How do you make sure you provide your donors with the experience they deserve?

The Truth About Effective Donation Forms

Donations are the fuel of many nonprofits.

While there are countless ways supporters can help, donation dollars are one of the most direct contributors to keeping your programs and mission moving forward.

That's why it's so surprising how much friction you often encounter when browsing nonprofit websites.

The fact is that many organizations’ online donation experiences don't help move passive visitors to active donors.

Why not?

The main problem comes down to visitor intent.

Many nonprofits think that once someone encounters the donation form, the visitor has already made the decision to donate, and the work is done.

But the reality is that the decision to support an organization starts well before someone encounters the online form.

That's why it's essential to consider the entire experience that your website and donation form provides to make sure it's aligned with drawing those donors in.

To uncover the truth behind effective donation forms, we'll explore the two components that contribute to the decision to make a donation: the experience before the donation form as well as the form itself.

Effective Donation Experience

The pre-frame: What comes before your big ask?

It doesn't do you any good to just send someone straight to your donation form.

After all, if I sent you a link to a random page asking for money, you probably wouldn't be jumping at the chance to pull out your credit card.

Understandably, there'd be several questions on your mind that you'd want answered before you made the decision to donate.

Questions such as:

  • What does your organization do?
  • Who is it for?
  • Why does it matter?
  • How is it relevant to me?
  • What happens if you don't do anything?
  • Where will my money really go?
  • Why should I trust you?

Nothing else matters more — if someone lands on your donate page and doesn't know the answers to the above thoughts, they won't be compelled to make a donation.

So how do you know if you're missing the mark when answering any of these questions?

Think about your org's community and check yourself on each point:

  • Big idea: Is your text content easy for people unfamiliar with your work to understand? If someone read your homepage, would they be able to repeat the broad strokes of your mission afterward? If not, think about how you could restructure things to feel more accessible to your community. (Hint: adding your mission statement isn't enough! It needs to be translated into words you would say to a friend at a coffee shop.)
  • Relevancy: Have you made it apparent who you're trying to speak to? Is it clear to your readers how your focus area affects your community as a whole? Oftentimes, nonprofits consider these takeaways as a "no, duh!" without clearly articulating them in their content. Spell it out! What's obvious to you often isn't obvious to your website visitors.
  • Brand: How does your website come across as a whole? Does it feel polished and approachable, or does it seem more confusing and chaotic? A strong nonprofit brand encompasses many things, but when it comes to your site, your design and overall experience need to support your visitors all the way through the donation. Solid branding that works like a cohesive system helps you build trust with your community. 
  • Stakes: Are you clear in terms of outlining what's at stake? Have you effectively answered the question of why an organization such as yours should exist? Just because they understand your focus area doesn't mean they know what happens if you weren't in the picture. This messaging component is a powerful reinforcer of why your nonprofit deserves support.
  • Social proof: Do you have any partners you could feature? What about some case studies or testimonials regarding your work? Showing visitors the organizations you collaborate with as well as third-party statements regarding your programs can help your visitors understand the entirety of your work.

Once you have the proper setup, it's time to consider what happens once someone begins the actual donation process.

The donation form: What are the dos and don'ts?

After you've set the stage for your would-be donors, it's time to bring it home through the donation experience itself.

Because the worst thing that could happen is to get a visitor wanting to lend their support…only to lose them due to a poorly optimized, frustrating, or confusing donation form.

So how can you make the donation experience as frictionless as possible?

Here are the elements that can supercharge your donation form:

  • Restatement of need + big idea: Even though your visitors have read it elsewhere, repeat the major points right before the donation! A quick refresher can help reassure visitors that your organization needs and is worthy of support.
  • Trust indicators: Do you have any awards or affiliations you can feature near your form? Or any short quotes or testimonials from your program participants? Anything that shows a third-party endorsement of your work is an excellent way to help speak to any last-minute hesitations your visitors might have.
  • Funds usage: If someone donates today, how will those funds be used? What will different dollar amounts enable your organization to do? This is the top question many donors have as they fill out a donation form. Speak to their concern directly by giving them a reference for how donations contribute to your larger mission.
  • Security: While functionally unnecessary, studies show that adding something like a padlock icon near the credit card form fields can remind visitors that their payment information will be handled responsibly and with the utmost care. Sometimes a simple visual indicator can help reinforce that you take managing sensitive information (such as payment info) seriously.
  • Supporter spotlight: While not a standard feature for many donation processors, having some kind of list showing the amounts, times, and other data from previous donations can lend a subtle layer of social proof for your org. Seeing that a dozen other donations recently came can help push someone thinking about making a donation over the finish line.
  • Payment methods: It's a fact of life: donors have strong preferences when it comes to payment. Some donors want to pay by credit card, while others prefer paying by direct deposit. They may also want to use secure payment processors they're already familiar with (think Google Pay). Allowing donors to pay with their preferred payment option makes the entire process feel more accessible and accommodating. 
  • Progress bar: Studies show that campaigns with a firmly defined donation goal often perform better than just an open-ended donation ask. So if you've got a final dollar amount in mind, why not display it for everyone to see? Seeing a progress bar helps your donors see your campaign drive grow in real-time. And as a bonus, as the progress bar nears 100%, people will be more likely to donate so that they can close the ever-narrowing gap!
  • Mobile friendly: Is your donation form easy to use on phones and tablets? Does it display compactly and allow visitors to quickly enter their information? Or do people have to pinch and zoom to fill it out? Many nonprofit websites receive more than half of their traffic from mobile devices, so having a mobile-friendly form is a must.

Those are the factors that can help encourage visitors to move forward in supporting your nonprofit.

On the flip side, there are several features that introduce friction and could slow down or even halt the process, causing visitors to not finish submitting the donate form:

  • Off-page donate form: Website usability studies show that visitors prefer to stay on the same website on which they were browsing the rest of your content. In other words, if your donation form is on an external website (such as the default CRM donation page that's on a different URL than your main site), it can cause a break in the experience that erodes trust.
  • Opens in a new tab: Similar to the above point, pages that automatically open in a new tab are often seen as annoying by visitors. If your visitors want to open your donate page in a new tab, they can do it on their own, but don't force them. After all, you wouldn't want to annoy someone right as they’re trying to support you!
  • Insecure connection: If your page doesn't have a padlock and https next to the URL in the browser address bar, then that page isn't considered secure. Having a secure website is a requirement in today's world and not having one can stop donors dead in their tracks.
  • Unnecessary fields: In general, the more information you request through your donate form, the more work for your visitors. Some fields are required for your donors (such as the name and credit card number), but others are less important (phone number). If you're asking for a lot of extra information, consider removing some of those fields (or at least making them optional). The fewer hoops someone has to jump through, the more likely they are to become a donor. And you can always request more information post-donation!

Putting the pieces together for your website donor journey

The thought process someone goes through to make a donation is a tangled web of decisions.

Unlike businesses in the for-profit space, nonprofits aren't generally selling something tangible—at least not to the buyer.

When someone sends your organization money, that visitor won't be receiving a package in the mail in a few days containing some cool new shoes or the latest gadget to play with.

They’re opening their wallet for a completely different reason.

And the expectations behind the interaction are totally different, too.

But when you take that understanding and consider the entirety of your website as part of the donation experience, it's like a light switch flips on.

Your visitors become primed to donate. They have the information they need to decide whether to support your organization or not.

And once they begin the donation process, you'll have a form that supports that interaction—instead of pushing them away.

Because at the end of the day, that's what all nonprofits want to do with their websites: inform visitors about their cause, make a case for support, and receive donations.

Next time you're making improvements to your org's website, reflect on the donation pre-frame you provide your visitors. Is there something you can do to better convey your mission and the need for your work?

Once that's dialed in, turn to your donation form. How might you smooth out the rough edges so visitors feel supported all the way through submitting their information?

With an optimized website donor journey, you'll have the pieces you need to provide a clear pathway for your future donors.

And with the donation road illuminated, you’re set to get more donations online - and to use those funds to grow the important work you’re doing.

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