Tag: digital fundraising

This article first appeared on Jo Miles Digital and is republished here with permission.

You probably don’t want to think about year-end fundraising right now. Here in DC, it was in the 90s this weekend, the sun is blazing, and November feels far away. But winter is coming, and now is the time to prepare.

You’re no sweet summer child. You’ve seen year-end fundraising before, and you know that, however busy you are this summer, you’ll be busier come year-end. Anything you do now to set yourself up for stronger fundraising will help you succeed when it matters.

And the good news is, like the farmers of Westeros socking away extra food, many of your fundraising preparations are things you should be doing anyway. They don’t even have to take away from your current work. Here are a few projects you could take on now to save yourself some pain when winter (and year-end) arrives:

Tend your infrastructure

Is your Google Analytics set up to track donations? Are you tracking conversions on Facebook ads? Do you have the data you’ll need in your CRM? Now is a great time (especially while your coworkers are on vacation) to make sure your systems are all talking to each other and that your data is being stored correctly.

If you have time, do an audit of your data systems, paying special attention to fundraising-related data. If you notice something broken, during an audit or your daily operations, fix it now.

Set up your pilot projects

Remember last December when you said to your teammate “I wish we could…” but it was already too late to try it during that campaign? Maybe you wanted to take donations directly over SMS or Facebook, or thought you could finally apply for that Google Grant, or had a cool interactive content idea. Dredge up those project ideas now and decide which ones you want to tackle for this year-end.

Implementations often take longer than you expect, so an early start could be the difference between having it ready for year-end, or not.

Gather your stories, photos, and videos

Great stories are often the key to great fundraising content, but finding the right stories isn’t always easy. The same goes for great visual content. Start keeping an eye out for the stories you want to re-tell during year-end, and when you find a good candidate, record it. Get in touch with the subject, do a write-up, and get photo and video if you can. That way, it’ll be easy to repurpose when you start creating fundraising content.

Grow your list

You should be growing your audiences all the time, but the second half of the year is especially important. Now is the time to step up your recruitment, and get as many new supporters as possible onto your email list so you can build a relationship with them before a big flurry of fundraising asks.

Test your forms

Testing is another task that, ideally, you should be doing regularly. If you’re not, think about your donation forms and the experience they’re providing your supporters. What questions have come up in internal discussions about your forms? Now is the ideal time to undertake some testing to prove or disprove your hypotheses about what drives donations, and it’ll boost your conversion rates down the road.

There is a plethora of research out there indicating that your nonprofit will raise more money with an SMS (short message service, aka texting) donation service in your fundraising mix than it will without one. Offering SMS donations to your donors increases the number of opportunities your organization has to collect donations from your prospects.

Consider these statistics:

The data indicates that SMS donations can increase your overall reach, giving you new audiences that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to connect with. As younger audiences have begun to move away from traditional giving and towards mobile giving, adding this technology to your fundraising mix means your nonprofit will be better positioned to meet prospective donors where they are.

Two Main Types of Text Giving Services

Basically, there are two types of text-to-donate services. One is text-to-give: Donors text a keyword to your short code, and later their mobile carrier charges them $5 or $10 extra on their bill. Once donors pays their bill, the mobile carrier sends you the donation.

The second type is a service whereby donors make a pledge by text message. It works the same as the other, except that the donor’s phone bill is not billed. Instead, the donor is sent a payment link (like Paypal) to complete the donation.

Is Donating By Text Effective?

Absolutely. People carry their cell phones everywhere nowadays: on the beach, in the delivery room, in the movie theater—there is almost nowhere people go where they do not take their phones. Texting is one of the most ubiquitous, effective forms of communication ever invented.

Texting is fast, simple and easy. And it’s built in by default into every phone manufactured. No app to download, you don’t even need a data plan or WiFi in many cases. With text to donate services like Gnosis, you can reach prospective donors wherever they are, and know with 97% certainty they will read your message—because they initiated the conversation.

So the moral is: If you’re not taking advantage of texting for fundraising, you could be missing out on an essential component of your fundraising marketing mix.

We are all looking for ways to save money and to use our (often) limited resources to most effectively serve our mission. We often find that our mission doesn’t wait for the technology resources we use to catch up to the innovative ideas that we fundraisers have, so we come up with these ad hoc solutions. The next thing you know, you have more fundraising platforms and vendors than you know what to do with because there isn’t one platform that does everything well. Then you look at your expenses and go “ugh.”

