Testing Your Donation Form Part 3: Wrangling Guinea Pigs | npENGAGE

Testing Your Donation Form Part 3: Wrangling Guinea Pigs

By on Oct 21, 2013


Donation form Tips for Nonprofits

Note: This is the third in a series of posts about usability testing your Bio Granger 173x111 Testing Your Donation Form Part 2: Designing Your Testwebsite from guest author Brandon Granger, Senior Interaction Designer for Blackbaud. Brandon has crafted user experiences and conducted user research in the nonprofit space for 12+ years.


In part one, we discussed why you should test your website and part two outlined designing your test. Today, we’ll unpack how and where to find the right people for testing your website and donation form. Recruiting participants can be challenging and takes a certain measure of courage (as you’ll read below). But getting solid, unvarnished feedback from individuals who have nothing vested in your website design is absolutely priceless.

The most surprising thing to those new to doing usability testing is that you don’t need many participants. Jakob Nielsen pushes that 5 participant is enough and Steve Krug asserts that your most significant issues will be uncovered during the first three tests. I’ve seen similar results in my testing. Sounds low, right?

Again, usability testing isn’t an academic exercise. We aren’t terribly interested in quantitative data (e.g., 80% of 50 users tested prefer blue over red hyperlinks). Usability testing is about never losing donations on your website unnecessarily. Remember, we are looking for qualitative data:

  • What did visitors find confusing, misleading, ugly, or painful on my website?
  • How easy is my donation form to use?
  • What kept donors from making a donation?
  • What kept visitors from coming back to my website?

Blessed with a plethora of participants and time?
Awesome. Use them. Just run different tests with different paths through your website. Or do iterative testing by testing 5 people, fixing the issues, and retesting. Then rinse-and-repeat until your design sings. You can also use a large pool of participants to test different designs against each other if you are doing a major website redesign.

Got a hard case at your org who wants “real data”?
If you think 5-8 participants won’t be enough for some stakeholders, show them one video clip of your testing where a participant says, “Um… I guess at this point I’d leave the website (without making a donation)”. If that doesn’t get their attention, invite them to watch a round of testing personally.

Okay, so how do I find participants?
At Blackbaud, we often do donor testing and the first pitfall is telling ourselves, “A donor could be anyone so we can test anyone, right?”. Maybe so, but this gets dangerous because the most convenient people to test are often the worst (e.g., your fellow associates at your organization). They just know too much about your lingo,  your mission, your organization, and your website to give unbiased feedback. Other “gotchas” of recruiting participants:

  • Avoid the experts – A board member tells you, “I have a nephew who works at a web start-up so he will have a lot of good feedback”. You don’t really want expert opinions. Likely, you’ve already got too many internal opinions about your website. This is your chance to cut through opinions to facts because you are about to directly witness users struggling on your website.
  • Aunt Sue okay sometimes – On the other end of the spectrum, you could find users who have very low confidence with the web. Unless your website targets these types of users, I’d suggest only one or two of these per round of testing. Otherwise, your results could get skewed.
  • Friends and family in a pinch – You can occasionally test your website with friends and family but be careful. They want to help you so they will often tell you what they think you want to hear (e.g., “Of course, your baby is beautiful”) . That said, they are great for “testing your test” to smooth out any kinks before testing day (and smooth out your nerves if you’ve never tested before).

How do I know if I have the right user for testing?
Usually, the answer is a simple screener to ensure the person’s background matches the type of participant you are looking for. For “quick-and-dirty” usability testing, I will often ask the potential test participant a couple of simple questions.

A quick screener for quick tests:

  • Do you use Facebook or Twitter and how often?
  • Have you ever made a donation on a website?

That can be enough to make certain the participant is right. That said, your screener can definitely be longer if you are looking for specific types of users (e.g., “only individuals who want to renew their annual membership” or “only individuals who’ve been a team captain for event fundraising”).

So back to the “how” of recruiting…

You can find people to test your website in any number of creative ways. Some ideas:

  • Are you doing a redesign? If you can query your database and use actual donors, nothing could be better. You just need to make sure these participants will have “fresh eyes” when they see your design. Also, they may already be fans so mixing donors with strangers may be the ticket.
  • Do your kids play sports? If you have a quick test, you can hit up fellow parents during practice time with laptop in hand.
  • Do you have some funds? There are some compelling web tools for recruiting participants and running short tests online such as usertesting.com or usabilityhub.com. These services can be especially good if you need results super quick. They also give you slick graphs, reports, heat maps, and other cool stuff.

One method of recruiting that has worked very well for us in the past is loosely called “Starbucks testing”. You simply go to a local coffee shop with a lounge area after the morning rush with $5.00 gift cards in hand. After getting permission from the store manager, you approach people with a simple value proposition. Your pitch:

My name is Brandon Granger and I work at Blackbaud. We are testing out a new website design. I’m not selling anything, but I will give you a $5.00 gift card for a free drink if you will test drive our website for 10 minutes while I watch and take notes.

Now that last sentence may have made you stomach turn over or caused you to run screaming from the room, but I promise designers like us do it all the time. If you live in a smaller metro area or your organization has instant name recognition, you may have an easy sell.

At any rate, you are doing this to improve your website and raise more money. This is your chance to be a hero to your organization and your stakeholders will be impressed at your gumption. Be resourceful! Be fearless! 

What’s next?
Now you’ve got participants but this is all chucks-and-grins until you actually run a test. We’ll cover that next time! Stay tuned!


Alissa Ruehl has been using Google Analytics since the first weeks it came out as a Google product. Through consulting, webinars, and conferences, she has helped hundreds of people at a variety of organizations and companies navigate Google Analytics and use it to refine their online marketing and website effectiveness. She currently uses her analysis skills as a senior user researcher on the Blackbaud products side, but she loves re-immersing herself the world of website analytics for her monthly Google Analytics blog posts. The only thing Alissa likes talking about more than data is food, but that’s a whole other blog.

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