In an ideal world, your website and donation page would be humming and whirring with donations day and night.
But, let’s face it. Your donation page probably doesn’t get the love it should.
Getting the page into shape isn’t all that hard, but the process is part art, part science.
The art: Getting to know your donors so well that your content persuades them to hit the donation button.
The science: Knowing their goals, their precise journey to your donation page, the elements that distract them from the donation and the elements that prompt them to take action.
Combine the two, and your donation page will soar to new heights.
To put the wind beneath your page’s wings, let’s look at all the components individually and then see how you can put everything together.
Your Donation Page is an Entry Page
If you haven’t realized this yet, a website–along with its structure and content–is not like print material.
A website is a lot more like a house: a collection of spaces and rooms that interconnect but that people don’t necessarily experience in a linear fashion.
In a house, you can come in through the front door, the side door on the garage, the back patio door, or (if you’re of the burglar persuasion) through a broken window in the basement.
While you can highly control how people come into your house, the same can’t be said for your website.
People may indeed come through your front door home page, but for many sites these days, that isn’t the true gateway.
You have what are called “entry pages” that people access from a search engine, a social media post, or any other way that the page is advertised.
Your Donation Page is a Landing Page
Not sure what a landing page is?
A great definition comes from Hubspot: “a landing page is any page on the web on which one might land that 1) has a form and 2) exists solely to capture a visitor’s information through that form.”
So your donation page is a landing page, in the sense that you want to capture your visitor’s information (and hopefully their donation too).
The journey your visitor takes to find your page and fill out the form is known as the “conversion process.”
When a visitor takes that journey, you want them to have a comfy ride to their destination and not get distracted by bizarre or irrelevant distractions along the way.
This means that you need to strip this page of any and all information, navigation or design that doesn’t have anything to do with what you want your visitor to do.
Here, think of yourself like a quarterback: you want to get the ball down the field in a hurry, with no interference, loss of field or fouls.
Your Donation Page is a Sales Page
Nonprofit communicators don’t like to think of fundraising as selling. We all have our stereotypical image of the sleazy, pushy and aggressive salesperson. It’s the last thing you want to be.
But “selling” doesn’t have to be sleazy. For your donation page, the sales process is pretty simple. You just have to argue why a donation to your cause is the right choice.
Nielsen Norman Group conducted an extensive study of nonprofit websites and the donation process. (Attracting Donors and Volunteers on Non-Profit and Charity Websites, Janelle Estes and Jakob Nielsen, 227 pp.)
They surveyed a wide range of users about what they wanted to know from a nonprofit’s page. The two biggies are 1) The organization’s mission, goals, objectives, and work and 2) How it uses donations and contributions.
Interestingly, the first priority ranked MUCH higher when people were trying to decide between two organizations. In fact, an organization’s mission, goals, objectives, and work was was 2.6 times as important as how the organization uses the money it collects.” (Attracting Donors, p. 6)
But both reasons have nothing to do with pushing your cause on people. The job of the page is to explain, which is basically what good salespersonship is all about.
Now that we know what a donation page is, we can use this information to check off the main components you need to make your page as effective as possible.
Your Page Needs Good Usability
Let’s say you send an email blast about your great after-school program for inner-city kids.
But when users click to the link to donate, they don’t go to a page created specifically for this program, but rather to a page that talks about all of your other programs, such as mom support groups or food security programs.
“Huh?” your would-be donor asks. “What the heck am I supposed to be donating to?” She shrugs and just clicks away.
In Your Customer Creation Equation, “Conversion Scientist” Brian Massey talks about how every link–from an email, another web page, or a social media post–is a promise. To inform, to learn more, or in our case, to make a donation to change someone’s life.
As a landing page, your donation page is there to “keep the promise of the link.”
This means that the page has to fulfill the goals you have told donors they can execute.
“Cognitive load” and “decision fatigue” are reasons people click away and result from confusing headlines, information that isn’t useful, unclear offers or descriptions, or a call-to-action that goes nowhere.
Give Them a Reason to Click
Imagine you did a ton of work to tell your users how wonderful it is to donate, but then you don’t give them a clear button to do so right away.
Imagine the page forced them to figure out that they have to go back to the home page to click on “donate,” which then takes them to an outside form that asks for a bunch of information, along with the soul of their first-born child.
All but the most determined of donors would say “buh bye.”
To fix this donation killer, you need to a) Have a call-to-action button that stands out; b) Give donors a very clear and easy reason to click.
The only question now is the copy to use for your call-to-action, which could include Donate Now, Support Us, Contact Us to Donate, Make a Difference, Submit.
Best practices would dictate that “Donate Now” is your best bet: the action is clear and concise. “Support Us” is a bit wishy washy. And “Submit” is no good for anyone (this word should be banished from your donation page from now until eternity).
“Contact Us to Donate” adds too many steps for your donor (but if you don’t have online donations set up, then you have other fish to fry).
“Make a Difference” could also work in some contexts, for example, when the overall message is that your donor’s money will make a difference.
So which do you choose?
Network for Good gives us some good rules of thumb for crafting a call-to-action:
*Is your call-to-cation it concrete? (i.e., you’re not asking for vague “support”?)
*Is it clear what to do next? Your donors don’t have to pogo-stick from page to page to find the donation form.
*Is it easy to do? In other words, can the user donate in a few clicks instead of filling out reams of fields?
Other ideas for experimentation could be adding emotion and keeping your CTA “specific” and “active” (Your Customer Creation Equation, p. 120).
Create a new donation page for every campaign that ties in with the campaign message.
