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Is your online fundraising turning away donors?

Published by Mike Tobias

Mystery Donor Study blog image

If you want to find out what really works in online fundraising, there’s only one expert whose opinion really matters: your donor.

Experts suffer from something called the curse of knowledge. They literally know too much to be able to see the issues facing a novice. And when it comes to online fundraising, this curse is costing you donors and dollars.

The problem we face as marketers and business leaders is the more we work on the business side of things, the further we get from our donor’s perspective. As we add employees and expertise inside the organization, our level of sophistication increases. Greater sophistication is good, but sophistication can cause our empathy to decrease, which can be counterproductive.

I’m a huge fan of the television show Undercover Boss. If you haven’t seen it or heard of it before, it’s a reality television show that deals with this very topic. High-level corporate execs leave the comfort of their offices and secretly take low-level jobs within their companies to find out how things really work and what their employees truly think of them.

This Emmy-winning reality series utilizes hidden cameras to provide an authentic view of executives’ journeys as they are immersed in the day-to-day operations of their organizations. In the process of this undercover mission, they learn of the perceptions about their companies, the spirit of their work forces and — maybe — something about themselves as well.

The Undercover Donor

What would happen if you created an Undercover Donor scenario so you could experience what your donor experiences when they give to you?

The Online Fundraising ScorecardWe asked ourselves this for the first time about 5 years ago. And this question was the catalyst for our very first Mystery Donor Study called The Online Fundraising Scorecard.

In this mystery donor study, we signed up for email lists of top nonprofits, tracking every step along the way. Then, watching our inbox closely, we gave a donation at the first moment we were prompted. Again, we tracked every click, every form field, and every line of copy.

This first study helped uncover the basis for much of our original online fundraising testing and experimentation, now numbering 1,554 experiments – all openly published in our online fundraising research library.

But all this research is worthless if it’s done in isolation or kept in a box. It’s only effective if you can apply it to your own fundraising program.

So, how do you turn on the hidden cameras, put on the disguise, and run your own Undercover Donor study?

8 Steps to Running Your Own Mystery Donor Study

There are 8 things that need to happen in order for you to become a mystery donor and get the real, undercover look at what your donor experiences.

  1. Make up a name, and create a new email address. Take on your role as a mystery donor – unknown to the organization. A cold prospect that has an affinity for your cause.
  2. Ask questions. Why should you donate to this organization rather than another organization doing similar work?
  3. Engage on all communications channels – website, contact forms, phone numbers, social media and find out how your organization responds.
  4. Make a donation online – click the buttons, fill out the forms, feel the friction, the confusion, the number of steps, the micro decisions and document every step along the way.
  5. Discover the gaps between what you think you’re telling donors and what they are really
  6. Measure your findings against the benchmark reports we’ve created.
  7. Determine which gaps are creating the biggest area of improvement.
  8. Put together an action plan to work on the easiest things that will make the biggest impact first so your most effectively using the resources you do have.

Step 1 – Create a new online persona

Create an online persona – name, address, phone number, and email that nobody has ever heard of before.

Step 2 – Search for relevant keywords

Google search the keywords that represent what your organization does, not your name but your end result. Examples could be something like “water wells”, “international disaster relief”, “child literacy”, “forest protection”, etc. Does your organization show up in relevant search results?

Step 3 – Visit your website

Visit your organization’s website using an Incognito Window. What’s the first thing you see? Remember you’re a donor. Fill out the contact form. Give your new name and email address, asking “I’m thinking of donating, but why should I give to [Organization] rather than some other organization, or not at all?

What responses do you receive?

Call the organization, and ask the same question. Then go to their Facebook page and ask the same question through Messenger. Record all the responses so that your team can hear the actual words used.

Step 4 – Donate

Decide to donate. Was it an email that lead you to this decision? Where do you go to donate? What questions do you still have? What specific information are you having to give?

Is the information asked for really needed (remember to think like a donor, not a fundraiser)? Screen capture and record every step of the donation process.

Step 5 – Review your donation process

Review everything with respect to what you believe should be happening. Discover the gaps between what you thought you were saying and what people are really saying. Listen for the critical elements – is it clear? Is it credible? Is it compelling? Is it unique to you?

Step 6 – Measure and benchmark

Measure and rate your organizations communications against the Value Proposition Index report. Which areas need the most work? Which channels are communicating well, and which channels are falling short?

Step 7 – Review your key fundraising metrics

There are 3 key metrics that influence your online revenue and indicate the overall health of your online fundraising: web traffic, donation conversion rate, and average gift.

Take these 3 metrics, and plug them into this free online fundraising benchmark tool to see what areas are strong, and what areas have opportunity for growth.

Are you lacking traffic to your pages? Do you need to work on conversion? Do you need to work more on increasing your average gift?

Step 8 – Make a Plan

What’s going to make the biggest difference in the next 3 months that you can tackle first? Of all the things you should be working on where do you start? The best place to start are the areas that are easy to fix and are high-impact.

Create an action plan for your team to execute so they can stop guessing and start fixing those things that will have the greatest impact on gaining donors and dollars.

Great. What’s the easiest way to get started?

Mystery Donor Study Checklist

The first thing I would do is download the mystery donor study checklist. This checklist will be a guide, outlining each step you need to take to get a full understanding of how your donor sees your online fundraising.

From there, you can start conducting your own study, developing your own action plan, and optimizing your program.

You can download the free mystery donor checklist using the form below.


About the author:

Mike Tobias

Mike Tobias

As Director of Strategic Partnerships, Mike looks for ways to serve our community of non-profit organizations in an effort to help them raise more money and acquire more donors. Mike works with clients and strategic partners to develop and implement programs that maximize donor giving.