The following is not an endorsement or a knock against any of the platforms mentioned: each one has served a need. Rather, it’s to share with you a case study of sorts: the changes we have made and continue to make to keep up with the evolving needs of our events, our participants, and our donors.

Where we started

When I came to Covenant House in 2013, our peer-to-peer fundraising program was still very new. We had only been doing peer-to-peer fundraising events for two years and we were growing at a sometimes intimidatingly fast rate.

Because each of our peer-to-peer and event initiatives has a specific set of technology needs and there were no event staff with technical expertise, we were using three different fundraising platforms. Two of these were one-stop shops, First Giving and Event Journal, which required very little work from staff but were limited in what they could provide in customized reporting. The third fundraising platform, Blackbaud’s TeamRaiser, was managed by one staff member and a vendor, because the customizations were seemingly endless.

Then, we decided to revamp our DIY program and needed a more robust platform that allowed for customization and provided more complex reporting, so we partnered with DonorDrive. Then we were required to use a specific fundraising platform (Crowdrise) by our charity endurance partner and all of a sudden we had 5 fundraising platforms, leading to more expense and more duplication of work.

How we consolidated our fundraising platforms

Our program was (and is still) growing and so is our team. We now have several people on our team with various levels of technical knowledge. We took the time to look at our programs, our expenses, and our staff knowledge in the context of trying to get our communications and digital properties to look like they are all part of the same family.

After many conversations and frustrations regarding the lack of customized reporting for our charity endurance program, we decided that we could create an affiliate site on DonorDrive. We also recently learned that we are no longer required to use Crowdrise, allowing us to consolidate the program’s tech needs.

The big win came with the evaluation of alternatives for Event Journal. The event and its technology needs have changed over the past couple of years, so we were keeping our eyes open for a platform that could provide more robust reporting as well as assist in overall project management. We were introduced to Greater Giving and after several demos and more conversations, we decided to move forward to transition our traditional events. We are still in the early stages of this transition, but it has already allowed for more customization, includes features for which we previously had to use additional software, and has provided more resources.

What’s next for our organization

All of these changes added up to $15,000 in savings, noted within one fiscal quarter for the organization. It also made it easier to ensure our digital event fundraising platforms have consistent messaging and branding to best promote our mission.

We continue to evaluate our platforms and related costs and we like to learn about new products. It’s good to know what is out there. It may not meet a need right now, but with the ever-evolving landscape nonprofit fundraising, one never knows.
How do you decide which platforms to keep or how many to use? What are your tech wins and challenges? Join the discussion and share your experience!

(This article was originally published on Nonprofit Tech for Good and is reprinted here with permission.)

Currently only nonprofits in the United States can take advantage of Facebook Fundraisers. This is frustrating to many NGOs, charities, and nonprofits located outside of the United States, but it’s due to the fact that the United States has a database of nonprofits called GuideStar USA that Facebook can sync with theirs to easily verify a nonprofit’s legal status. Facebook is likely working on expanding their fundraising tools to the United Kingdom and Canada where other such databases exist and eventually (hopefully, finally) a similar database will exist on a global scale (perhaps the BRIDGE Registry or the OnGood Global NGO Directory).

All that said, any Facebook user can now create Facebook Fundraisers for nonprofits listed in the GuideStar/Facebook database which currently numbers around 750,000. For details about Facebook Fundraising Tools and for information about how donations are distributed to your nonprofit, please see: nonprofits.fb.com/topic/fundraising-tools.

Facebook currently has 1.94 billion monthly users. Empowering your supporters to fundraise for your nonprofit inside an online community where they already connected to their friends and family is smart strategy. At the very least, the tools are worth experimenting with.

1. Verify your nonprofit is in the Facebook Fundraiser database.

Go to facebook.com/fundraisers and search for your nonprofit. If listed, your supporters can create Facebook Fundraisers for your nonprofit. Sign up for Facebook’s Fundraising Tools if you want access to daily fundraising reports.

2. Update your Facebook Page Cover Photo.

Your cover photo will be the default photo for the Facebook Fundraisers created by your supporters.

