5 Donation Form Best Practices and Bad Practices | npENGAGE

5 Donation Form Bad Practices

By on Sep 6, 2011


Donation Form Bad Practices

There are lots of articles, reports, and conference sessions about online giving and donation form best practices. This isn’t one of them. Instead, I want to focus on some of the most common bad practices being done by nonprofits.

1. Using Only One Donation Form
If you only have a single donation form, then you’re doing it wrong. Use a combination of a general donation form along with other forms for more specific giving options. Email messages should route donations to a specific form for tracking purposes. And keep testing to see which forms perform best.

Donation Form Bad Practices2. Using Only an Empty Box for Giving Amounts
If you don’t give donors suggested gift amounts, then you’re doing it wrong. This doesn’t mean you can’t ask for an “Other” amount on the form, but there should always be a clearly displayed minimum gift amount. Testing has shown that donation forms with clear ask strings perform better than those without any.

3. Requiring All Donors to Register to Donate
If you force all donors to register with your website to donate, then you’re doing it wrong. Every time that I see this it just leaves me shaking my head. Every time an organization explains why they do this — I’m still left shaking my head. Using targeted donation forms for returning donors is one thing, but requiring registration can be a big turn off to first time or episodic donors.

4. Using a Donation Form that Scrolls and Scrolls and Scrolls and Scrolls
If you overload the donation form with lots and lots and lots and lots of options, then you’re doing it wrong. You do not have to pile fields upon fields, recurring gifts, and everything else on the page. Testing shows that the more complex the form the higher the abandonment rate. Start with the minimum viable fields and carefully add things. Also remove clutter from the rest of the page that only causes distractions.

5. Not having a Mobile Friendly Donation Form
If you don’t have a donation form that works on a mobile device, then you’re doing it wrong. Check your website stats and you’ll find out just how many people already visit using a mobile device. By 2014, it is predicted that more web browsing will happen on mobile devices versus desktops. Mobile friendly forms should be optimized for size and speed. Use less page clutter and eliminate unnecessary extra fields.


Steve MacLaughlin is the Vice President of Data & Analytics at Blackbaud and bestselling author of Data Driven Nonprofits.

MacLaughlin has been featured as a fundraising and nonprofit expert in many mainstream publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, USA Today, The NonProfit Times, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Bloomberg, and has appeared on NPR.

He is a frequent speaker at events including the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), Association for Healthcare Philanthropy (AHP), American Marketing Association (AMA), Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), Direct Marketing Fundraisers Association (DMFA), Giving Institute Summer Symposium, National Association of Independent School (NAIS), Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC), Institute of Fundraising National Convention (United Kingdom), Civil Society Conference (Netherlands), International Fundraising Congress (Netherlands), Ask Direct Fundraising Summer School (Ireland), and a keynote speaker at several conferences across the social good sector.

Steve previously served on the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) Board of Directors and is currently an adjunct faculty member at Columbia University.

He is a frequent blogger, published author of a chapter in the book People to People Fundraising: Social Networking and Web 2.0 for Charities, and is a co-editor of the book Internet Management for Nonprofits: Strategies, Tools & Trade Secrets. His latest book, Data Driven Nonprofits, became a bestseller in 2016.

Steve earned both his undergraduate degree and a Master of Science degree in Interactive Media from Indiana University.

Comments (15)

  • Niresh Kumar says:


    I read your post with interest and quite agree with most of things suggested. I would however like to get your opinion on point 3 – registration. There are legal and tax implications for a Non-profit if donor details such as full name and address etc are not provided to tax authorities. Also, I have a legal responsibility to issue a tax receipt for all donations received. How do I do it if I dont have all those details. If I dont get people to register, I risk making the donation form a lot longer than it usually is. Any suggestions?

    • Anonymous says:

      You should get all the donor contact information you need from the fields captured on the donation form. Requiring the donor to register can create an unnecessary obobstacle to giving.

  • What studies show that gift strings perform better than an empty donation box?  I’ve heard/read the opposite?  Thanks for the additional information.

    Tina Cincotti
    Funding Change

  • What studies show that gift strings perform better than an empty donation box?  I’ve heard/read the opposite?  Thanks for the additional information.

    Tina Cincotti
    Funding Change

    • Anonymous says:

      Individual results may vary, but extensive that I’ve done has shown that a combination of an ask string with an “other” box with a minimum gift amount produces better results. And a targeted donation form with ask amounts appropriate for the donor segment also work really well.

  • Paul Dempsey says:

    One issue I’m looking at is the use of reCAPTCHA on a donation form. I don’t see why we’d place an obstacle like this in the way of someone trying to give us money. Is there any justification for requiring verification on the form?

    • reCAPTCHA is an anti-spam measure. Any form that involves submitting valid credit card info (like a typical online donation form) shouldn’t fear spam submissions.

    • It’s fairly important to have some form of security verification on forms especially ones where a user can process a transaction. You don’t want your form being used to test stolen credit card numbers now do you??

      An alternative form of validation you may wish to consider is the honeypot method. Basically you create a hidden form field that has to be left empty and the form won’t validate if this field is filled in. Hide it with CSS so the users don’t see it, but spambots and the like will see it and they’ll fill it in (they fill in all fields) and thus the form won’t validate. Oh and label it something like “Leave this field empty” just in case you’ve got any visually impaired people trying to donate using a screen reader that picks up the hidden field…

  • Hfreeman says:

    We use Blackbaud (formerly Kintera) Sphere as our CMS and back-end to our donation forms.  Does Blackbaud provide mobile solutions where we could easily adapt our existing donation pages?

  • Awolf says:

    Could you elaborate on the recommendation not to use one donation form. Are you referring to both paper and online forms? So, for example the donate button on a specific program web page would go to a form to designate a contribution to this program? Couldn’t all the donate buttons go to one donation page which would give the donor to make a designated or undesignated contribution. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *