First things first: There is no such thing as a perfect donation form. Let’s get that established right up front. The title of this article was crafted to be a bit cheeky.
But in our experience—i.e., Mighty Citizen has designed dozens of donation forms—certain donation form designs work better than others.
Here’s what we know:
1. Your Donation Form Should Exist on Your Homepage
Your hypothetical potential donor is Denise.
One Tuesday afternoon, Denise is at work when, out of the blue, she thinks of her grandmother, Lucille. Lucille was vibrant and kind and generous until, one day, lung cancer struck. Within two years of her diagnosis, Lucille passed away.
That was three years ago.
But today, Denise is thinking about Lucille, missing her. And Denise decides to do something that might lend deeper meaning to her momentary melancholy. She doesn’t know much about lung cancer charities. But when she eventually finds her way to a relevant charity’s website—e.g., the American Lung Association or the Chicagoland Area Lung Health Society—she is feeling emotional.
Remember: Many individual charitable donations are done in the midst of an emotional moment—what we might call a “fit of charity.” Therefore, anything that slows Denise’s gift-giving is problematic to your bottom line. Confusion is costly.
We recommend that, whenever feasible, your organization’s homepage should include a donation form—or at least the beginning of one.
The benefits of this approach are obvious: It eliminates at least one mouse-click from the donation process and, thus, speeds it up. Cognitive strain, which is a scientific way of saying “thinking too hard,” is one of the primary reason users abandon certain online tasks, including filling out forms. Your job is to reduce cognitive strain—i.e., make things easy for your user.
Admittedly, the homepage donation form might have some drawbacks. Maybe it’ll make your organization seem pushy or desperate. Some users may be irritated that they’re being asked for money before you tell your story and impact.
But these potential risks can be outweighed by the additional revenue you’ll (probably) generate.
Meals on Wheels Central Texas kicks off the donation process on their homepage. It’s not a complete form, but it engages their users in a concrete activity right away:
(We’ll talk more about usability testing and analytics later, but suffice to say they play a big part here. Once you put a donation form on your homepage, you can analyze its effect on the number and average size of online gifts—then compare it to the same period of time before the donation form was on the homepage.)
2. Keep it Simple and Mobile
If an online donation can’t be completed on a smartphone within 30 seconds, you’ve got room for improvement.
Newbie fundraisers sometimes believe, mistakenly, that donors make charitable donations the way they write thank-you cards or pay their monthly bills—i.e., it’s an item on their to-do list.
But this isn’t the case. Remember, most of these smaller individual gifts are made in a momentary “fit of charity.” Something inspires someone to make a gift and they hop on their phone to make it happen … before they lose steam or get distracted.
(Side note: This fit of charity is why your organization needs to invest in search engine optimization and Google Ad Grants for Nonprofits. When a would-be donor decides in a momentary surge of charity to give away their money to a cause, they may not know to whom they should give it. For example: A person decides to donate to a lung cancer charity to honor their grandmother, who passed away from the disease. But they don’t know to whom to give it. So they search Google. And if you appear first in the search results (or Google Ad results), you’re far more likely to capture their donation. Otherwise, the user will probably default to the national lung cancer charity.)
Use 30 seconds as your goal. From the moment they type the first word into your form fields until they reach the “Thank you for donating!” page, no more than 30 seconds should elapse. Within that 30 seconds, any number of steps or transactions may take place. What matters is time, not workflow.
Also, don’t clutter your donation form with non-relevant form fields. Examples include:
- Title (Mr., Mrs., etc.)
- Level of education attained
- “How did you hear about us?”
While this is helpful information for future fundraising efforts, their inclusion on the donation form lengthens the donation experience—and remember, your goal should be to “get to the gift” ASAP. And as I discuss below, you can still get this info at a better time.
3. Nudge Your Donors Upward
Behavioral economics teaches us how humans behave—especially how we behave irrationally. One such irrational behavior is known as “anchoring.” Anchoring basically says this: People can be influenced by completely irrelevant information.
