How to improve online fundraising


With government funding for charity programs being cut, many charities are currently looking at increasing their income from individual giving. However the current economic climate means that people are less willing to give their spare money to charity – charities have to work harder to make their case.

Online donations are one source of individual giving that can work well. A whole range of marketing campaigns can be used to drive people to your website where they can then quickly and easily make a donation. However, this is where many charities fail (according to recent report by Jakob Nielsen giving to a charity online is harder than shopping – “Non-Profit Organization Websites: Increasing Donations and Volunteering”).

In this article, I am going to focus on the most valuable type of donation: regular committed giving by direct debit. This type of donation requires an ongoing commitment from the donor and, as a consequence, requires you to work harder to help them make that decision. Below I outline some key tips that will help you to encourage this type of donation online.

Nomensa’s Charity Donation Framework

Nomensa's donation framework: Engage, nudge, support, reward.

Figure 1: Nomensa's charity donation framework The charity donation framework (shown above) developed by Nomensa has four stages:

  • Engage: During this stage the potential donor becomes emotionally engaged with the charity. This can occur offline (for example through a television advert) or online (through case studies or other content);
  • Nudge: At this point, the donor is tipped over into actually deciding to make a donation. This typically occurs on the “Donate” landing page and is supported by a range of subtle features, such as suggested amounts, imagery and wording;
  • Support: This refers to the support that the donor needs while stepping through the donation process – this should be as short and smooth as possible;
  • Reward: Having completed the donation, the donor should be rewarded with a positive thank you message and encouragement to engage further.

In this article, I will discuss only the “Engage” and “Nudge” facets of direct debit donations. In later articles, we will cover the “Support” and “Reward” aspects of this donation type.

1. Differentiate regular giving

A potential donor visiting your website will often not yet have decided upon a donation type or amount. A simple explanation of how regular giving is different from a one-off donation will help to promote this type of donation and bring it to donor’s attention.

It is important to emphasise how a regular donation will support long-term or on-going projects. If your charity appears to be all about meeting immediate short-term emergency needs, there is no incentive for people to make a regular donation. Try to find a short sentence that conveys the long-term need in a simple, emotive phrase: the sentences below from RNLI, Actionaid and Macmillan are all good examples.

Example sentence from RNLI: "A regular monthly donation ensures our lifeboat crews and lifeguards get the support they need every month to save lives at sea."

Figure 2: Example sentence encouraging regular donations from the RNLI's donation page

Example sentence from Action Aid: "Invest in people with a monthly gift and help to change lives for good."

Figure 3: Example sentence encouraging regular donations from Actionaid's donation page

Example sentence from Macmillan: "When you set up a regular donation, it helps us to plan continued support for people affected by cancer throughout the year."

Figure 4: Example sentence encouraging regular donations from Macmillan's donation page

2. Provide examples of ongoing projects

In addition to a simple sentence or phrase that summarises the need for on-going support, your Donation page should also include some clear examples of ongoing or long-term projects.

This will give the donor a good idea of the type of activity his/her donation could support. These need to be examples of ongoing projects that need a regular income to support them. Each example should be accompanied by an image showing the type of work or project that would be supported so that the potential donor can visualize exactly what difference his/her donation will make. The example below from the National Autistic Society provide a good example of how this can be achieved. Example illustration: "£5 a month helps pay for a befriender to meet regularly with someone with autism"

Figure 5: Example illustration of a project requiring regular funding from the National Autistic Society's donation page

3. Suggest affordable amounts

A direct debit is a big commitment, so it is important to emphasise the affordability of a small regular donation (such as £3 or £5 per month), perhaps by explaining that it is only a few pence every day or by comparing it with other expenditure (such as a cup of coffee).

It is also important to be clear that even a small regular donation can make a big difference. Wateraid provide a very nice example showing the effect of a small monthly donation when it adds up over the course of a year. Finally, if you have a TV or print campaign that asks for a particular donation (e.g. £5 per month), make sure that your website has the same examples and imagery.

Example: "Please give £5 per month. By setting up a regular gift, you'll help cover the cost of a Marie Curie Nurse's shift so that a terminally ill patient can spend their last days at home - the place they most want to be. That's just 16p per day to help one of our nurses provide care for a terminally ill patient and their family."

Figure 6: Example affordable regular donation amount from Marie Curie's donation page

Example: What your support can achieve over a year. £2 a month could help give a person safe, clean water for life. £5 a month could pay for a composting latrine for one household. £15 a month could rehabilitate a borehole with a pump.

Figure 7: Example showing the cumulative effect of a small donation over the course of a year from Wateraid's donation page

4. Provide “products” that package the regular donation

An alternative way of achieving the same effect as the above points is to package a regular donation as a “product”. Successful examples include sponsoring a child and adopting an animal. Obviously, the nature of your charity will determine whether it is possible for you to provide “products” of this type, but it is worth thinking creatively to see whether it is something you can achieve. Packaging a regular donation in this way gives the donor something very concrete and personal to focus on. It also enables you to provide a very clear explanation of how the regular donation will be used. In addition, it also gives you a very nice way to reward the donor and build a relationship with them through regular updates (something that we will cover in more detail in a subsequent article). The examples below from WWF, Actionaid and Guide Dogs all illustrate different aspects of this. A packaged regular donation product should follow these guidelines:

  • Have an affordable amount – the examples below range from £1 a week to £15 a month;
  • Be as individual as possible. Allowing the donor to select exactly what they want to support will help build engagement. In the examples below, the donor can choose the type of animal to adopt (WWF), a child to sponsor (Actionaid) or a puppy to sponsor (Guide Dogs);
  • Explain how the regular donation will make a real difference. Actionaid provides a great example of this;
  • Reward your donor and follow up with regular updates to build a long-lasting relationship.

WWF adopt an animal

Figure 8: Animal adoption example from WWF

Actionaid: what you need to know

Figure 9: Explanation of the effects of sponsoring a child from Actionaid

Guidedogs: Sponsor a puppy

Figure 10: Sponsoring a puppy example from the Guide Dogs website

In summary…

To help encourage regular committed giving online, we have outlined four key tips:

  1. Differentiate regular giving;
  2. Provide examples of ongoing projects;
  3. Suggest affordable amounts;
  4. Provide “products” that package the regular donation.

Following these tips should mean that anyone arriving on your site looking to make a direct debit is not put off. This may also help you to convert someone from a single to a regular donation. We would however highly recommend that you involve actual website visitors and supporters in getting the page design right. There are a number of ways to involve users in the design process, from focus groups to usability testing. The right technique will give you additional insight into the specific requirements of your audience and allow you to fine-tune the page design to their needs. This is especially valuable for testing messages, images, layouts and the fine details of the design. In subsequent articles, we will explain how to design the direct debit form to support donors and how best to reward and follow-up direct debit donations.

Further reading

Nomensa has a great track record of delivering user experience excellence that improves the fundraising efforts of our charity clients. If you would like to explore how we can help your charity substantially increase the impact of it's digital fundraising then please give us a call on +44 (0) 117 929 7333 or submit this short form. In the meantime, take a look at the full range of services that we offer.