Get more Online Donations: 3 Reasons Why Your Main Online Donation Page Should Take After Chinese Takeout | npENGAGE

Get More Online Donations: 3 Reasons Why Your Main Online Donation Page Should Take After Chinese Takeout

By on Aug 6, 2018


When I transitioned from just a for-profit body of knowledge to a nonprofit body of knowledge, one of the first tasks I had ahead of me was understanding the donation page. To those in the nonprofit space, it seems like a straight-forward thing: This is the place they can come donate online.

It’s easier and it’s quicker.  It’s convenience. But what if there is more to these pages to the actual donor with real money to give?

After all, I’ve discovered that similar “acts of convenience” (i.e. web processes) to those in the for-profit space are also viewed differently by the consumers that actually use them, or at least those with a consumer-task bias (they’ve got real money, a real interest, and are considering a real purchase).

So I set out a task to understand the donation page, and with a library of 349 experiments all measuring for statistical significance (i.e. 95% confidence for any kind of difference in performance) I was bound to figure it out.

One of the first things I noticed is that the area where the text / copy is on the top of the page commands a lot of influence on those that are actually interested in donating money when they arrive. (this is before any donation selection or entry is made on the page).

The other thing I noticed was a lot of inconsistent results as to what you should do with that copy / text… until I looked at the source traffic.

It was then that I discovered there are at least three types of donations pages (based on the data I have). Once I separated the results by the source, patterns and consistencies emerged for that text / copy area on the top.

What I want to talk about is the type of donation page most us are going to have, and that is the GENERAL donation page. It’s the page people go to when they click the big DONATE button in your header, or when you make a general donation ask somewhere on your website.

Let’s talk about text

What I’ve discovered is that the proper application of introductory and body text on the GENERAL donation is distinct. And I struggled to come up with an explanation until I brought home some food from Panda Express (you know, the fast-casual Chinese restaurant)

After I tore through my teriyaki chicken and noodles, it was time for the FORTUNE COOKIE. I opened it up and to my utter dismay, there was no fortune!

TREACHERY!  (wait… why am I getting mad at this?)

But thank goodness, my wife did not want her fortune cookie. So, I opened that one up and to my RELIEF (seriously, am I this emotional?) there it was.

I read the fortune, and the experience began… meaning, the message was expertly written so vague, yet so inclusive, that I could easily use it to help answer questions in my mind about recent events, or even use it to assign more value to things happening.

(this actually wasn’t the fortune in this story…but affirming nonetheless)

But you know… I don’t believe in fortune cookies. Let’s not forget that these are made in factories by the thousands. And yet still, the experience affects me.

My friends, I am seeing with our research and data that the text/copy on the GENERAL donation page MUST be treated like the FORTUNE COOKIE experience.

The 3 Key Tenets of the Fortune Cookie Experience, as applied to GENERAL Donation pages

  1. The first tenet of the fortune cookie experience is simply to have a fortune inside the cookie.

The same is true for having description text on the top of your general donation page. What I mean is that it should be more than one sentence (or two) and help remind donors why they should give to your organization.

The key word I say here is REMIND, because in a general donation page experience, people are likely coming with something already in mind, or an existing motivation. After all, they only had to go open their web browser, type in the address of your site, search for a DONATE NOW link or button, and THEN proceed to put in their information.

And it really should be more than just one sentence. It needs to be substantial enough to answer that question of “Why I should give?”.

In the example below (full experiment here), you can see that the organization went from one siren-red highlighted sentence to a meaningful response to that key question.

Because that is what people are looking for. They need to be REMINDED. How often do you find yourself, or know someone, that gets halfway somewhere and forgets what they were doing (or why they were doing it)?

  1. The second tenet of the fortune cookie experience is to make sure the fortune IS NOT TOO SPECIFIC.

After all, people have to be able to fit whatever is in their circumstances, or mind, into it right? And yet, it still needs to have a common tie to your audience.

Take this example from Reddit:

In their mind, it was the coming baby. In my mind, it could be my wife! (she is short…and brings blessings too)

Here is an example of a religious organization that had too specific of a focus on their general donation page text (full experiment here):

We find that people want something that answers the question, but broadly, and is quickly scannable, unlike campaign donation pages (from email or direct mail ‘moneybombs’ for example) where narrative and story-form tend to inspire more actual donations.