3. Create a “Day of Giving” Facebook Event.

Give your nonprofit four to six weeks to promote your Facebook “Day of Giving” campaign. In the Facebook Event, list the ways that your Facebook Followers can give to you on this day and how they can create a Facebook Fundraiser for your campaign. Then, post your event to Facebook and pin it to the top of your page.

4. Promote your Facebook Event on your website, in your email campaigns, and on social media.

The Humane Society of the United States is an organization regularly in the habit of early adoption of new social media tools and trends. They created a landing page on their website for their “Day of Giving” campaign that is easy to promote online. Study and learn from HSUS: humanesociety.org/dayofgiving

5. Thank your Facebook Fundraisers and donors.

You can’t post a “Thank you” comment as your page on Facebook Fundraisers. If you have a staff person willing to use their personal profile, then your fundraisers would appreciate the acknowledgement. You could also post a link in your Facebook Event where they could sign up for an email list so you can thank and engage them via email. Also, if your nonprofit has signed up for Facebook Fundraising Tools, in daily transaction reports you will receive the email addresses of your donors if they have opt-ed in. Create a system to email and thank them immediately!

How many emails is the right number to send to your constituents? What kind of fundraising appeals are most effective? These are the questions that keep nonprofit marketing and development staff awake at night.

This year, NTEN is again teaming up with M+R on its Benchmarks Study: an in-depth look at nonprofit data, strategy, and trends. The study helps nonprofit fundraisers, organizers, and marketers make smart decisions based on the experiences of their peers. But we need your help.

Will you take part in the 11th Benchmarks Study in 2017? By adding your data, you’ll help make Benchmarks more useful. Your investment will be just a few hours of effort to collect and report your data to M+R, which will confidentially roll it up into the final study.

Complete the expression of interest form to take part.

A new year presents new opportunities to assess and grow your individual fundraising program. Do you know how your nonprofit compares to similar organizations? Where do you excel or where do you hope to grow?

Focusing on nonprofits with revenues under $2 million, the Individual Donor Benchmark Report is back again with fundraising data for small and mighty nonprofits.

Among the report’s findings are:

  • Organizations raise 34% of their revenue from individuals.
  • About half of individual donor revenue comes from donors giving less than $1,000.
  • One out of every five individual donor dollars is raised online.
  • Four out of ten board members are active in fundraising in a significant way,
  • Organizations are raising about 14% of their income from recurring donations.

The report also found that the average organization’s donor retention rate is 60%, meaning that 6 out of 10 donors give again—and 4 out of 10 donors don’t.

If your organization has a donor retention rate around 60%, you may be asking yourself two questions:

  1. How can we increase retention?
  2. How can we find more new donors to replace the donors we are losing each year?

Here are a few tips to help you think about how to answer those questions:

Increase Donor Retention

If you want to increase your retention rate, the best strategy is to view your individual donor fundraising program as a relationship development program. Your goal should be to build a relationship with your donors, where part, and only part, of that relationship is about their financial support for the organization. Here are a few ways to shift your focus to your relationship:

Consider your organization from a donor’s perspective.

Even when we are doing many things to communicate with and engage donors, sometimes there are holes in our plan. One way to find these holes is to walk through the experience that different types of donors have with your organization. What happens when a new donor makes a $25 gift? $2,500 gift? What happens when someone gives online? What is the experience for a $50 a year donor? You may find that with a little intentionality you could be doing a much more effective job of engaging your donors with your work.

Remember what you learned about your donor.

As a development director, I learned to listen carefully in major donor meetings and record what I’d learned after the meeting for future cultivation and solicitation. While this kind of attention is standard procedure for major donors, there’s an opportunity to use some of the same ideas with everyday donors. As your donors click on links in your emails, respond to direct mail solicitations, or attend events, they are giving you information about what they are interested in. If you are diligent, you can capture that information and begin to develop a picture of your donors. Organizations can also survey donors to gather information about their interests and use that information to tailor solicitations.

Thank donors seven times before you ask them again.

This advice has been around for a long time, but I still get surprised looks and big sighs when I share it. “Seven times?! How could we possibly do that?” First of all, it’s a guideline—but the real point is that you should not treat donors like ATMs, only coming to them when you need money. You should be in touch year round to share the results of their donations (and your work) and to thank them for their support. These thank yous don’t need to generate a lot of extra work. Think about content that you are already producing that could be re-purposed as a donor thank you: annual reports, updates for the board, or grant reports.

