Optimise your donation forms

Your donation forms should be the most thought about and tweaked pages on your site. If they are not working well for you now, take some time to review their effectiveness using these top tips. A few small changes to usability and presentation could increase donations.

This post focuses on single donations rather than regular giving.

Lots of donate buttons

Barnardo’s / Nomensa

Yesterday, brilliant web agency Nomensa shared news about work they have done with Barnardo’s leading to a 17% increase in donations. Analysis showed that people were ‘not completing their online donation journey’. They researched audience types and made changes to functionality, language and a simplified the donation journey. In the case study on Netimperative (which sadly doesn’t include screenshots to see the before and after) they say:

“The language used was adapted to include all target audiences, using a genuine emotive tone, supported with specific information to explain how donations are used. The donation journey was simplified, making it easier for the visitor to reach a gift point and rather than free form value boxes, amount guides were provided that offered a choice of donation levels.

“Instead of simply allowing potential donors to key in the amount they want to give, we suggested a series of amounts that they could donate, from a choice of £25, £50 and £100. We used emotive language for the content on the giving page and included additional information to explain in detail what each of the amounts will be used for, and by doing this, we found that there was in increase average donation values.”

Online donations – benchmarking

Last year I did some work for a big charity, benchmarking their online donation process against 13 other highstreet-name charities. It looked at design and functionality of donating online. It was fascinating to see the standardised prominence and design of the donation process but also to see that some charities were doing it more smartly than others. Here are some of my findings.

Prominence of ‘Donate’

All of the charities had a very clear and simple link to a donate section on their homepages. Often the Donate tabs were a different colour from the other navigation buttons or highlighted with a graphic (as seen in these examples from Sightsavers, Macmillan, Marie Curie and Oxfam). These were generally the last item (left to right) on the navigation bar.

How donate appears in navigation

Three charities also included a prominent space for a donation form on their homepages, all in the top third of the page (see examples from NSPCC and Mencap). These enabled a quick gateway to the process for making a single or regular donation (although Mencap only allowed a one-off donation this way) and made ‘the ask’ of soliciting a donation significantly more prominent than on other sites.

Quick donations on homepages

100% of the charities surveyed had the capacity to accept single donations via their website. For most this was the top option in the navigation of their Donate sections. All called it ‘Single donation’ with the exception of BHF, RNLI and Macmillan (Make a one-off donation), Guide Dogs (Donate via PayPal), Mencap (Make a donation).

Donation amounts

Half of all of organisations had radio buttons giving between three and five amount options and a free box for other. Bottom of the ranges were £2, £5, £10, £15, £18. Top amounts ranged from £20, £25, £50, £100, £250. Five organisations had a set default donation amount. This ranged from £5-£50, average was £19.

In terms of persuasive design this is effective as it sets a precedent for an expected amount. Donors are more likely to accept a default or increase the amount they had intended to give close to these amounts if an expectation is set.

Oxfam's single donation options

The form

Of the 11 organisations who solicited donations through an online form, five had a long one-page form. Other forms ranged from 2-5 screens, average 4. Good practice included ‘step 3 of 5’ type information showing progress through the donation process.

Gold star good practice went to Oxfam who’s single donation form is very clear. It matches the donation amounts in radio buttons with ‘this money will buy’ information in the right-hand column. The gift aid information is clear with an example of what £50 turns into with gift aid. The form is uncluttered and easy to use. The submit button at the end is clearly labelled ‘Donate’.

How errors are communicated is important. If your abandon rate is high, it may be that your form doesn’t work properly or is confusing. Have a go at filling in the form wrongly and see what the experience is. Does your error page or message reassure people or shout at them (as in this scary red example below). No one likes being shouted at, especially when they are trying to do something good. Every stage of your process should be recognising that they are doing something special.

Angry looking error message

Top tips for online donations

  • Make donating as quick and simple as possible.  Is the donation button / page easy to find? Is it a different colour and in an obvious place? Is it on every page and repeated next to content which is likely to inspire a donation? Is it simple to donate? Do you really need a telephone number and date of birth?
  • Include suggested amounts, use radio buttons. Set the lowest amount higher than your average donation for a month to see what difference it makes.
  • Check that your online donations form is optimised for mobile giving. More and more people will donate using their mobile. Try Google’s HowToGetMo site and read this useful article on designing a better mobile checkout process.
  • Include a quick donation option on your homepage and a prominent link from every page on the site
  • Give the same prominence to donating on your social media channels.
  • Check your error messages – think about how to encourage people to go and fix problems if they have missed fields or filled them in wrong. They are likely to abandon a donation if they don’t get it right first time.
  • How do you say thank you after a donation? Do you follow up the form with an email? How quickly? Do you give donors other ways to get involved or words (such as a tweet) to help them share what they have just done? Can you thank them in creative and memorable ways? Keep your donors warm and make it easy for them to get involved.

Analyse what works for you

What works will be different from charity to charity but good design, usability, accessibility and persuasiveness should be key to online donations.

Find out what works for you by using all the data available. Analyse your web stats, donation patterns, abandoned transactions and feedback. Be your own mystery shopper and see what the donation experience is like on your site (or get your friends and family to donate and watch how they get on). You could also try donating to some of the highstreet-name charities and see what that experience is like. What can you learn from them?

Make changes and see what the impact is by comparing the data. You can always change anything back.

Your views

If you have examples or insights into good practice, please do share them here. Would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

Can I help you?

Please also get in touch if you’d like me to help you review your donation processes or think about how to make your asks more persuasive. I am a freelance web editor and trainer and can help you give your communications a healthcheck and ideas injection.


2 thoughts on “Optimise your donation forms

  1. Thanks for commenting Kirsty 🙂

    I spotted your post about Childsi and I have mentally logged it. I was going to do a trawl and see if I could spot others doing this or whether Childsi were leading the way once again. Brilliant stuff. Thanks for sharing.

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