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5 Nonprofit Website Mistakes That Will Destroy Your Online Fundraising


By Sean Chisholm

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Reading Time: 6 minutes

It won’t come as a surprise to most nonprofits that online fundraising is an important piece of the overall funding puzzle. Nor will most nonprofits find it surprising that online fundraising is only becoming more important as time goes by. We live in a world suffused with technology. A world where many people, if not most, are more likely to make a donation through a smartphone than by mailing a check.

But even though nearly everyone recognizes the importance of establishing an online fundraising presence, not everyone pulls it off equally well! In fact, a lot of organizations struggle with some of the basic elements of maintaining an effective online fundraising program. We’ve listed out 5 nonprofit website mistakes that can tank your online fundraising. Make sure you don’t fall into one of these traps!

1. Hidden Donate Button

This one is obvious, but not so obvious that it’s no longer worth pointing out! Don’t bury your donate button. The harder it is to find, the harder it will be for supporters to actually make a gift to your organization. It’s not rocket science, we know. Believe it or not though, we see nonprofit websites all the time that completely obscure access to the donate button. That’s not good.

You should have your donate button placed prominently “above the fold” (so you don’t have to scroll down the screen to see it). And it should be easy for people to find. That way, you aren’t getting in your own way when someone comes to your site with the intention of making a gift. Here are a few well-designed nonprofit websites: Invisible Children, Red Cross, Splash. See how long it takes you to find the donate button on each one.

Moving beyond the basics, you shouldn’t be satisfied with just placing your donate button in a prominent location and moving on. You should be actively looking for ways to improve conversions. With the rise of A/B testing software (our favorite is Optimizely) you can easily test different variations without any programming knowledge. Do conversions improve when you change the text on your donate button? The color? Its location on the page? These are all things you can easily test to find the optimal spot for your donate button. Take another look at the Splash website, not only do they use a sharp color contrast to draw attention to their donate button, but they’ve also altered the standard text.

2. Confusing Donation Form

Your first step is making people aware that there’s an option to donate through your nonprofit’s website. Your next step is making the process of donating as painless as possible. That’s why multiple step forms are a bad idea. The more hoops you make people jump through before they can actually make a donation, the fewer donations you will get. Again, not rocket science!

One step forms that are simple, clean, and match your branding are optimal for conversions. We’ve written before about how a branded donation form can actually result in increased average donation size, but branded forms also help with conversions. When you send someone to a non-branded donation form it’s visually jarring. It naturally invites the visitor to reconsider whether or not they want to take the next step in the process. By contrast, a branded form fits in visually with the prior flow of pages on your website. It doesn’t stick out to the user, and you get less of a second-guessing effect when people hit the page.

Also, to extend the testing idea from above, you should be testing your donation checkout form in order to maximize conversions. With nonprofit fundraising software that integrates with analytics platforms like Google Analytics, it’s possible to track the number of people that hit your checkout page and actually complete a gift. With this setup in place, you can swap out colors, images, text, and gift amounts to see if they impact your donation conversion rate.

3. Beginning and Ending with Donations

Up until now we’ve been talking about accepting online donations through your website. And that’s a logical starting point for a discussion about online fundraising. The ability to accept gifts through your nonprofit’s website is really the first thing you need to have any sort of online fundraising presence to speak of. That being said, you shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that your engagement options begin and end with donations. They don’t.

The focus on donation buttons and donation form optimization can lead you to imagine that your average website visitor is someone ready and willing to make a donation. If you just get the placement, colors, and text right you can capitalize on as many of those visitors as possible and increase donations! The only problem with this picture is that it doesn’t actually match reality. Sure some subset of your visitors will come to your website with the intent to make a gift, but that won’t usually be the case. People rarely act in such a linear fashion. They may be visiting to gather more information, to get contact information, to scope volunteer opportunities, or for another reason.

As far as your online fundraising is concerned, you should make sure that your website has a variety of engagement opportunities to cater to the diversity of your visiting audience. Have soft options like signing up for a newsletter or subscribing to your blog as well as options that require more commitment, like making a donation, starting a fundraising page, or signing up to volunteer. You don’t want to lose a chance to engage someone because you’re too narrowly focused on donations. When you can engage someone (even if they don’t give to you) you’re more likely to turn that person into a donor later.

Donation Page
New Organ is one of many organizations that now offers a permanent fundraising option on its website.

It’s also worth mentioning that organizations are increasingly adding year-round fundraising options to their websites to provide additional engagement options. This allows supporters who may not want to make a simple donation to fundraise for your nonprofit instead. This strategy has proven especially effective with younger supporters, but it can appeal to anyone. There are lots of people that would rather dedicate their birthdays, anniversaries, sporting events, or other life milestones to your nonprofit than make a donation. Fundraising requires deeper engagement and can feel more personal and fulfilling to supporters.

4. Failing to Follow Up

Whether you get a website visitor to make a donation, create a fundraising page, or signup for a newsletter, you should always have some sort of follow up. Using email automation software, you can easily create messages to go out supporters after they pass through one of these conversion points. But does this really matter to your online fundraising?

You might think, hey “so-and-so” already made a gift and got an auto-receipt, I don’t have to do anything else. The problem with this approach is that it weakens your relationship with a supporter that has already shown you they care enough to make a gift. This makes it much more likely that the person will be a one and done donor. You want repeat donors. And that means including personal touches.

No one likes to feel like they have sent money down a black hole. By scheduling a personalized email follow up to go out to new donors and fundraisers you well help provide the recognition that sets the stage for repeat support.

5. Not Focusing on Creating Value for Others

As we’ve already mentioned people come to your website for a variety of different reasons (usually not to make a donation). Your website should hold value for visitors that aren’t intending to make a gift. Educational resources, an interesting blog, a vibrant member community, these are all ways to offer value to people through your website.

Valuable content helps to drive traffic to your website, and it gives visitors something to do when they get there (aside from supporting you financially). When you focus on creating value for your visitors you give them something helpful to interact with before they are ready to give. You also create reasons for them to come back and visit you again and again. For instance if you regularly produce interesting articles on your nonprofit blog, your supporters will naturally be more inclined to come back to your website. Each time you get them back you have another opportunity to build the relationship, and hopefully, convert them into a donor or fundraiser.

The point is that your focus cannot exclusively be around optimizing your donation flow or your fundraising calls to action. Your website should offer real value to those who visit it. That’s how you build traffic and get people coming back. And both those things are necessary if you expect to grow the volume of donations you bring in through your website.

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