Find New Donors

You may be able to increase your retention rate, but you will likely also need to focus on finding new contacts and developing strategies to convert them to donors. One powerful framework for thinking about cultivating new donors is the cycle of engagement. The cycle includes the following components and questions:

  1. Opening the door to potential new donors. How do you find new potential donors? How do you collect contact information from potential donors? What have been the best ways for you to find new donors in the past?
  2. Thanking and tracking new contacts. How are you communicating with donors after they first meet your organization? Do you have a welcome series to introduce your organization? What information about them are you tracking in your database or other places?
  3. Engaging supporters. How can you help people experience your work? It may be by participating in programs, volunteering, or viewing a video about your efforts. How can you increase the opportunities for supporters to engage with your work?
  4. Thanking and tracking engaged supporters. How are you communicating with supporters after their engagement with your work? What engagement data points are you tracking?
  5. Asking for a donation. How can you tie your ask into the way you first met them and/or the way they have been engaged with your organization.
  6. Thanking and tracking donors. How do you thank a donor? What information about their gift do you need to record in your database? After this step, go back to #3 and repeat indefinitely!

The best way to ensure your organization is continuing to find new donors is to involve everyone (board, staff, and volunteers) in identifying, cultivating, and asking for support.  Even for those who have an aversion to fundraising, getting involved in opening the door, engaging, and thanking donors can be a fun way to help the organization grow its donor pool.

For more donor fundraising details and data, check out the full Individual Donor Benchmark Report

We’re just over halfway through 2016 and, if we’ve learned anything so far, it’s that online fundraising has really found its stride in the nonprofit sector.

In fact, according to the annual Benchmarks report from NTEN and M+R, email fundraising revenue alone increased by a whopping 25% last year, outpacing the overall growth of other online revenue sources.

Great news, right? So all is well and the end-of-year (EOY) fundraising push should be more profitable than ever!

But what if I told you that bad email deliverability practices could be dragging down your EOY campaign before it even begins?

Let’s take a look at some newly-released nonprofit email deliverability findings and find out what you can do to reduce fundraising revenue losses simply by sending better email.

What email deliverability is and isn’t

Email deliverability is relatively easy to understand—it’s a measure of the success of email arriving in inboxes rather than, say, a junk folder. It’s affected by a lot of factors (and the rules are always changing), but spam and spam-related issues are generally the most common determinants of deliverability successes and failures.

What email deliverability isn’t is a metric that enough nonprofit fundraisers look at to determine the efficacy of their email programs.

Normally, fundraising teams use open rates, clicks, and conversion metrics to measure the success of email campaigns. Email service providers like Google and Yahoo!, however, look much more carefully at how recipients actually engage with your emails right down to the individual to determine an email’s spam score and your sender reputation, or Sender Score.

By not understanding deliverability or the rules that govern it, nonprofits fall victim to the plight of the black market pharmacist and the exotic lottery administrator: their messages end up being rerouted to the junk folder, never to be clicked or seen again.

EOY fundraising implications

Last month, EveryAction released its 2016 Nonprofit Email Deliverability Study, an examination of over 50 national nonprofits of all shapes, sizes, and internet service providers to establish some benchmarks for successfully engaging audiences and soliciting donations through email.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • Spam costs the average nonprofit about $7,400 in potential fundraising revenue every year
  • Each month, 7.03% of nonprofit emails end up in spam folders
  • Nonprofits could increase email fundraising revenue by 7.56% if they improve their deliverability rates

While the data revealed some good and bad news for the state of email fundraising as a whole, it also shed light on a painful reality: the average spam rate for fundraising emails jumps to 9.27% on #GivingTuesday and 10.19% during EOY fundraising.

If that doesn’t shock you, the financial breakdown of what that means in fundraising revenue might.

Let’s do some math:

Using the same study’s research and benchmark figures, we find that an organization with an email list of 100,000 that sends the average 2.35 emails on #GivingTuesday (with the average rate of those emails ending up in spam folders) could be leaving $955.47 of potential revenue on the table on the biggest fundraising day of the year.

Try explaining that to your ED.

Deliverability tips from an expert

Believe it or not, there’s still time to make some small but mighty improvements to your email practices that will help you avoid the EOY spam trap.

