Watch for Roadblocks: The Road to More Successful Online Fundraising

Thalia Driessen - 11.25.2009

I was honored to present a webinar for Fundraising Success Magazine with Rob Gerth, Communications Director of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. The topic was Web Design for Optimizing Fundraising Functionality: Transforming Obstacles into Opportunities. Since there are so many things to consider when mapping out your online fundraising strategy it can be overwhelming to know which direction to go. Our goal was to identify five all-too-common obstacles to look out for when mapping your online fundraising efforts and five shining guideposts to get your organization going on the right track. Truly effective fundraising is not as simple as adding a ‘Donate Now’ button to your Website….it’s a journey. In Part I let’s take a look at what to watch out for along the way.

Obstacle #1: Missing (or unclear) information about your organization.

It might sound like a no-brainer but the very biggest obstacle to people giving online is if they don’t have a clear understanding of what your organization is all about. According to the study by the Nielsen Norman group, 58 Design Guidelines for Improving the Donation Process and the Usability of Essential Information on Charity and Non-Profit Websites, 83% of surveyed donors were simply not comfortable making a donation to a cause until they understood the mission, goals, objectives, and work of the charity.

Obstacle #2: Lack of (or confusing) explanation of how donations are used.

Once a prospective donor understands ‘what you do’, they will want to know ‘how you do it’ and what positive impact their gifts can make. If financial accountability and information is nowhere to be found, potential donors may be wary of how dollars are allocated and spent. If there is a lack of success stories or compelling cases about results from prior donations potential donors may doubt tangible results from their gifts. And finally if program names are vague, for example ‘community campaign’ or ‘annual giving opportunity’ potential donors may not become engaged.

Obstacle #3: Poor visual design and/or bad user interface.

As web users’ experience in general evolves and familiarity of retail and social networking sites increases, their expectations for a high quality website experience from non-profit organizations have grown. Your website’s overall presentation can immediately impact the impression visitors have of your brand’s reputation and legitimacy. The old adage of ‘you never have a second chance to make a first impression’ applies here.  For example, if a user can’t easily find where to donate, they may not give and even worse may seek out another more user-friendly place to do so. Another big warning sign to look out for is design inconsistency between the appeal page or your home page and the actual donation form. In other words, if the donation form has different branding, or copy that doesn’t match the original call to action, you may lose potential donors.

Obstacle #4: Technical difficulties! (&^%$*#!).

If your donation form includes unnecessary steps and suffers from TMIG (too much information gathering) users may suffer from ‘form fatigue’. If extra steps such as a registration or login are required to donate it may discourage those who are only interested in giving a one-time gift. This can also be the case if you use a 3rd party application such as Paypal™ or Amazon®, which require an existing account or additional steps to process a payment. Also look out for insecure page warnings, while not always a sign that the donation process itself is insecure (it may be an image or script that is causing the error) users who are newer to online giving may be concerned. If an error does occur, such as a required field wasn’t filled out, and there is no indication of what needs to be fixed, a donor may not have the patience to review the form to see what happened and correct it.


Obstacle #5: Absence of or inconsistent acknowledgement, appreciation or recognition.

Let’s suppose a visitor has decided to give a donation to your organization, has gone to the effort of getting out their credit card, filling out the form and clicking submit and … nothing. If there is no confirmation page or email, how would they know it actually worked? They wouldn’t. Not only would there be a sense of uncertainty but the opportunity to provide them with an immediate sense of gratification is lost. If you do say ‘Thank you’ is it the same for a $5.00 gift as it is for a $10,000 gift? And with subsequent gifts if there is no recognition of prior activity, a donor may not be as motivated to give again and they may not feel valued or recognized.


That sums up five roadblocks to look out for. In Part II we’ll cover what specific steps you can take to remove them and get on your way!


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