What are the best practices for online giving? Here’s three from our research


Andy Jones


Ten years ago, nonprofit fundraisers waited for the postal service to make their daily delivery of mail at the office in order to gauge the effectiveness of their campaigns and appeals. Now, they get real-time alerts as donations arrive online. As more donors move their giving online, it requires organisations to optimise the online donation experience.

Over the past year, Roundtree conducted research in order to learn from the practices of others. We donated to 100 nonprofit organisations. Beyond supporting worthwhile causes, we were interested in learning more about the online donation process and communication sequences after becoming a new donor. Our goal was to discover best practices and innovative ways to optimise the experience.

We learned a lot from the data we gathered but here are three things every organisation should consider:

Minimise friction

The goal is to provide the most donor-friendly experience possible. In order to do so, you want to remove the number of steps it takes to give online. How many clicks does it take once users are on your homepage to complete their donation? Most organisational leaders probably don’t know the answer to that question.

Are mouse clicks really that important? Yes. There’s a reason Amazon offers ‘one-click ordering’. It makes it easy and quick for the shopper to complete their transaction. Most online shopping makes it possible to complete your transaction with three clicks. Our research showed this same pattern with online giving. Nonprofits who are more digitally savvy limit the donation process to three clicks. The average across all organisations is four clicks.

Though it may seem inconsequential, every additional click you ask a donor to make in the giving process presents an obstacle between them and the goal they are trying to achieve of supporting your organisation.

Photo credit: Unsplash


Invest in your ‘thank you’ message

The most underdeveloped piece of real estate on every organisation website is the message donors see on the screen once they’ve completed the donation. Most organisations simply use a default message appearing on a sterile white screen reading ‘thanks for your donation’.

Every donation deserves a celebration! Instead of a simple thanks, think of ways you could use this landing page:

  • Remind them of an impact metric. ‘Every $10 provides an hour of after-school tutoring for girls like Melissa.’
  • Post a video of your staff celebrating their gift in the office. ‘We’re celebrating your gift!’
  • Provide them with a free resource. ‘Thanks for your gift. Now we want to give something to you.’
  • Make a list of 100 people whose lives have been impacted by your organisation. ‘Your gift doesn’t merely support an organisation. It impacts lives.’
  • Create a visual of the words ‘Thank You’ using photos of beneficiaries. ‘As thankful as we are for your gift, these are the people who benefit most from your generosity.’

The email receipt is also an underutilised resource. It is typically the first email donors receive in their inboxes. Make sure you put your best foot forward. Most of the receipts we received were merely transactional. The ones that stood out are branded with the organisation’s fonts and colours, accompanied by a quick message from the executive director.

Create a communication sequence

People have learned enough about your organisation to make an initial donation. They’ve given you their home address and email address. Now it’s time to roll out the welcome mat and invite them to come inside. Use a sequence of emails and direct mail sequence to make them feel valued for their sacrificial investment.

Beyond an email receipt, most organisations sent four pieces of communication within the first month. They want to keep you engaged while your gift is still recent. It’s no secret that they want you to give again and make a habit of supporting their work.

Your organisation needs a sequence of communications prepared for new donors. You can even automate the sequence using email management systems. Beyond an initial receipt, here are the three most common pieces of content organisations send within the first month of becoming a donor.

  1. Welcome from an organisational leader. Typically, it was email correspondence from the executive director or development director. It makes donors feel like their gift, no matter the size, is valued throughout the organisation. Some even provided contact information for donors to reach out with questions.
  1. Introduction to programs and impact story. You have an opportunity to take your donors on a tour of your programs and services. Now is the time to provide them with an additional layer of detail that is often left out of promotional materials. The best content is usually centred around an impact story, showing how the life of one person was positively influenced by the work being done. 
  1. Additional opportunities to engage. Yes, many organisations solicited another gift within the first month. However, they also provided non-monetary ways to engage with the organisation whether it was volunteering, attending a webinar, or providing content to share on social media. You ways other than money for people to feel like they are making a difference.

There are no shortcuts to providing donors with a first-rate experience. It isn’t limited to the three items we’ve covered. It requires a clear message, intuitive navigation, and appropriate calls to action in a visually appealing format. Yet, most organisations can make simple achievable adjustments like those noted above to attract and retain donors.

Andy Jones is the Founder and Managing Director of Roundtree, a donor-focused marketing agency based in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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