Brett Schenker, EveryAction Email Deliverability Specialist, former NTC panelist, and all-around spam expert, offers these three quick fixes to get you on the path to deliverability nirvana.

Always opt-in and confirm

Not only should you be explicitly asking individuals if they’d like to opt into your email list, you should also send a follow up email to confirm their address is correct. By opting in addresses and confirming them, you ensure the person on the other end absolutely wants to hear from you.

Cut the “zombies” from your list

Inactive email addresses comprise those who have not opened or clicked one of your emails in more than one month. First, you can try a reactivation email series with specific messaging focused on getting them to re-engage with you. If they continue to be inactive for more than a year, then it’s time to remove them from your list.

While they may seem innocuous, internet service providers can turn dead email addresses into spam traps, marking all emails to that address as spam and seriously hurting your sender reputation. You (and your deliverability rates) are better off sending emails only to people that really want to hear from you.

Ask your provider about deliverability

In this case, an ounce of prevention could be worth thousands of dollars. That said, your email provider can give you information about your email deliverability, sender reputation, and more that isn’t always accessible from your end.

A good provider should work with you to monitor key deliverability metrics like sender score, as well as act quickly to fix problems like blocks and blacklisting before they get out of hand.

More deliverability data and tips from Brett to safeguard your EOY fundraising revenue is available in the 2016 Nonprofit Email Deliverability Study from EveryAction.

Your online campaign is off to a great start. Your email blast has been carefully targeted and your messaging is personalized and impactful. Your banner ad is eye-catching and you’ve spread the word through placements in high profile blogs and through social media links. You’re well on your way to meeting your campaign goals for attracting donations and expanding your base of enthusiastic supporters.

Or maybe not.

None of these online channels will be effective if the landing page they link to fails to communicate clearly or move respondents efficiently through the donation process. Your landing page present provides your first (and possibly only) opportunity to convert a prospect into an active supporter. So how do you build a landing page that converts?

Start With a Powerful Headline

Visitors read the top left corner of a website first. In those first crucial seconds, they quickly decide whether to continue reading or navigate to some other site that does a better job of sparking their interest. Therefore, it’s essential to place a well-constructed headline at the top of the page. An effective headline will be:

  • Interesting enough to get and hold attention
  • Short enough to be consumed quickly
  • Followed by a subhead that elaborates on the topic
  • Consistent with the content on the rest of the page

From a formatting perspective:

  • Headlines should utilize high contrast text (e.g., light text on a dark background or dark text on a light background)
  • Use appropriate capitalization. All caps care fine, although it may be perceived as “shouting.” Alternately, you can capitalize the first letter of each word. In that case, be sure not to capitalize prepositions such as “to” or “of.” Your spell checker should flag any errors you might make
  • Punctuation should be employed selectively. Don’t put periods at the end of a headline, as they can signal a reader to stop reading. That said, if the content requires a long header, feel free to use ellipses or dashes that coax readers through the text

Shoot for a Clean Design With Efficient Content

The fact that web visitors consume content rapidly should also influence the overall design of your landing page. The layout should be easy on the eyes—clean and crisp, with lots of white space. The body text should be kept to the minimum length needed to communicate the essential details about your organization and the goals of your campaign. Most of this content should appear above the fold, with the most relevant items starting at the top left of the page and the subsequent content guiding the visitor through a Z or F-shaped reading pattern.

"Z" formation webpage design "F" formation website design

In addition, use visual cues that highlight key points or calls to action. Selectively bolding key sentences will make them pop. But don’t go overboard. Use bullets or numbered lists to distill detailed information into an easier read. Finally, keep the color scheme of the landing page limited (roughly 1-3 colors), and use bolded or colored subheads to break up sections of text.

Visuals Are Your Friend

Visuals can enhance your page design and break up text in pleasing ways. Additionally, images, short videos, and even animations can ease navigation, convey a professional look, and communicate lots of information at a quicker pace than text.

Show Off Your Social Proof

The concept “social proof” refers to the tendency for individuals to gravitate toward things that are popular or have been validated by trusted entities. In the marketing world, displaying social proof is a means to quickly communicate the credibility of your organization and cause. You can accomplish this goal on your landing page by displaying relevant badges (i.e., favorable ratings by the Better Business Bureau or Charity Navigator), by highlighting the size of your membership or the success of previous campaigns, or by featuring testimonials from credible individuals or organizations.

Use a Form, but Keep It Simple

An effective landing page converts a visitor into a potential supporter, either by collecting contact information you will need for subsequent campaigns or by soliciting a donation on the spot. In both cases, you will need a form that collects at least the visitor’s name, email address, payment information, etc.). Depending on your specific campaign goals, you may want to use additional fields. For example, you might ask visitors to indicate which aspects of your mission they find most compelling by selecting items from a pull-down list. Keep in mind, however, that no one enjoys filling out forms. So keep yours as simple, straightforward, and brief as possible.

Make Sure the Page Is Optimized for Mobile

The number of web searches via mobile devices eclipsed desktop searches in 2015, and mobile traffic now “represents 65 percent of all digital media time.” Landing pages need to be optimized for mobile platforms to achieve their conversion goals.

Keep Visitors on Your Landing Page by Eliminating Navigation Links

The design of your landing page should be consistent with the rest of your website and its branding. However, you should minimize the use of links that might draw visitors away from your landing page. Simply remove all of the links normally found on your website’s navigation bar. These can be moved to a subsequent thank you page after the transaction is complete. Keep potential donors and supporters focused on completing a form, submitting a donation, or signing up to receive more information. Think about giving visitors the opportunity to share Here’s one important exception to the “no links” rule. You can choose to add links to sites like Facebook and Tumblr that enable visitors to share their interest in your cause with members of their social media networks. Ultimately, the decision whether to include social links depends on the potential number of shares and how their presence affects the landing page’s conversion rate. Which brings us to the final tip…


The only way to assess the potential conversion rate of your page is to test it. Create a few different versions of your campaign and then run each one against a small sample of potential supporters. Try varying the following components to see which ones have the greatest impact on conversion rates:

  • Using different colors
  • Changing headlines
  • Varying the length of the form
  • Trying out new text and visuals

You won’t be able to tell which changes matter if you change all of these items on every iteration of your campaign. So keep it simple and only vary one or two of these elements. That way, you’ll be able to quickly optimize your campaign and then apply what you’ve learned going forward.

There are endless design and messaging possibilities for your online fundraising landing pages, but the basic formula is simple: keep your content short and impactful, use images and clean design, and don’t distract visitors from the action you wish them to take. Learn more about fundraising and website management here.

The following article was originally published on Creative Suitcase’s blog. It is republished here with permission.

A well-designed donation form is an easy-to-overlook, but critical component of an effective fundraising program. We all understand how important it is to get a user to our online donation form. What we sometimes fail to understand is that the design and experience of the form itself can be a major factor in whether or not our users actually complete the donation form, and whether or not they’d consider doing it again.

When they’re done right, online donation forms can elevate our users’ experience from a clunky, painful, overwhelming test of patience into a swift, effortless, and enjoyable act of sharing.

What follows are some broad tips and best practices that we try to implement in our projects. We continue to search for ways to make the form completion process easier and more engaging, and we recommend that any nonprofit that wishes to increase their online donor engagement do the same.

Clear a Path

This may seem obvious, but a donation form—no matter how well-designed—isn’t going to produce results if there isn’t a clear path to it for a user to follow. We want access to our donation page to be omnipresent without being annoying. We want our users to want to engage without being assaulted by calls-to-action (CTAs).

Making CTAs that draw attention without becoming pestering eyesores is a balancing act. We don’t want our donate messages to be a torrential downpour. We want them in healthy, measured bursts.

  • Design large “Donate” buttons that stand out on the page. Be consistent with the placement and style of your “Donate” buttons, and try to use a bold color that is unique from the rest of the design to grab a user’s attention.
  • Place “Donate” CTAs strategically, in places where people are more likely to click them. Avoid cluttering your pages with an overwhelming amount of “Donate” CTAs. Instead, focus on placing them strategically—near a particularly moving story, in the context of some powerful results-based metrics, or in a place where people expect to find calls-to-action, like in the header or footer.
  • Test the exact language of the button. While “Donate” is universally recognized and straightforward, a more emotional call-to-action like “Lend a hand” or “Bring hope to those in need” might be more appropriate in certain situations and prompt more action. Don’t be afraid to test button language (or color), and adjust on the fly based on the results.