In one famous anchoring demonstration, test subjects were asked two questions:
- Is the tallest redwood tree in California taller or shorter than 130 feet?
- What’s your best guess for the height of the tallest redwood tree in California?
Here, “130 feet” is the anchor. When a second group was given this simple questionnaire, the first question was switched to “…taller or shorter than 1,400 feet?”—and now, “1400 feet” is the anchor.
The first group’s guess of the height of the tallest tree was much lower than the second group. In other words, the presence of either “130 feet” or “1,400” feet vastly influenced people’s guess.
Same goes for donation forms. You want larger gifts, so you help “anchor” your donors to a larger number. There are a couple of ways to do this:
- Anchor with web design. When the donor lands on the donation form, one gift level is already highlighted—often a gift larger than your average gift size. If your average gift size is $40, then you might highlight the $100 level. If your average gift size is $90, you’d bump up the default level to ~$200.
- Anchor with text. If your average gift size is $25—and you want it to be closer to $50—you can include text above the form that reads: “Thanks in advance for your gift. Gifts of $100 or more have the greatest impact on the clients we serve.”
- Anchor with ordering. Instead of listing gift amounts from small to large, reverse it. Let the first number they see be something large. Saturday Place, a Chicago-based nonprofit for children, does this well:
With anchoring, the key is to let the biggest number lead.
4. Translate Money into Tangible Impact
When prospective donors know exactly what their gift will produce—i.e., what concrete impact it will have in the real, actual world—they’re more likely to give.
Don’t deny them. On your donation form, tell them what each gift amount will lead to. For example:
- $10 = three dinners for kids in the after-school program
- $25 = a new winter coat for a kid
- $50 = three hours of math and science tutoring from a certified expert
- $100 = one week of camp for a kid
But be careful. Unless you’re prepared to actually parse your donations by program, you don’t want to give the impression that a particular gift will necessarily be used for a specific impact. Add language to the donation form (aka, fine print) that says something to the effect of, “The majority of your gift will be used to provide direct services to our clients. Only 11% of charitable donations are earmarked for administrative overhead costs.”
United Way of Greater Austin offers some great impact statements on their donation page:
5. Thank You, Thank You, Thank You
You know you need to thank your donors. That’s Fundraising 101. But what’s the best way to thank them online, immediately after their donation is complete?
First, use the actual words: “Thank you.” Make the font big and bold. Almost fill the screen with the words. Your donor never feels better than in the seconds after submitting their gift, so join them in their celebration—boost it, inflate it, make them feel even more special.
Second, as mentioned above, remind them of the kinds of specific impacts their gift will have—e.g., “Thank you for your donation! Your gift of $25 will go to helping our community’s middle-schoolers live safer, smarter, happier lives.”
Third, ask them a question (or three). Because your new donor is feeling elated—and connected to your organization—now’s a great time to garner some additional donor info that can be helpful in your future communications. Ask only questions that you will use in the future. If you can’t use it, don’t request it.
Fourth and finally, add links to other pages on your site—impact, case studies, program descriptions, etc. Take advantage of your new donor’s positive momentum to offer a little education.
A Final Word on Testing
The reason I have a job is because the Internet never stops evolving—just as users never stop adapting. Because the web is dynamic and humans are irrational, it’s not enough to design a website and walk away. You have to constantly enhance, iterate, and improve. And the best ways to do this are Usability Testing and Analytics.
Usability testing proves, through a series of strictly controlled “experiments,” how users actually use your website. It reveals problem areas and missed opportunities. Without usability testing, you’re simply making your best guess—and while best guesses can be right, usability testing can make them more right. (And when it comes to fundraising and donation forms, usability testing will produce more revenue than you’d otherwise have.)
Analytics is your insight into the numbers. It can tell you, for example, where in your three-step donation form you’re losing the greatest percentage of donors. Analytics can explain which “Donate Now” buttons are converting and which aren’t. In short, a clear grasp on your website metrics is hardcore proof.
Combined, usability testing and analytics consulting will produce a website—and donation form—that performs better.
And that’s what we’re all after.
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