Why Your Website Is Killing Donations and How to Fix It

Design better websites and donation pages

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It is tempting to think that nonprofit websites are less relevant in this age of social media.

However, websites may be more critical than ever. People of all ages are likely to research your nonprofit on your home page and then give to you right there. Besides, recipients of direct mail fundraising letters probably won't send a check, but instead, go to your website to make that donation.

Make sure that you give them the information they want and then make donating as easy as possible.

Jakob Nielsen, a web page usability expert, found that bad nonprofit website design results in fewer online donations.

One Nielsen study asked participants to choose one of two charities after looking at their websites and then to donate to it online.

Disconnect Between What Donors Want to See and What They Do See

When the researchers asked why these donors picked a particular charity, they found that donors wanted to see two things:

  1. The charity's mission, goals, objectives, and work. 
  2. How the charity uses its donations.

Shockingly, only 43 percent of the 23 sites tested provided information about any of those things. Moreover, only 4 percent of the nonprofit websites explained how they use a giver's donation.

The study found that donors want to give to organizations that share their ideals and values. However, when choosing among charities that, say, help alleviate poverty around the world, donors want to know HOW the organization does that.

Top Donation Killers

The study found that certain factors were "donation-killers."For instance:

  • Nearly half (47 percent) of the usability problems had to do with navigation that was unintuitive and hard to follow. Surprisingly, 17 percent of the sites made it hard for users to find even where to donate.
  • More than half (53 percent) of the usability problems could be chalked up to unclear content, missing information, and confusing terms.
  • One of the worst problems was the poor integration of local chapter sites with their national parent sites. When donors moved to a subsidiary site to find out what was being done in their local area, these sites looked entirely different than the parent sites.

Once donors found the donation page, they were able to move through it IF it resembled the transaction pages from commercial sites that they were used to.

This makes sense because online retailers have invested zillions of dollars on testing their buy pages. That's because shopping cart abandonment is their most pressing problem

Nonprofits, although getting better, have not tested giving pages to the same extent. One place to start, though is by studying those commercial sites and emulating their techniques.

Nielsen's research suggests that fixing even minor usability problems could increase donations by 10 percent. 

5 Steps Your Nonprofit Can Take Today to Make Donating Online Easier

  1. Simplify your donation page so that it is only a one-pager. Think carefully about just how much information you need from the donor. Keep it to the bare minimum.
  2. Offer more than one payment method. A credit card option is mandatory but consider including a PayPal option and an electronic check option. Don’t just offer PayPal. Not everyone uses it. Couple it with the regular credit card option. If you hand off the payment process to a third party, such as NetworkforGood, be sure to "brand" your page on that site.
  3. Include a monthly giving option on the donation page. Monthly giving is a must-have for all nonprofits. It is easy to do, convenient for the donor, and provides a steady source of income. However, in addition to having that option on the donation form, set up a special monthly giving page with a link to it from your homepage and the donation page. Some charities use a pop up “lightbox” that asks for a monthly donation instead of a one-time gift.
  4. Once the donor has completed the donation form, send him or her to a thank you page. You’ll still have to follow up with your usual email receipt/thank you, but a post-donation thank you page will keep the good feeling flowing for your donor. Make that page pop with a great image or even a video.
  5. After the donation, remind your donors to share their actions with their social media friends. You can do that on the post-donation thank you page or even with a popup lightbox with standard social media buttons. Use your email receipt/thank you for reminding donors to share as well.

There is no better way to get your donors to follow through with their giving intention than to fix the problems on your website and to design the strongest possible donation page and follow up thank you page.

Do what the commercial world does and test your website and donation page frequently. Just get your staff to make token donations or put together a usability panel with your volunteers. Catch the glitches, the unclear information, and the uninspiring messages earlier, not later.

Article Sources

  1. NN/g Nielsen Norman Group. "Donation Usability: Increasing Online Giving to Non-Profits and Charities," March 29, 2009. Accessed October 30, 2019.

  2. SaleCycle. "The Remarketing Report, Q1 2018," May 2, 2018. Accessed October 30, 2019.