Make It Quick, Painless—and for Pete’s Sake—Mobile-friendly

In today’s technological landscape, a responsive website isn’t just a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have. This goes doubly for a donation page, because we’re often trying to engage our audience at a moment when they aren’t at their computer but do have their phone handy. More and more, users are viewing our donation pages on their smartphones or tablets. If our websites aren’t optimized to work well on a small screen, we’re missing out on a large—and ever-growing—percentage of potential donor traffic.

The best thing we can do to keep our donation pages mobile-friendly is to simplify them. We should try to strip away as much non-required content from the form as we can, and focus on getting a user through the form fast and error-free.

  • Break lengthy forms down into smaller pieces. An easy way to make a large form less intimidating is to display it in segments (“Donor information” and “Payment information,” for example), whether it’s several segments arranged on one page or several individual segments displayed one-per-page. If you can get a user to fill out just one simple segment (perhaps by only displaying one segment to begin with), they will be more likely to complete the entire form. It gets them invested from the first step, and makes it harder to abandon the form later.


  • Provide pre-determined giving amounts. You can better guide your users’ giving by suggesting specific donation amounts. A pre-defined set of giving amounts displayed as easy-to-click buttons is not only a way to help speed a user through the form (one less field to fill out), but it makes it tempting to give more. It’s as easy as clicking a button!
  • Only include required fields in your form. If you find yourself wanting to include several “optional” fields in your donation form, be diligent and ask yourself if they are truly necessary. Assume that every optional form field you include on your form will increase the time-to-completion, add to user frustration, and decrease the overall completion rate. Oftentimes, the information we attempt to collect from optional form fields is information we could have just as easily collected from the user later, after they’ve successfully completed the simpler donation form and established trust. A user is surprisingly more willing to provide additional “optional” details after they’ve completed their transaction, as opposed to while they are in the process of completing it. Consider asking your users for follow-up details on the validation page (or email) that is generated after they’ve submitted their donation. They’ve already accomplished their goal and are invested in helping, so providing a few follow-up details feels like no big deal.
  • Keep your users on the form. When you get a user to your donation form, you don’t want them going anywhere. Proactively address any barriers to form completion that a user might encounter on the form page itself instead of sending them to a different section of the site (an “FAQ” page for example). Common concerns like “Will you keep my personal data private?,” “Is this contribution tax-deductible?,” or “What will my donation be used for?” are easy to address within the context of the form itself.
  • Use stepper controls and radio buttons instead of drop-downs. Drop-down fields require multiple clicks or taps and are cumbersome to navigate, whereas stepper controls and radio buttons are one-click interactions that are speedier, easier, and more delightful. Styled as buttons, features like this become even more engaging.



  • Avoid user “Submission Error” messages. Submission errors are deadly to form completions. Help your users avoid painful red error messages by providing useful hint text for fields that may give a user pause (e.g. “What does a ‘recurring donation’ mean?”). Use inline validation to provide a user with real-time feedback; this will let them know if they have filled out a field correctly, or help them correct a mistake before they get to the end. And if a user does generate a form that has an error, do not, for all that is holy, make them fill out the entire form all over again.


Twitter's registration form uses inline validation to let users know when they've made a mistake.

  • Don’t settle for technology that doesn’t work for you. Many nonprofits have contracts or long-standing relationships with donor platforms or payment processing services that are not easily broken or overhauled. If your service is having trouble implementing the functionality you desire (“Why can’t we combine the ‘First name’ and ‘Last name’ fields?”), be diligent and try to work with them to implement the changes you seek. Streamlining your donation form and getting as many users through it as successfully as possible is not only a benefit to you, but to them as well. Your ability to collect online donations is critical, and should not be hindered by the technological limitations of a third party.

Make a Human Connection

The functionality of our donation forms is one critical component to their success. A less obvious component is the emotion baked into that functionality. Emotional, human interaction is just as critical (perhaps even more so) to the long-term success of our online fundraising as smooth functionality. As a nonprofit, it’s important that you make a human connection with the people who choose to donate to your organizations (through something as decidedly non-human as a computer interface), and engage them beyond the moment.

  • Show the impact of giving. Transparency is important to donors, and tying real-world impact to specific dollar amounts is an easy way to show donors where their money will go. When a donor selects a $100 donation, show them what that $100 will do in easy-to-understand, relatable terms.


This form from Saturday Place lets users see what kind of real-world impact their dollars will have.

