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NextAfter’s Definitive Guide to Donation Pages

Published by Riley Young
What to expect:

"Create a higher-converting donation page with these actionable strategies, tested tactics, and full suite of tools to help."

Table of Contents

Your donation page is arguably the most important page on your site.

It’s where your supporters go to make gifts and support your cause. And it should be a significant driver of revenue for your fundraising program.

But a lot of fundraisers and development executives make two critical mistakes when it comes to improving donation rates.

a) They assume one donation page will be enough, and

b) They become overly focused on tech to drive results. 

Beware any donation platform that promises “out of the box” growth. Because the truth is that the technology you use can only do so much to improve donation rates.

True, you donation page should be friction-free and easy to navigate — and your donation platform ought to help in that regard …

But, really, that should be a bare-minimum expectation.

Ultimately, it’s your ability as a fundraiser to inspire someone to give once they get to your donation page that will have the biggest impact on donation rates.

This guide will give you everything you need to set up and optimize your donation pages to improve donation rates.  You’ll even find a list of criteria to consider when choosing a donation platform.

Everything below is based on over 7,000 A/B tests that we have run over 12+ years of working with nonprofits to grow their fundraising program. 

How to set up your donation page: 7 elements to increase donation rates

1. Remove navigation and all links to other pages.

Your donation page has one purpose — to get donations. Remove any other distracting links or navigation items from the page that would allow potential donors to abandon their donation.

2. Use consistent branding with other pages on your site.

Create continuity in the donor’s experience. Use similar messaging and visual elements across your site so that when they land on the donation page they know they’re where they’re supposed to be.

3. Write a headline and subhead that clearly articulate your value proposition and the impact of giving.

It’s estimated that 80% of people read the headline while only 20% read the copy that follows. So your headline needs to pop! It should be actionable, donor-centric, and aligned with your value proposition.

4. Write supporting copy that makes the case to give.

Use your body copy to answer the question “why should I give to you?” Use statistics, testimonials, and stories of impact to help your donor understand that they are making the right decision by giving now. 

5. Use a Crosshead above the donation form

Consider using a crosshead above the donation form to emphasize a call to action that reiterates the impact communicated in your headline.

6. Remove any friction from your donation form

Your donation form should be as friction-free as humanly possible. Don’t ask for more information than is necessary. List form fields in a logical order. Consider adding alternative payments to your form. 

7. Confirmation page thanking donors for their gift.

After a gift is made, redirect donors to a confirmation page thanking them and providing next steps — perhaps a free offer or another impact story to reinforce that they made the right choice.

3 donation page examples

Any fundraiser who has spent time searching for recommendations on what works to improve a donation page has come across countless “best practices” that claim to be the key to growing online revenue.

Often times, these “best practices” appear to be copy and pasted from other articles. 

Other times, the advice given in one resource seems to contradict the advice prescribed by others.

But in any case, these best practices are rarely based on real data or research. And they always operate on the core assumption that there is one ultimate donation page template.

We hate to be the bearers of bad news, but such a template does not exist. 

In fact, after running more than 1,000 unique donation page experiments, we have found that there are 3 distinct types of donation pages, each addressing donors based on motivation.

That’s an important point because a donor’s motivation can vary widely depending on when they give — even the same donor.

So let’s take a closer look at the 3 primary donation page types, how to create each, and a few examples from our own A/B testing to help you see the key differences.

General Donation Pages

If you have a donation page at all, you have a general donation page. This is the most common type of donation page. If someone clicks on the “Donate” button on your website, this is where they land.

The most important thing to remember about a general donation page is that the motivation of the donors visiting this page is going to vary significantly. As a result, these pages can’t be too focused on a specific offer or aspect of your organization.

The copy on these pages should focus on your organization’s overarching value proposition. It should answer questions like:

  • What is the main problem your organization is trying to solve?
  • How do you accomplish your mission in a broad sense?

And since the potential donors on your page have intentionally sought out your organization and navigated directly to this page – their motivation is high. 

With a high motivation, we don’t want to bog them down in paragraph after paragraph of details, numbers, and figures. We want to be clear and to the point.

One experiment that helped us learn this lesson is shown below. In this experiment, we saw a 30% drop in conversion rate when using narrative-based copy on a general donation page.

So rather than writing long and detailed paragraphs, be sure to write the copy on your general donation page clearly and concisely, making use of bullets to outline your key reasons to give.

For more on General Donation Pages, you can get the free General Donation Page guide here.

Campaign Donation Pages

 A campaign donation page is used in conjunction with email appeals, high urgency campaigns like calendar year-end, and other fundraising initiatives that have a specific goal or deadline.

The visitors to this page have been primed by a specific campaign message – whether that be from an email, an ad, a URL in a direct mail appeal, etc. 

Since the motivation is more specific, craft the copy on your page to align with the themes of your campaign. 

Use “message matching” to create momentum.

Use “sequencing” to progress your prospective donor along the path to conversion. 

For example: subject lines earn opens; emails earn clicks; donation pages earn donations. 

