Donate onlineA lot of non-profits have online donation pages but complain that they still receive very few donations.  Why?  There are several reasons that could explain the lack of online giving ranging from low traffic to a poorly designed website.

In essence, to be effective your entire online communication strategy must be built around increasing donations, which has implications regarding how your website is designed and what information you offer.

Below are five keys to online fundraising success.  While some of them sound intuitive, a recent study of non-profit websites found that a surprising number of them do not meet these criteria.  Potential donors were left feeling frustrated and discouraged from donating.

To keep that from happening to your potential donors, take another look at your site:

1.  Does your website clearly outline who you are, what your mission is, and who you serve?

The key here is that the answers to these three questions must be readily available.  You shouldn’t have to dig for them, they should be apparent on the front page of the website.  Site visitors often stay just 1-2 minutes, and want quick answers.

Less than half of all non-profit sites studied in a Non-Profit Donation Usability Survey clearly answered these questions on their homepages, and difficulty navigating a site and finding information was the number one reported “donation killer”.  If you need to tweak your site, try to keep your text short and succinct, and use photos to help communicate who your target audience is.  Make your impact tangible so visitors can connect immediately with what you do.

2.  Does your site appeal to visitors on an emotional level?

Studies have demonstrated that statistics and rational arguments don’t drive online donations– stories of real people do.  Visitors need to be able to connect with real people on an emotional level, through a story that highlights their shared values.  Donors like to see faces and profiles of the people they will be helping, and they need to know that their donation (no matter how small) will really make a difference.  If you’re not sure what the emotional connection is that drives your cause, talk to some of your current donors.  Then communicate that “selling point” through stories of the real people you serve.

3.  Does your site explain how you will use donated money?

The Donation Usability Survey of non-profit websites found that only 1 of 23 sites surveyed actually explained what they would do with donations on their home page.  And many non-profits don’t even explain what they will do with donations on or leading to their donation page.  The more transparent and specific you can be about where donations go, the more confidence you will inspire in your donors.

For example if you can cost out your services (”for every $20 donation we receive, one child in X country will receive a year’s worth of school supplies”) you make your impact tangible and your donor knows that they’re making a real difference in someone’s life.  That is both compelling and rewarding.

4.  Make online giving quick, easy, and secure.

The more time it takes to make a donation, the more discouraged potential donors can become.  Make sure your online giving process is quick (don’t add in unnecessary survey questions for example), and consider adding security features (like McAfee or VeriSign) so donors can feel safe giving out their personal information.

5.  Reach out.

You can follow all of the previous steps impeccably, but if your site traffic is low then your pool of potential donors will be insignificant.  So how to attract new visitors and donors?

You can increase your traffic through online marketing and communication strategies such as e-newsletters with links back to your site, viral campaigns, social networking, directories, strategic online partnerships, online press releases, using well-indexed content management systems, or even paid advertising.  And just reworking your site to make sure it is fully search engine optimized can substantially increase your traffic.

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Posted on 09 November 2009

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15 Comments For This Post

  1. Elizabeth Beachy says:

    For anyone interested in learning some more basic tips for successful online fundraising, you are invited to attend Upleaf’s free webinar on December 3, 2009 at 1pm EST.

    More information and registration details at

  2. Steffan Antonas says:

    #2 is probably the most important point in this article, and is the reason that most non-profits should get heavily involved in social media. When you gather a community and surface compelling user generated stories and feedback, you create a space where potential donors see evidence that their donations are working and it allows them to connect directly to the people they are helping. Great article.

  3. Alfredou says:

    Yeah it’s a great stuff and I am sure I will get some information that I can use it as reference purpose.

  4. Tom | HealthyDonating says:

    This is a very informative article, thank you for detailed information.

    Our site focuses on an aspect that is oftentimes neglected – the effects of donating on mental health of the donor. More information at

  5. Bill says:

    When considering web design for fund raising, I would suggest providing a section of the website for listing/linking to those that contribute. For example, my directory donates 10% of every commercial submission to charity. For those of us that do donate to charity, it would be nice to get some recognition from the causes that we support. These small gestures can go a long way in developing long term relationships with supporters from around the world.

  6. Elizabeth Beachy says:

    Hi Bill,

    You make an excellent point, thanks for your comment! Agreed that nonprofits should find appropriate ways to recognize donors– both corporate sponsors and individuals. Ideally this should be automated, so that when a donor makes a donation he or she can select whether they would like to be anonymous or recognized publicly on the website.

  7. Brian says:

    I was just wondering if you could take a look at our site and see if there is anything that we can do to improve on.

  8. John says:

    I think the most important thing when talking about donation, is to know that the many received from peoples is well spent. For this you have to create trust…

  9. Karen says:

    This is really true. People should know why they should donate and who will benefit.That should be clear on your site. Pictures will also help them realize that its for real. Even I myself, would look for this information and would soften my heart to give out donations.

  10. giorgia says:

    John and Karen I totally agree with you two, but I think that the second point is as much important as the 3rd, especially nowadays that consumers are influenced more and more by emotional features. Any brand needs to concentrate on that instead of on the product/service itself.

  11. Giorgia @ DotPeak Web Design says:

    Good points Elizabeth,

    We recently redesigned website for a non profit TV channel and the new donation section was clearly accessible from every page of the site. To create emotional touch videos were used. Also it was clearly explained what type of donations are available and how the donated money will be used.
    From experience I can tell that a clear web design definitely improves the fundraising.

  12. natalie says:

    Great post! its interesting and informative, i am sure I will get some information that i can use it as reference purpose.thanks for sharing….

  13. susan says:

    Nice post! and i agree that nonprofits should find appropriate ways to recognize donors, thanks for sharing this wonderful post, cheers!

  14. Fundraising Event Ideas says:

    Hi nice page we will definitely come back and see again.

  15. Charity says:

    This is a very informative article.I was looking for these things and here I found it. I am doing a project and this information is very useful me.This author really knows how to bring traffic to his site. Thanks for sharing.
    Howdy, i read your blog occasionally and i own a similar one and i was just wondering if you get a lot of spam comments? If so how do you prevent it, any plugin or anything you can advise? I get so much lately it’s driving me mad so any assistance is very much appreciated..

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