  • Make the most out of confirmations. After a donation has been received, don’t miss the opportunity to confirm your donor’s gift and thank them for their contribution through a confirmation page or email. It will assure them that their transaction was successful, but more importantly it will recognize the importance of their contribution and show them the gratitude they deserve. Take every opportunity to engage with them further; ask them for some of that “optional” follow-up information that you removed from the donation form!
  • Make every donor feel like a big-dollar donor. By giving your organization money—no matter the amount—a donor has performed an incredibly generous act. It is critical (especially since we know that current donors are your best source of future contributions) to make sure they really feel and understand how important their contributions are. Find creative ways to celebrate every $10 donor like they were a $10,000 donor, and do it in a personal and emotional way that feels real. Consider sending them a personalized “Thank you” video via Instagram. Automatically enter them into a lottery drawing for an exciting prize. The possibilities are endless. If you can make each donor feel like a big-dollar donor, you’ll be well on your way to securing even more lifelong givers.

While neither comprehensive nor gospel, these are a few of the general best practices we attempt to implement in forms that we build. We are always searching for ways to evolve our best practices and keep them current. You can do the same.

Don’t be afraid to observe how people interact with your forms, even if it’s casual. Be proactive about fixing common issues or problem spots that you see. Follow form design experts like Luke Wroblewski to stay updated on current best practices in form design, experience, and technology (his work informs much of our thinking on form design, as evidenced by the numerous citations in this post).

Any improvement to your form that you can make will be worth it, no matter how trivial it may seem. Even incremental increases in form completion percentages can lead to noticeable differences in your organization’s bottom line—which translates to more real-world impact that your organization can generate.

This article was originally published on Karvel Digital’s Blog. It is reprinted here with permission.

Donation jar

Dear nonprofits of the world: Is your website helping you increase donations to your cause?

Many nonprofits often find themselves in a catch–22. You need a better website, but you don’t have the budget to improve it. And you’re not raising as much money as you could be because you need a better website.

Breaking Out of the Cycle

First thing’s first: If your site is truly terrible–like 1999 Flash-based, blinking gifs terrible–find a way to smack some lipstick on that pig ASAP.

I give a lot of strategies for getting a good website on a budget in a previous article. There are also a lot of great resources through NTEN. If you can at least build a better front door, that will help implement part two of our plan.

Relationships, Relationships, Relationships

As a mission-driven nonprofit, you are in a great position to build relationships with people of like-minded values, but you’re probably under-utilizing your website as a tool for building those relationships.

Web visitors are fleeting by nature. They pop in, they stay for a few seconds and then they, quite literally, bounce. If you want the opportunity to build a relationship, create new fans, and get them back to your site, you need to use that precious time together to ask if you can keep in touch.[1]

Yup, you guessed it, you want to get that precious email address. And news flash, “Sign up for our Newsletter,” is just not going to cut it anymore as an opening line. You might get a few subscribers that way, but you’ll get so many more if you sweeten the pot.

The Ethical Bribe

Yes, you read that right. What do you have that is valuable to your potential new friends, fans, and donors? Is your site the go-to hub for information in your niche? Why not package up some of the most often requested or searched information into a handy PDF download?

Do you have a proven process for hosting the best fundraising party ever? Put together a fundraiser guide and give people a shortcut.

When you offer people something valuable and ask directly to communicate with them, your subscriber base will grow faster.

Building the Relationship

Now that you have subscribers, what should you do with them? Let’s look at the following formula:

Relationships = Interactions over time
Relationships = Interactions / Time

If you want to build a relationship with your subscribers, you should be interacting with them regularly. Offer relevant, quality content that is informative, inspirational, and useful. In addition to talking about all the great work your organization is doing, remind them why your work is important and occasionally, ask questions about how you can better serve your audience.

If you do this, you’ll create a bigger audience, more devoted fans and, yes, more donations when the time comes.


That means occasionally you will need to actually ask for support. Back to that crappy website–why not have a flash fundraiser to have it professionally rebuilt? People love to help an underdog, and having a specific goal makes your cause that much more attractive.

Find your rallying cry and share your story with a series of emails over a couple of weeks and a link to your donation page. Share how the solution will help your donors as well as the organization and the population you serve.

The best thing about this strategy is that the worst that could happen is…nothing. But at best you’ll end up with a bigger audience, more fans, and more money to do great work.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes.