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How to increase online charity donations | Nomensa

How to increase online charity donations

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13 minutes, 39 seconds

Thank you in many different languages

Figure 1: A wordmap of the words ‘thank you’ in different languages

Why should you thank your online donors? After all, once they’ve completed the transaction, surely it doesn’t matter what you do then? Having viewed the thank you page on a wide range of different charity websites, it seems as though many charities are taking this nonchalant attitude.  Either way donors will not feel positive about this approach.  In short, it is applying an e-commerce ‘buying’ approach to a form of transaction that is fundamentally different and focused on ‘giving’. The psychology of online giving is definitely not the same as online shopping and should be treated very differently.

Thanking the donor appropriately is a key part of the donation process – donors need and expect more than a “receipt’ for their consideration and their money. In fact, there is a rule of thumb that donors should be thanked seven times before you ask for their next donation. The thank you page for an online donation is the first “thank you” that your donors will see – you need to make sure it works!

If the intention is to express thanks and show appreciation for the value a donor has provided then you need to do exactly that, especially if you are aiming to strengthen the social relationship and build emotional engagement.  Ultimately, this is a proven way to get a donor to potentially donate again at a later date.  Therefore, a well-designed thank you page will bring many benefits but most importantly it will make your donors feel positive and this is the best possible state for deepening the relationship.

There is not a more pleasing exercise of the mind than gratitude.  It is accompanied with such an inward satisfaction that the duty is sufficiently rewarded by the performance.

– Joseph Addison Recent research by Grant and Gino in 2010 looked into the effect of gratitude on the person being thanked and whether it increased motivation and engagement.  In one study they asked students to provide feedback about an employment letter from Eric a fictitious student.

One group was sent a personal response and thank you when email feedback was received and the other group a neutral response (essentially a receipt).  So what happened when both groups were asked to provide additional help?  The group that was thanked was more than twice as likely to help again.

So it turns out that thanking people is a powerful motivator.  Why does it happen?  Because we like being valued and helping people and this is central to why we donate to charitable causes – we want to make a difference.  Yet, we also want to know our contribution and efforts have been valued and therefore we expect to be thanked.


Nomensa’s Charity Donation Framework

Nomensa's charity donation framework. Includes the steps engage, nudge, support and reward.

Figure 2: Nomensa’s charity donation framework

The charity donation framework (shown in figure 1) 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 appeal) or online (through case studies, online videos 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. Messaging is important and should be consistent with other online and offline messages;
  • Support: This refers to the support that the donor needs while stepping through the donation process. If this process is designed well and reflects user expectations it will feel shorter, more intuitive and ‘right’;
  • Reward: Having completed the donation, the donor should be rewarded with a positive thank you message and encouragement to engage further.

In this article, we will discuss the “Reward” facets of online donations and how psychological factors can be used to increase donor motivation and empathy.  In the previous article titled Promoting Committed Giving Online we have already covered the “Engage” and “Nudge” aspects of direct debit donations.


The power of thanking the donor

1. Increased awareness of your charity

A good customer experience is told to eight people whereas a bad customer experience is shared with 22 others! In addition, it takes ten good experiences to make up for a bad one. By providing an enjoyable donation experience that ends on a positive emotional high note (e.g. with a great thank you page), you will be encouraging donors to share that positive experience with their friends, family and acquaintances.

Word-of-mouth is a great way to increase awareness and bring new potential donors to your charity. Knowing that “someone like me” supports a particular charity is a great incentive for me to also support that charity. This motivation is stronger the closer my relationship to the person in question. This makes sites such as Facebook, where we are connected to our friends and family, extremely important for encouraging donations.


2. Repeat charity donations

Repeat donors are very valuable. In one study, previous donors were 19% more likely to donate again and gave around twice as much as people who hadn’t donated to that charity before (“Is a Donor in Hand Better than Two in the Bush? Evidence from a Natural Field Experiment”, Landry et al).