Users should be able to access your regular donation form within just one click from the home page.
Make the call to action prominent and place it more than once (above the fold and below the fold).
If you’re not sure about the exact wording for your call-to-action, go with simple at first (“Donate Now”) and then test longer copy once you have more conversions.
Your Page Needs Good Design
The best museums in the world don’t rely just on the artwork to get people in the door. They design exhibits that lead people past the marvels and beauty from point A to point B.
Landing page design is very similar and is all about:
*Capturing people’s attention
*Keeping their attention
*Focusing their attention on the call-to-action
When pages fail to do this, it’s because the page has too much going on; in other words, the clutter monster has stopped by for a visit and just won’t go home.
The reason web pages get so cluttered is Horror Vacui, or the fear of empty space. This leads to “an obsessive desire to fill every speck of nothing with something.” (Unbounce, Attention Driven Design, p. 7)
Not to scare you off, but good design includes a startling list of principles. But for our purposes, you really only need to remember:
*Whitespace: Letting your text breathe makes it easy for people to skim and get the information they want. It can also help your call to action stand out even more.
*Isolation: Keeping text, images and buttons a good distance away from each other (or isolating just the call to action button or just your hero image) also emphasizes what you want people to focus on.
*Contrast: Contrasting colours, bolding or highlighting are ways to create emphasis. The trick here is not to bold, highlight or contrast everything but rather just on where you want the focus to be.
*Few distractions: Think about whether you really need those social sharing buttons, images, text blocks, or form fields. Any extra “shiny object” could have your user wondering if the grass is greener on some other page…
Donation pages can get pretty busy. Keep the page layout be as simple as possible, with as little clutter as possible. Your call-to-action should be isolated and in a contrasting colour.
If possible, remove all links, navigation, etc. that can distract from the goal on the page.
Your Page Needs Good Copy
Ultimately a donation page has to persuade people to trust you enough to give money over the very impersonal platform of the web.
Your copy therefore has to:
*Persuade people that donating is worthy of their time and investment
*Hit the emotional buttons of your mission
*Make it easy for people to donate with as little friction as possible
*Give them thanks and an opportunity to stay involved
The messages you communicate will depend a lot on who is coming to your page and where they’re coming from.
Ideally, you should have multiple landing pages for email campaigns, social media campaigns and direct mail campaigns.
Brian Massey says to basically copy your text from your ad wholesale onto your landing page. In fact, the headline and the subheadline should be exactly the same.
But, what message should you use for these donation pages?
How can you make it stand out?
Should you go with something crystal clear or something with more pizazz?
Where Donation Messages Come From
In in her ebook Where Stellar Messages Come From, Joanna Wiebe, a master conversion copywriter, gives some insight about where to find your messages.
The main message: Before you write a word, get to know your prospect.
Which donors are you appealing to? What are their concerns and values? What are they worried about? And–most importantly–how does your donation “make them a better version of themselves”?
“Your job is not to write copy. Your job is to know your visitors, customers and prospects so well, you understand the situation they’re in right now, where they’d like to be, and exactly how your solution can and will get them to their ideal self. Your job is, from that point, to sell your prospect a better version of himself or herself.” (J. Wiebe, Where Stellar Messages Come From, p. 4)
I find that nonprofits can have a hard time wrapping their heads around this idea of helping the donor be a better version of themselves. I mean, aren’t you trying improve the lives of the people who benefit from the donations? Isn’t it the world you’re trying to make better?
Yes and no.
As I mentioned in this post, An In-Depth Guide to Why People Give, donors have many reasons for giving. And while you can experiment with these reasons in your different types of fundraising content, the donation page is generally where you want to press the immediate buttons of emotion and self-interest.
In some way (that is consistent with your messaging), you need to explain how the donor is the hero in your fight. You need to clearly explain how good she’ll feel to give. You need to explain all of the value that your donor derives from their interaction with you.
Keep it simple
In its Ultimate Donation Page Guide, Network for Good recommends keeping your donation page super simple and short.
This is definitely one way to go if donors are coming from content that has done all the heavy lifting about why they should give.
This tactic is also spot-on when donors are already very aware of you.
However, if you have a campaign for donors who don’t know you, then you’ll have to test longer copy that tells a story, clearly explains your impact, and gives strong motivation for your donor to give and to give now.
Once you have the basics of usability, design and copy down, you can look at other components to give donors that little boost in their decision to give.
A series of amounts (such as $25, $50, $100, $500) depending on your average gift size.
The idea is to “anchor” the amount that donors give at a certain threshold to raise the overall gift amount.
However, lots of companies that specialize in online giving have done testing with different strings and have found that sometimes these make a difference and sometimes they don’t.
These labels clearly explain how different sizes of gifts result in impact, i.e., $20 buys two mosquito nets, $300 feeds a family for a month, etc.
For a donation page, the most common social proof is number of people who have already donated.
Adding numbers of supporters works in two ways. First, the proof provides reassurance that your donor is not the only one supporting you (and is therefore not an idiot to give you money). It also lets them “join the club” of like-minded people who share their values.
The more you show proof, the more people will feel confident hitting your donate button.
How to tie everything together
When you’re just starting to create a solid donation page, you don’t have to worry about every last detail of page design, conversion optimization or analytics.
While those things are nice and can be helpful in the long run, stick with the basic principles of good usability, design and copy.
And know that even the best donation pages can always be improved, and that even ho-hum donation pages can still get donations because donors are super-charged to give to you.
A good goal is to avoid worrying about every detail and instead work on improving different aspects and test as you go.
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