than double the length, and appeared very wordy. With this extra length of copy, we were able to communicate more reasons why someone should get the daily devotional.

Here are the two ads…


Treatment #1

316.42% Increase to Emails Acquired

The longer ad saw a 316% increase in conversion rate. And when I say “conversion,” I don’t mean a click to the landing page. I mean 316% more people signed up for the daily devotional.

On top of that, we went on to test another even longer ad that got an additional 21.5% increase in emails acquired.

Going deeper into online fundraising

What’s amazing to me is that these experiments we’ve walked through are just the low-hanging fruit. These represent a starting place to see significant growth in your fundraising.

But every single experiment leads to more learnings, which lead to more experiments, and so on. These same organizations continue to apply testing and optimization every day, uncovering new learnings that help them achieve continual growth ­– not just one-off wins from applying a best practice.

If you want to dig deep into what else we’ve learned through over 1000 online fundraising experiments, you should sign up for the free online course Turning Facebook Likes Into Donors. It’s focused on using Facebook to acquire new donors, but it covers everything from creating an acquisition offer, to crafting your value proposition, to creating an instant donation page.

Have you tested anything that has made you think differently about online fundraising? Or have you seen different results from the experiments above? Drop a comment below and let me know. I always love to be challenged. And the best thing is to be proven wrong, because it means there’s that much more opportunity for growth.

About the author:

Jeff Giddens

Jeff was the 1994 Georgia State Spelling Bee champion.

Free Webinar January 30th: 10 Essential Strategies Proven to Grow Your Online Fundraising in 2019RESERVE YOUR SPOT »

How to get the most out of Donation & Landing Page Optimization

Published by Nathan Hill

Donation & Landing Page OptimizationThis 8 session course on donation & landing page optimization is all about discovering why our donors and potential donors say “Yes.” To find the answers, we’ve analyzed our entire library of online fundraising experiments – focusing on 300+ experiments directly related to donation pages and email acquisition pages.

What You’ll Learn in the Course

Over the course of these 8 sessions, you’ll learn the underlying principles behind both landing pages and donation pages – understanding the common factors that keep people engaged, as well as what can slow a potential donor down.

Then, you’ll get an in-depth look at what makes for an effective email acquisition page, general donation page, campaign donation page, and instant donation page. Along the way, you’ll see how to implement each one of these unique types of landing pages into your online fundraising program.

And to round things off, we’ll take a look at one of the most commonly misunderstood elements of a donation page: the gift array.

The Optimal Course Schedule

8 sessions is a lot to get through – especially when you have other full-time responsibilities. And I know first-hand how easy it is to push of training and professional development when other responsibilities are weighing down on you.

One of the only ways to make sure you get through this essential training is to put it on your calendar. To help, I’ve outlined an optimal schedule that you can overlay onto your calendar to make sure you set aside the time to complete the course.

If you follow this schedule, you’ll be finished with the course within 6 weeks, and you’ll have hands-on experience applying what you’ve learned.

Are you ready? Here’s the schedule:

  • Week 1 – Session 1, Session 2, and Session 3
  • Week 2 – Session 4, Email Acquisition Page activity
  • Week 3 – Session 5, General Donation Page Activity
  • Week 4 – Session 6, Campaign Donation Page Activity
  • Week 5 – Session 7, Instant Donation Page Activity
  • Week 6 – Session 8

Optimal Course Schedule

Week 1

This week is pretty easy. You just need to watch 3 videos that will lay out all the ground work for the 4 specific types of donation & landing pages we’ll cover during the rest of the course. Session 1 will give you an intro to the course. Session 2 will explore landing page value proposition. And Session 3 will discuss how to keep your donors interest.

Week 2

During week 2, you’ll watch Session 4 on email acquisition. Then, later in the week, you can start putting some of your learnings into practice with a little application activity…

If you don’t have an email acquisition page, start here.

Before you create an acquisition page, you need a reason for someone to give you their email address. This could be a weekly or monthly newsletter, subscription to your blog, a free eBook download, a petition or pledge to sign, etc.

Once you’ve identified your content offer, go ahead and print out the Email Acquisition Page template. Use this as a guide to sketch out what your landing page will look like. And when I say sketch, I actually mean grabbing a pen and sketching it out on paper (this helps me at least).

Then, take some time to write the copy for your page, taking into account everything you’ve learned so far about value proposition, and communicating with clarity, appeal, credibility, and exclusivity.

Finally, you’ll need to get the page created. This could go a number of different ways depending on your organization. You can do to your web developer and ask them to create your page, or you can use a tool like Unbounce to create it yourself.

If you have an email acquisition page, start here.

Since you’re a hot shot fundraiser that’s got email acquisition down, let’s put your marketing and fundraising intuition to the test.

First, print out the email acquisition page template. Then pull up one of your email acquisition pages on your computer, noting the differences between the template and your own page. Grab a notebook and pen and jot down all the ideas that come to your mind that you could test.

Then, pick one test idea that you think will make the biggest impact on conversion. Spend some time either writing new copy, creating a new image, or outlining changes you might need a developer to make.

Once you’ve outlined you test idea, set it up for free using Google Optimize.

Week 3

This week, we’re going to dive into the most essential donation page of them all: your general donation page. If you accept online donation pages at all, you have one of these (even if it doesn’t look like the template). Watch Session 5 on general donation page early this week.

Depending on where you and your organization are at, you need to start from square one and simply find a tool that will let you embed a donation form on your website. If that’s where you’re at, spend your application time this week researching a donation page tool for your organization.

If you already have a pretty solid main donation page, print out the template and come up with an idea you can test. Experiments related to increasing value proposition or reducing friction often have the greatest initial impact if you haven’t done much testing in the past.

Week 4

You’re over half way there. Keep going!

Watch Session 6 early on this week. Then later, take a look at your marketing/fundraising calendar and see when your next donation appeal email is going out.

For your application this week, create a standalone donation page for your next email appeal. If you don’t have the ability at the moment to make lots of changes, focus on writing new copy for your campaign donation page based on what you learned during session 6.

If you already have a standalone campaign donation page ready to go, outline an idea that you can test to try to increase conversions. Then use Google Optimize to set up and launch your experiment.

Week 5

This week is the last one where we’ll focus on a specific type of page. But it’s also the most important type of page when it comes to acquiring brand new donors. At the start of this week, watch Session 7 on the Instant Donation Page.

For your application this week, identify one area on your website where you can implement an instant donation page. Look for an email sign up or a free offer page that gets a lot of traffic. Then, instead of using a standard confirmation page, create an instant donation ask to start converting your new subscribers into donors.

Week 6

This is the last week! And good news…we’re winding down. Sometime this week, spend some time watching Session 8 on Gift Arrays. I think the research Jon presents will give you a brand-new perspective on how to leverage recommended gift amounts and empower your donors to be as generous as possible.

Get Reminders and Hands-On Coaching from Jon

Jon PowellTo make things even easier for you, Jon Powell (the instructor and designer of the course) is going to be with you every step of the way. If you’d like, you can sign up below to have Jon send your reminders to keep you on track with the optimal course schedule.

Plus, if you have any questions along the way, you can just send Jon a quick response. He’ll be anxiously sitting in front of his laptop waiting for your email.

What email address should Jon send reminders to?

About the author:

Nathan Hill

Nathan is the Optimization Evangelist 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.