It may seem obvious, but it takes much less work to convince someone to give to you again than for the first time.  The level of trust established with a repeat donor is much greater than a first time donor.  Therefore, the aim should be to ensure the first time the donor gives, they are properly thanked as this will (potentially) lead to future (repeat) donations.


3. Improved support and involvement

You can build on the support your donors have already shown. A thank you page can be used to encourage donors to support you in non-financial ways, such as volunteering, campaigning or fundraising. A well-designed thank you page will reinforce the positive feelings that donors are already enjoying and motivate them to continue this with further engagement.

Donors should be made to feel part of a wider community with shared values and goals. This is a very powerful psychological motivator: we tend to flock together and feelings of similarity can breed common purpose. Showing how others have gone on to become part of a charity’s supporter community after donating will encourage new donors to do the same.


The power of reward

Satisfying expectation

We all have beliefs about the things we do and this is true for ‘giving’ as it is for any other behaviour.  Martin Fishbein developed the Expectancy-Value Model (EVM) in the 1970’s to explain and predict an individual’s attitudes.  In the act of online giving we will have an expectation that what we are doing will be appreciated and therefore assign a positive value to the act.  If after completing the process (getting to the thank you page) our expectations are matched (proven correct) our attitude will be enhanced and we will perceive our behaviour as good.  This is important because we want to feel good and non-profit organisations’ online giving processes should also be reinforcing this attitude, for example, that giving is good.

Ultimately, if the donation experience is well designed and meaningful the reward will work to reinforce the charity, thus increasing brand value. This, in turn, increases a donors perception of trust and how much they value the work of the charity: engagement can be traced-back through the whole process but the reward must feel significant and will be the part that sticks in the donor’s mind. The more significant we make the donor feel the more likely they will return, recommend and remember. The psychology of reward is affected by the following factors:

  • Reciprocity – donors are giving their assistance and money so letting them know this is valued is a clear way to reciprocate (give back);
  • Expectation (and prediction) – donors (people) have beliefs (expectations) associated with how they want to be treated and they will make determinations (predictions) and if they match they will feel valued;
  • Reinforcement – thanking donors is a sure way to strengthen the ‘social relationship’ and motivate similar behaviour (giving) in the future.


1. Say “thank you”

What is one of the main current challenges with thank you pages? The answer is that they are often treated as a receipt. But giving is not buying! Therefore, donating should feel different to an e-commerce experience and use different language and page elements.  It should not be called a checkout, refered to a basket or have anything ‘buying’ related because donors are ‘giving’. The motivations and the reasons why we do it are different, and often personal. However, it must feel different and it is important that charities reflect social and cognitive behaviour associated with ‘giving’.  Therefore, the words “thank you” need to appear prominently on the page.  Not “transaction complete” or anything else e-commerce related. The donor needs to feel that the charity is grateful for their donation and that they are getting a “pat on the back”. This will reinforce positive feelings and make them more amenable to further engagement with you. Remember it is NOT a receipt!  Figure 3 shows a receipt a purchase from Amazon.  What’s interesting is that the receipt clearly the purchaser and it’s the first words they will read; ‘Thank you, your order has been placed”.  Whilst Amazon has an excellent heritage in delivering a great buying experience, we do expect to be thanked when we buy something.  The same also applies people making a donation and if sites like Amazon do it, and do it well, then charities should take note because saying thank you should be a minimum requirement.

An example from Amazon which reads

Figure 3: An Amazon e-commerce receipt


2. Make it personal

When someone says your name, you will hear it even in a busy noisy environment. Why is it that we see and hear our name more than any other word? Anything personal to us, such as someone using our name, makes us feel very special. Therefore, once you know the donor’s name, use it! Putting the donor’s name into a thank you message will make it stand out and feel special. So, make the thank you message as personal as possible: include the donor’s name and the amount they have given (for example “Thank you for your generous donation of £25…”). This acts as confirmation of the donation that they have made, as well as helping to reinforce positive feelings and make them feel personally thanked.

 A self service till in a supermarket

Figure 4: Self-service check out

The web is essentially a self-service environment.  However, we are predisposed to relate with people and enjoy doing so and this is probably one of the reasons why the web can often feel not very friendly (engaging) and merely transactional.  We expect people to be able to use a plethora of technologies when in fact they are often at odds with established social behaviour and understanding.  This will hopefully improve but for the time being the web still often feels poor at servicing us on a humanistic level and unfortunately this is the ‘norm’.

For the web to reflect our desires and expectations we have to design-in many more of the human factors that are common in our everyday social interactions and make the experience feel meaningful. The paradox is that self-service from a web perspective often does not result in a better or more convenient experience.  This typically means badly designed digital experiences.  From call-to-action to thank you, it needs to feel humane and meaningful if you want to keep people motivated.


3. Show them the difference their donation will make

Unlike with online shopping, donors do not get physical goods in return for parting with their money. They do however expect to receive thanks in response for their gift and to be “thanked well”.

Showing the donor that their donation has been worthwhile is very important and is something that comes up every time we do usability testing on donation journeys. Showing them the difference that their donation will make and how the money will be used will make the donor feel that it was worthwhile to give. Messages such as “Your contribution of £10 a month will change this person’s life by…” accompanied by a relevant photo or video (showing the results of your work) will reinforce the value of what you are doing.

People (donors) will feel this gratitude and it will make them feel good. Links through to more information on your website will allow those who are really interested to pursue this further.

A slide in a children's playground

Figure 5: A typical playground slide – a donation journey should feel as engaging as riding a slide!


4. Provide concrete ways to spread the word

People (especially in the UK) are usually not keen to publicise their donation, they are however often willing to show and share their support. However, careful use of social media will enable you to encourage donors to spread the word and bring you potential supporters. You can achieve this by providing suggested messages to tweet such as “see the difference a donation to @charityname can make at ” or suggesting that they like you on Facebook or retweet a message. This type of personal recommendation and social proof will really help to build up support and gain you more potential donors.

Seeing that “someone like me” supports this charity is one of the strongest motivators there is. Make sure social media options are really clear as people are reluctant to just click on a Facebook or Twitter icon without knowing what it will do. Providing prepared responses and tweets will mean that donors do not have to think too hard, but can just respond with what feels natural.


5. Provide clear next steps for engaging further

There is a fine line between encouraging donors to continue their support and hassling them. If your thank you page concentrates too much on “next steps”, it can make you seem very ungrateful and can destroy the value of the thank you message and the reward. People are very aware of the value of their time and especially their money so any requests for further support need to be very finely balanced. For donors who have just given money, suggesting some ideas for giving a little bit of their time to support you could be a successful way to engage them further.

If a donor is feeling positive about their donation and you have just reinforced that with a nice thank you message, it is a good time to ask for a little bit more support. This should NOT be financial support, but could be something like tweeting a message, signing a petition or donating goods to a charity shop.  The trick is making sure it feels easy and good to do but is not perceived as ‘another task’.


6. Provide contact details

Finally, make sure that you provide a name, email and phone number that the donor can use to follow up with any questions, if necessary. This is reassuring and gives the donors a clear route to follow if they have any problems.


On your thank you page, do not…

  • Make the thank you look like a receipt
  • Include the “shopping list” of donation amounts. This sort of up-sell is common on retail sites, but really goes down badly for charities where it makes the donor feel that the charity is not grateful and that they just want more money straight away.
  • Hide the navigation. You should have taken the navigation away to isolate the donation process (giving people less opportunity to abandon), but it should be displayed again on the thank you page so that people can continue using your website if they want.

This is not an e-commerce transaction!!


In summary

Thanking your donors appropriately is an essential part of the donation process and is not something that should be neglected or considered an “afterthought”. Careful design of a thank you page should bring you many valuable benefits including repeat donations, new supporters and increased levels of engagement. Involving your users in the page design, through usability testing and user research, will ensure that the approach reflects donor attitudes, expectations and needs.  Further page optimisations can occur through A/B testing to help fine tune elements such as images and wording once the page is “live”.

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