  1. The third tenet of the fortune cookie experience is to have something to bet on… those lucky numbers you often see.

Now I don’t gamble, nor am I advising you to, but did an interesting study on just how ‘lucky’ those fortune cookie numbers are:

What I AM saying is that this is part of the fortune cookie experience, and like that experience, the general donation page should have text that reminds them to take action and reiterate the reasons for doing so to benefit the overall cause / organization they care about.

Here is an example: (follow the red arrow…)

Don’t take donations for granted

Don’t be satisfied with another convenient feature for your organization. Don’t just assume that it is, in fact, all beneficial and great.

Your general donation page is more than just a feature, it’s a mouthpiece and experience for your donors. Let’s not take their generosity for granted. Let’s keep them from saying things like,

  • “Wait… this doesn’t look right… this isn’t what I want to support”
  • “Wait… why am I doing this again? Do I really want to do this?”

The key is in the copy. Make it feel as potentially personable and mesmerizing as a well-written (and tasty!) fortune cookie. And if you’re looking for more on the fortune cookie and what to test on your general donation page, we’ve got 19 ideas for you and a handy, free, guide here. Good luck!


As Senior Director of Research and Education, Jon Powell is wholly focused on taking everything the NextAfter team is learning and transforming it into insightful, practical and immediately actionable advice for marketers and fundraisers, regardless of their organization size.

Jon knows firsthand the challenges marketers face: he has experience building an entire digital marketing department from scratch as Director of Digital Marketing at B+B SmartWorx and has more than eight years of hands-on marketing optimization experience gained through managing hundreds of A/B and multivariate tests at the MECLABS Institute.

In addition, Jon has already conducted multiple in-depth meta-analyses of the thousands of case studies that are held in the research library of MECLABS Institute, one of the largest independent databases of experiments for marketing and sales in the world.

Comments (67)

  • Brinkley says:

    Thank you for such a great post. I really loved your examples for the three tenets but the one that struck me the most was the vague but inclusive. I feel that in a lot of the non-profits I’ve both worked for and give to philanthropically fall into this rabbit hole of trying so desperately to reach a specific demographic, sometimes I’m included sometimes not, that they often cause others to feel alienated by the solicitation. I liked the suggestion of making it easy for the individual to more closely connect through other pages but making the main page universal.

  • Jayme says:

    I think that the more inclusive a giving model (aka challenge gifts or something to bring in the constituent), the more likely that the donor will feel invested in the organization and more likely to give again.

  • Lauren Fardella says:

    Wow! I am always looking for ways to change our donation forms to be more personal…

  • Melissa Smallwood says:

    This information is extremely helpful! It’s good to know steps to take to get donors more engaged and inclined to give.

  • Karen says:

    Your analogy is fantastic. We have a giving page that tells about our ministries before making the donation. If you have time, check us out and give me some tips: .

  • Heather says:

    Thanks for writing this! We are always looking for ways to improve our site, and we will take this and see what we can do.

  • Gillian Armstrong says:

    Thanks for including such great examples. Very helpful.

  • Lauren says:

    Creative post and helpful examples! Do you have any insight/stats on the impact of pop up messages during a web visitor’s navigation?

  • Amy Dana says:

    I love this analogy! So many of us stumble with #1 – a “donate now” button with nothing else is just not good enough.

  • Maggi says:

    We use the $50 dollars pays for… method while still letting them put in their own amount

  • Kaitlin says:

    Great article; love the analogy!

  • Lawrence says:

    What a great post. Looking forward to sharing it with colleagues.

  • rachel says:

    #2 is so important! And the fortune cookie analogy is easy to teach to staff.

  • Carlene Johnson says:

    I loved that you backed up your examples with statistics! Those visuals were really helpful!

  • Karina says:

    Great information. I’m looking at ways to improve our donation forms.

  • Sandy Thomas says:

    Forwarding this to colleagues. Food for thought in looking at something that we see so often.

  • Scott Chrysler says:

    Immediately forwarded this on to the development office. A good read with sage advice that is applicable to so many ways we communicate with constituents.

  • Sasha Russell says:

    This post was inspiring. We just launched our website redesign and are working on the fall appeal. This article gave me some ideas how I can incorporate the appeal with our giving page as a gentle reminder – and hopefully get more donations. Thank you!

  • Claudia says:

    Love the analogy. What a creative way to look at something I think we all take for granted. We need to keep taking steps to ensure our online donors continue to feel engaged.

  • Joanne says:

    Great article – love the concrete examples and the results from these changes!

