The secret: make it as easy as possible.
You’re running a successful charity, you get plenty of people visiting your website, and people appear to engage with the information and content you provide, but there’s a vital key ingredient missing: Your hordes of eager visitors are failing to put their mouse where their money is. Don’t feel bad; you’d be surprised to learn how many people get donation buttons wrong. Here’s how to do them right…
Remember, you’re selling something
To ensure that your donations are pulling their weight, you have to remember that you’re asking someone to enter into a financial transaction. The theories and reasons behind why someone chooses to donate their hard-earned money is beyond the scope of this article (if you believe the internet, ‘because it feels good’, because they want to make a difference or as a tax dodge), but ultimately you’re selling something to a buyer who doesn’t receive anything concrete in return.
Evidence suggests that this feeling of ‘not getting anything in return’ beyond a printed receipt and a fuzzy feeling in your tummy means that many would-be philanthropists are fickle in their donations, and if they are met with what they feel is undue resistance to making said donation, they’ll abort the attempt and spend their money elsewhere – either on a different cause, or on something other than a donation.
The solution, then, is to make really sure that people aren’t met with any undue issues or problems when they are in the process of spending their money.
Make sure it really works
The first step is to thoroughly test whether your technical mechanism for accepting donations works: even if you get a steady trickle of donations through, it might be that all those donors are using Debit cards, for example, but that your card processing facility is broken for Visa cards or similar: So test everything.
Test all the major credit cards. Get your debit card out and try that. Try to donate odd amounts (£0.42, £242.11), and get someone to donate from abroad, to see if that works as expected. Then, try to break your donation system by adding strange characters; Enter “£210″ or “20,50″ into your ‘amount’ field, and see what happens. When you do something wrong, does the system try to help you out, or do you get the dreadful “you did something wrong, try again” message? Can you think of anything which would make donating money easier, smoother, or less frustrating?
Why bother with all this testing malarkey? Research has shown that people who get frustrated with the check-out process will go elsewhere; some of the most successful e-commerce sites (Amazon, iTunes music store, eBay) all have forms of 1-click-purchase for an excellent reason: If you make it easier for a would-be-customer to part with their money, it increases the chance that they will do just that.
Tell them what they get in return
True altruism is a lot more rare than any of us would wish for, but there are a lot of things you can do to convince a donor to spend their money with you. The key to converting someone from a browser to a buyer – and this is true whether you’re selling iPods, double glazing, or donation certificates – is to highlight the benefits of making such an investment. In other words; what is your organization going to do with the money?
As an experiment, we once set up a donations button on a major blog – to a complete lack of reaction. User testing showed that people did spot the donations button, but weren’t in any way inclined to push it to see what it did. After several months and exactly £4 of donations, we changed the button from simply asking for a donation, to a clear description of what the money would be spent on; in this case “All money donated to us will be spent in the local pub. £3 buys a beer, £15 buys a messy night on the tiles”. Firmly tongue-in-cheek-of course, but it worked: over the next 2 months, this blog received hundreds of pounds in donations, mostly accompanied with the message “Cheers”, or “Mine’s a bitter”.
The blog teaches two lessons: First off, make it very clear what the money will be spent on. Are you building schools? Put a photo of the school there. Are you helping children? Photo of a child. Include the child’s name and age. The more ‘real’ you manage to make your cause seem, the more a would-be-donor connects with your cause, and the more likely they are to reach for their wallets.
The second lesson is to ask for a specific amount: To go back to the school building: If a would-be-donor only has £20 to spend, and is familiar only with decorators in the UK, who are unlikely to even show up at your house for any less than a hundred quid, the £20 can seem useless and futile. If you explain what that £20 can do for your charity, then suddenly the donor not only has an idea of what the money will be spent on, but also that despite ‘only’ being able to donate a relatively small amount, their money is helping the cause in a very real way.
Put it front-and-centre
If fundraising is one of the chief objectives of your website, then that has to be one of the main messages on your home page: Tell your potential donors who you are, who you are helping, what you are doing to help, and how long you have been doing it for.
If you expect a lot of small donations, explain to your visitors how even a small donation can be of tremendous help in your cause. If you expect few but large donations, you’ll have to design your pages to do a little bit more convincing of the validity of your cause, and the track record of your organisation.
Either way, it’s important to make it very clear how and where someone can make a donation; the easiest way of doing that is to ensure that every time you talk about donations, include a link through to the donations page. Don’t fall in the trap of having a huge, blinking button in your sidebar with ‘DONATE MONEY HERE’ in huge letters – As we’re getting bombarded by so much advertising on the internet every day, <a href=”http://www.useit.com/alertbox/nonprofit-donations.html”>recent research</a> done by usability expert Jacob Nielsen shows that people have developed banner-blindness – a big red button which stands out from the page is more likely to get filtered out as spam or advertising than as a genuine call to action.
Finally, it’s worth considering how important donations are to your organisation. If the answer is ‘very’, then it is worth spending money on getting your website wireframes, prototypes, and work-in-progress (in addition, of course, to the final website) thoroughly user-tested in an usability lab: Sometimes, the simplest things can prevent someone from making that crucial donation which’ll see you through your next project, and the only way to make for sure is to test it, and test it again.