They all contribute to the same goal. And they’re all telling the same story. But they each have their own specific job. And they tell different parts of the story.

If you try to make a donation with your subject line that includes a phrase like “Give now,” then you’ve made it easy for your prospective donor to ignore your appeal before you’ve even had the chance to tell them anything about it!

Likewise, if someone clicks your email or ad that is telling one story but land on a donation page that is telling another story, your appeal will lose its momentum and your donor will move on.

The campaign donation page should briefly restate the problem you’re addressing (which they should have already read about in your ad or email) and focus on how, through your organization, the donor can help solve this problem by giving today.

And exactly how their donation will be used and the impact it will make.

But it’s not just your message that needs to change on these pages. The format by which you convey your message also needs to change.

Remember: the donors visiting your campaign page don’t have as high of a motivation as someone on your general donation page. 

And as a result, we want them to slow down and understand exactly why they should give to you.

By creating consistent messaging (in terms of matching and sequencing), you can help the donor get a fuller picture of both the problem your organization is trying to solve and why a gift to you will help solve it.

Take the experiment below for example. 

This donation page experiment helped us confirm this lesson. 

A page with consistent messaging and branding has a greater likelihood of getting the donation on a campaign page.

Key lesson: the copy on your campaign page needs to take on a different form than the copy on your general donation page. It must align with the messaging of your campaign, in general, and must fit into a logical sequence that progresses your donor toward making a donation.

Looking for ideas? We created a campaign donation page template to help you get started, and give you new ideas to test in order to increase conversion in your campaigns.

This template is built based on our own real-world experimentation, running thousands of donation page A/B tests for our clients. 

Download the free campaign donation page guide here.

Instant Donation Pages

This third type of donation page is the least commonly used by online fundraisers, but it may be the most essential for acquiring brand-new donors.

The idea for the instant donation page was formed along with our 4-step strategy for acquiring new donors online.

This donation page should be used any time you have some sort of free content offer that someone can download in exchange for their email and/or phone number.

In most cases, when a website visitor fills out a form, organizations send them to a thank you or confirmation page. 

But you can actually tap into the momentum that has been created by someone accepting one of your free offers and use that momentum to acquire a donation.

Since you have just provided value to your prospective donor, they will be more likely to reciprocate by making a small donation to help you reach more people.

Use an instant donation page instead of a traditional confirmation page when someone:

  • Signs up for a newsletter
  • Downloads an eBook
  • Registers for an online course
  • Signs their name to a pledge or petition

The way you create an instant donation page is very similar to a campaign page, since you have a specific motivation to tap into. 

Let’s take a look at an example below:

This donation page appeared after someone signed up for a new resource from their resource center. 

The original page was focused on investing in a student. 

The control was all about supporting the resource center that the prospective donor had just used.

 This experiment shows the power of relating your appeal to the offer they’ve just received. An easy way to accomplish this is by asking for a small donation to help you produce, maintain, and share the resource with as many people as possible. 

Looking for new ides? Learn how to create a high-converting instant donation page with our free instant donation page template.

3 proven tactics for creating high-converting donation pages

Fact: looking at donation page examples from other nonprofits isn’t always the best way to figure out how to increase your donation rates. Why?

Because the vast majority of nonprofits are using gut instinct, “best practices”, and “what we’ve always done” to guide their donation page designs and layouts.

At best, you’ll make a donation page that reads like everyone else’s—at worst, you’ll be copying “bad practices” and harming our donation rates.

In fact, our analysis of more than 500 nonprofit donation pages showed that 95% of donation pages have clear elements of friction that have been proven through a/b testing to harm donation rates.

So instead, let’s take a look at some concepts to test on your donation pages, all of which have been proven by real-world experimentation.

For more inspiration, click the link at the end of this section to see 8 more donation page concepts that have been proven to increase donation rates

1. Using Personalization & Communal Language

In this donation page example, an organization had been running some Facebook advertising for a free eBook. The primary goal was to acquire more email addresses.

However, after someone downloaded the eBook, these new subscribers were shown what we call an “Instant Donation Page”. This serves as a means of turning a new subscriber into a new donor right away.

We wondered if using more personalization on the instant donation page, as well as a concept called communal language—talking casually, in your donors words—would lead to more donations.

As you can see in the example, the treatment donation page uses a personalized headline. And the following copy uses friendly language meant to reinforce shared values and a sense of belonging.

This personalization and communal language led to a 47% increase in donations.

Key Takeaway: Make sure your donation pages are personalized and use communal language.

2. Adding clarity and specificity to the copy on your donation page

It’s easy to assume that visitors to your donation page are already fully motivated to give. But are they?

Time and time again, we see nonprofit donation page examples like the one shown below.

Their original page had an image and brief description of the child you could sponsor. And it might seem like there was sufficient copy (shorter is better, right?)

However, when we tested adding more specific language on the page to help the donor have an abundance of clarity on exactly how their donation was going to be used, we saw encouraging results.

This increase in specificity and clarity led to a 69% increase in donations.