  • KaLeigh says:

    BRILLIANT analogy! Love it!

  • Barb says:

    Wow, great post with intriguing information!

  • Marie Stark says:

    This is great information, very interesting examples.

  • Dawn Stockton says:

    This is so insightful. I have forwarded it to the rest of development staff in hopes that we can implement these steps soon. Great article!

  • Linda Mikelsone says:

    Thank you for sharing.

  • Daniel Yu says:

    who knew chinese food was that special…

  • Kaleb Miller says:

    Great visual examples! A wonderful read.

  • Gavin Mann says:

    Thanks for an interesting article.

  • Andy Schroeder says:

    Incredible insight. I appreciated the data that was provided for the before and after in your examples. I think I need to perform surgery on our donation page ASAP!

  • Julie Ann says:

    What a fun metaphor! Thanks for sharing.

  • C says:

    interesting article, grounded with data not just theory

  • Tracey says:

    Great breakdown! Thank you for this lesson and story.

  • Krista says:

    great reminder to take a look at our donation page which was last updated two years ago!

  • Chris says:

    Thanks for the great article! We’ve tried to keep our donation page very simple and limited words on the page, but this shows me another way to think about it.

  • Mary Zieten says:

    Very cool! I’m passing this on to our marketing team!

  • jen d says:

    interesting analogy

  • Renee Klish says:

    really interesting article. I have also forwarded this to our Marketing department. I checked our website, and we have no message at all telling someone why they should give to us, no fortune in their cookie!

  • Susan Chomsky says:

    Simple changes proven to have big impacts. Definitely worth exploring. Thank you for compiling.

  • Tammi Burkhardt says:

    This article was very valuable in learning how the proper amount of text, graphics and call-to-action can increase donor response.

  • Christine says:

    I’m not in development, but I found this research very interesting. Forwarding to our development & communications staff (who just launched our brand new website).

  • Patti Hommes says:

    Very good read. I love the concept of vague but inclusive!

  • Emily says:

    Thank you so much for providing clear and meaningful examples. It definitely helped me take away more from the article.

  • JoHanna says:

    I found this article to be a very interesting and thought provoking read. We may make some changes to our giving page based of this data. I’ve based the link along to several colleagues.

  • Alicia Barevich says:

    Some great reminders for those creating donation pages!

  • B.R. says:

    Great tips! Donors are more savvy and have more choices than ever before. Give them a reason to choose you.

  • Brett Chapman says:

    This is great advice and something I will definitely consider for my organization’s donation page!

  • Angie Stumpo says:

    Very insightful and good info.

  • Rebekah says:

    Thanks for helping me look at our tired, old page through a new lens!

  • Joe says:

    Now I’m just hungry for take-out

  • George Buss says:

    Thanks for the insightful thoughts. It’s always enjoyable to see connections from what works in one field made to another… especially fortune cookies.

    “A strangers advice will have a marked change on you.”

  • Brent Troth says:

    Love this and the experiments that back it all up.

  • Mark says:

    This type of research is right in my wheelhouse. I love hearing about how simple formatting and thoughtful wordsmiths can make a huge difference.

  • Jean says:

    Great article! Thanks!

  • Meghan says:

    Interesting. Great to back this up with results data.

  • Ann Nischke says:

    The fortune cookie analogy kept me reading – well worth the time! Thanks!

  • Sunshine Watson says:

    I’m surprised by some of the outcomes here! Great post, thanks!

  • Mike says:

    Love the information thank you

  • Cathy says:

    Great article. Thanks for the examples and outcomes. Gives us great ideas to think about and use.

  • Sara says:

    Thank for the analysis. I am going to take another look at our General Donation page right now.

  • MK says:

    Good info. We have some work to do!

  • Mary Sommer says:

    This makes a nice checklist. Sometimes the “re-work” of a site tends drop important aspects. This can help edit and keep things on point.

  • APS says:

    I like the use of analogy and comparing from “before” and “after” results on the examples. Really interesting and informative ideas!

  • Veronica says:

    Great ideas. We recently updated our online giving page but are looking for ways to “spruce it up.” Thank you!

  • Shirley Brown says:

    Very cool analogy! I will share this with our communication department.

  • Karen Stuhlfeier says:

    Really good information.

  • Courtney says:

    Interesting read and something worth trying out.

  • Jennifer Vincent says:

    The visual examples drew my eye – and really proved the point of the article.

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