How to increase donations on your charity website

There are many donation services available for your charity website, offering differing charging models and a wide array of implementations and widgets. In this article, we look at some of the ways you can use these services to increase donations on your site.

John Newton's picture
John Newton
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Website donations generally play an important role for charity websites, although they may not be the primary source of funding; indeed, many charities do not rely on individual donations at all.

Where a charity does require a donation feature, it’s fair to say that the development of an effective system understandably causes anxiety and debate. The main challenges that charities often face are:

  1. What system should we use?
  2. Can we take donations directly on our site or should we use a third party donations page?
  3. What are the likely transaction costs?
  4. How should we design and place our donate button?

These are valid questions and the following structured approach can be helpful.

Consider your constraints

Do you have a technical partner who is capable of helping you set up an advanced system? If you do, you may wish to consider extending an in-house system that can comprehensively meet all your needs. If you sell tickets for training or events, or you sell merchandise, it may well be possible to extend your existing basket-based approach to accept donations. Some CRMs may also offer this, although effective implementation on your existing website can be tricky.

If you have a good digital partner but don’t already have ecommerce in place, consider working with them to integrate donations through a merchant account. This might be your best option as you can keep all the donation processing on your site. Look closely at transaction costs by all main suppliers and make your judgement based upon likely donation levels and fees.

If you don't have a digital partner with the necessary expertise or you need to keep your costs extremely low, you can choose from a variety of simple donation integration. Some provide widgets that mean you may be able to offer some integration on your site throgh an embedded widget but final payment will occur securely elsewhere.  Many offer a donations page where all the giving occurs but with buttons you can embed prominently on your site. BT Donate (which is completey free), Justgiving, CAFDonate etc all offer buttons, widgets and customisable pages. Again, it shouldn't take very long to check the fees and draw up a table to compare what's right for you. This will vary from charity to charity.

Do the maths

It’s important to do your calculations and obtain costs from your partner digital agencies and have a good understanding of fee structures where you are using donations systems or merchants.  BT Donate is free but integrations with your website are limited. Generally, although not universally, better integrations can lead to an increase in fees if you don’t do your research.

The donate system you choose might be less critical than you think

While ideally you will want to make the donation process easy to use and it certainly must be affordable to your organisation, your implementation might not make as much difference as you think to its effectiveness. Certainly, a clunky old system that is not well integrated will almost certainly lead to low levels of donation. But there’s evidence from the Nielsen Norman Group to suggest that getting your story clear (what you do and how you will spend the donation) is far more important than the actual donation process. If people are committed to give, they will be prepared to jump through a few hoops. That said, most of the dedicated donation services use fairly standard workflows and even if some are not as slick as others, if your users are convinced to make their donation in the first place, they’ll be happy to work through the process. Of course, that’s not say that getting the service right isn’t important - and smoother donation workflows can yield an extra 10% in donations. But I think the key takeaways from this are:

  • Use a fairly common service rather than creating anything bespoke. Usability for donation services is not always perfect but it’s pretty good and you’re usually piggy-backing on best practice - for example, you can generally use prompts and set amounts to provide certain services so your donors know where the money is going or you can set up Gift Aid and recurring donations. These features along with familiar workflow and a known and trusted name (PayPal, BT, Justgiving etc) can all help raise your donation levels. Critically, these services are generally good on mobiles and may have options for social sharing too
  • Spend time comparing costs - you might find that combining a donation service and a merchant account is actually cheaper than using a single specialist provider
  • Check that your mission is clear and that people know where their money is going - people will give more if they can see exactly how their money is going to be spent. This is harder to do if you are a campaigning organisation rather than a service provider but it might be worth considering if there are any ways you can make the donation output feel more tangible
  • Tidy up your site. Again, people are put off by sites that have unclear messaging or even typos. It’s more convincing to your donors if you get the basics right - arguable this is the most important prompt to getting more donors
  • Keep your donation button prominent. Surprisingly, many sites don’t keep their donate buttons prominent or else don’t keep it in the same place. There’s some evidence that brighter bigger buttons improve donation levels

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash