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The 3 Stages of Donor Motivation

Published by Tim Kachuriak

The Spark Line of a Donation

When it comes to understanding donor motivation, many marketers treat it just as they would any sort of eCommerce transaction. You choose the product you want, fill out your credit card info and shipping address, and submit your transaction. After the transaction is made, you wait anxiously for a package to show up at your front door. The transaction comes first and the benefit comes second.

But there is a big difference between ordering a product online and giving a gift online. In the context of a donation, the benefit is an intangible feeling of making a difference in the world rather than a physical product. Because of this, the benefit comes before the transaction instead of afterwards.

Understanding this fundamental difference means that we have to make it as easy as possible to get to the end of the transaction.

Understanding Donor Motivation

Let’s walk through an example that will help explain the cognitive process a donor goes through as they’re engaging with a donation page. If we can understand donor motivation, we can understand where to focus our donation page optimization. The blue line represents the status quo. This is where your potential donors live.

Donation Page Optimization - Status Quo

In order to influence someone to give a gift, we have to move them through three different levels. They must move from interest to involvement and, ultimately, to investment (where they make that transaction).

Because everyone lives in the status quo, we need an interrupter. We need something that arrests peoples’ attention and moves them into the level of interest. That interest will build until it reaches an engagement point. An engagement point can be an open, it could be a click, it could even be a like on Facebook. This is where the person begins to invest mental energy toward thinking about your organization, cause or opportunity. That involvement could be a long process or short process, but it should eventually lead to a moment of decision.

The moment of decision comes right between the involvement phase and the investment phase. This is where you present your ask and your donor has one of two choices: “No, I don’t want to give a gift,” or “Yes, I will give a gift.” If they follow through on that opportunity, that’s where they experience an emotional climax. This is where that intangible benefit is paid to your donor, even before the transaction.

Moving from Emotion to Donation

The strength of donor motivation – that intangible feeling – is going to determine your conversion horizon. If it’s an intense feeling and they’re very convicted about giving a gift, the potential donor will have a longer conversion horizon. This means they’re sold on the idea of giving a gift to you rather than someone else or not at all.

If the process of making a donation is too difficult, the potential donor falls back down to the status quo. Reasons for someone returning back to the status quo rather than donating include having too much friction in the donation process or not adequately selling the donor on the value of their gift. If there’s too much friction or the donor doesn’t have enough reason to give, they will abandon the process and you will not receive their gift.

Eliminating Friction in Your Online Fundraising

Friction Self AssessmentFriction is one of the strongest factors that leads people back to the status quo and causes people to abandon your donation page. But the good news is that friction is one of the easiest elements of donation page optimization to control.

Learn how you can identify and eliminate friction on your donation pages with our Friction Self-Assessment. Answer a few yes or no questions and immediately get your Friction Score along with tips on how to reduce the friction on your donation page.

Get My Friction Score


Published by Tim Kachuriak

Tim Kachuriak is Chief Innovation and Optimization Officer of NextAfter.