Key Takeaway: Make sure your donation page copy provides an abundance of clarity about a donation is used.

3. Using copy to explain your value proposition

Sometimes it can be challenging to determine what to write on your donation page. But below is a clear example of just how powerful leaning into your nonprofit’s value proposition can be.

Your value proposition is simply the answer to this critical question: “Why should I give to you?”

When looking at a donation page from this organization , we discovered that they had minimal value proposition copy anywhere on the page.

So we tested a new version of the donation page that articulated a clear answer to this critical value proposition question.

By using their copy to communicate their value proposition, they saw a 150% increase in donations.

Key Takeaway: Make sure your copy fully explains why someone should give to you.

Get 8 more proven tactics for improving donation rates on your donation page.

How to choose a donation platform

New tech, in and of itself, will never be enough to maximize donation rates. That’s the job of your fundraising strategy. But sometimes the right strategy requires a new donation platform.

While we often say we’re “donation platform agnostic”, we’re still “donation platform opinionated, ” based on what our tests have proven to be essential strategies to improve donation rates.

As you consider and evaluate the right donation platform for your fundraising efforts, there are 5 questions critical to online fundraising growth that you need to ask:

1. Can I easily edit all of the copy on my donation page?

  • Headlines
  • Body copy
  • Form headers

2. Is the design and layout flexible?

  • Remove all links in the navigation
  • Grouping related form fields
  • Trust marks (Charity Navigator, GuideStar, etc.)

3. Can I create as many donation pages as I need?

  • Unique pages for every campaign
  • Unique Instant Donation Pages for donor acquisition

4. Is it a one-step or multi-step process?

  • No shopping cart process
  • No gift verification screens

5. Can I test new ideas?

  • Easy to set up goal tracking in Google Analytics
  • Easy to set up e-commerce tracking in Google Analytics
  • Easy to install testing software to test new growth ideas
Dig Deeper Into Each Question You Should Be Asking When Selecting a Donation Platform.

Why do so many gift arrays go from high to low?

If there is one thing that is almost entirely unique to the world of nonprofit websites, 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. 

While working on an 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.

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 clients offered 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):

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 on top.

The Treatment (test version):

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. 

The Results

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% 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.

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. 

In this context, 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.

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!

So it is your 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.

How to increase donation rates by eliminating donation page friction

Friction could be killing your donation rates. 

And if you don’t take steps to reduce friction from your donation pages, you’ll be turning away valuable donors who had every intention to give but simply found the process too laborious.

Let’s take a closer look at donation page friction and how to reduce it.

Looking for new ideas? Download our Donation Page Friction Study below to find out our findings on the largest sources of donation page friction across the nonprofit industry.

What is donation page friction?

Donation page friction is any element on your donation page that slows down visitors and prevents them from giving. Some common sources of friction include …

  • Decision Friction: Asking donors to decide between too many options.
  • Confusion Friction: Forcing donors to make a decision they’re not equipped to make.
  • Field Number Friction: Asking for too much information from your donors.
  • Steps Friction: Requiring too many clicks, page-loads, and steps to give a gift.

3 Ways to Reduce Friction

In a research study focused solely on donation page friction, we analyzed how friction was impacting the online giving experience of 643 different organizations. 

Through that research we revealed easy optimization’s any organization can make to reduce friction on their donation pages and increase donor conversion.

1. Add value proposition copy to reconfirm why a donation is needed today.

In one experiment, this organization saw a 28% increase in donations by adding copy that inspired donors just a bit more, removing any confusion about the impact of their gift.

2. Don’t have too many options for gift designations.

Many organizations allow donors to designate their gift to a particular initiative. And that’s exactly how donations to this child sponsorship organization worked. 

When giving a gift, donors could select the child to support. But they hypothesized that having all of those options was creating friction preventing donors from making a decision.

So they tested highlighting one child to sponsor while leaving the remaining options below.

By making the decision for donors easier, the organization saw an increased conversion of 48%.

3. Reduce the amount of steps to make a donation.

The more steps someone has to go through to complete a transaction, the greater the chance they will abandon the donation process.

This organization had a 4 step donation process and tested fitting their donation form all on one page. By doing so, they saw an 18% increase in donations.

Get Personalized Strategies to Improve Your Donation Page With a Free Donation Page Self-Assessment.

Wrapping up

Donation pages are at the center of any successful online fundraising effort. 

But there’s more to improving donation rates than a new donation platform. It’s the strategy and tactics you employ when creating and optimizing your donation pages that will make all the difference

To boost donation rates on your donation page, match the donation page to the context, use enough copy to be persuasive, write a compelling headline and subhead, eliminate donation page friction, use proven tactics to improve performance, and adopt a practice of continual testing.

Remember, the ultimate goal is to make the donation process as compelling and simple as possible. your donation platform is one part of achieving that goal but ultimately it will be your ability to inspire people to give that takes your donation page from meh to GREAT.

Published by Riley Young

Riley Landenberger is Audience Engagement Manager at NextAfter.