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How To Improve Your Donation Flow Conversion Rate

So a potential donor has come to visit your nonprofit’s website.  Maybe they came through some marketing initiative, or perhaps they clicked on a link in an email, or possibly they happened upon you in a search.

Regardless of how they landed on your website, out of the more than one billion possible sites they could browse, they spent some time on yours!  

They might end up reading about what you do, who you are, or about a particular initiative, all the while having access to that magical button on your site.  The one with that beautiful lone word that leads to the required resources to help you accomplish your mission . . . DONATE. 

Donation Flow

They must like what they see because an amazing thing happens; they move their cursor over that button, press down on their mouse (or trackpad, or increasingly a touchscreen), and voila, you’ve won!

You have a donor!

Not So Fast

Unfortunately, they still have some work to do; they have to fill out information, possibly answer some questions, enter their credit card details, and so on.  All leading up to confirming the payment and completing the transaction.

It turns out, that for the vast majority nonprofits, that magical new online donor all too often abandons the process and leaves.   

The process between when a potential donor hits the “donate” button and when the transaction is confirmed and finalized is called your donation flow.  The percentage of your users that complete this flow once started can fluctuate wildly, but the averages are very bleak.

Data varies on just how bad these numbers are.  I’ve talked with experts that believe that only 12% of people who hit the donate button end up making the donation on the average nonprofit’s website.  The number I’ve heard most often is 18%.  Some think it’s as “good” as 30%.

Regardless, far more people leave the donation flow than complete it.

And if you’re like most nonprofits, you’re completely unaware this is even happening.

If You’re Not Measuring Donation Flow Conversion, Then You’ve Already Lost

Getting to the exact abandon number is actually a bigger problem than the average number itself.

Let me ask you this, do you know what your donor flow conversions percentage is? If you’re like most nonprofits, you have absolutely no idea.  

Not knowing this answer is the problem.  Partly, of course, because if you don’t track these numbers, you can’t improve them. 

But almost more importantly (in my opinion), you need to track them to even know that you need to improve your online relationships with your donors.  More and more donors are going to prefer donating online going forward, and most nonprofits I think would admit that our industry is woefully behind and ill-prepared for this transition.  

Your donation flow conversion percentage is one of the key metrics that will help you make the right choices going forward and to better understand fundamental differences with online donors, including how and why they make decisions.  

Understanding Your Online Donors

Part of the reason for these lower numbers is a lack of understanding of how your donors approach the decision to make an online donation.  This misunderstanding likely has a lot to do with your experience raising money for your nonprofit.

Most executive or development directors have a thorough understanding of major gift donors.  This makes sense.  Not only do these larger donors bring in most of your donation revenue in the short term, but there are also few enough of them that you can get to know them and more easily understand them.  

So it is natural to assume that smaller donors are similar to major donors.  But this couldn’t be further from the truth.  In fact, in many ways, they are opposite of each other.

Major donors give rationally – meaning they are willing to take the mental time to consider possibilities of different outcomes and how their gift impacts those results – similar to the process one might use to buy a house or a car or go to college.

Online donors give irrationally – a small gift simply isn’t substantial enough to spend extra time weighing options or potential outcomes.  It’s about emotion, not rational decision making – similar to how one might pick a restaurant or buy a book or pick a movie.

And this is true for virtually all online gifts – no matter who you are or even if you’re a major donor at other times for other nonprofits (or sometimes even for the same nonprofit).  Less time equals less rational thought (which takes much longer), and less money means less rational thought (because the increased mental energy simply isn’t worth it).  

Too Much Leads To Too Little

So if your online donors are acting irrationally (and trust me, they often are), why are you trying to overwhelm them with information and choices as if they’re making a rational decision?  Doing this can actually reduce donations, because the more you say, the more likely you are to get the rationalizing part of their brain working.  

Creating an environment for more rationalized thinking also means drastically increasing the likelihood that they are going to leave your website – to do research, to consider other options, to think of all the other things they could do with that money.  

Rational thought is also much more tiring than irrational thought.  It requires more mental energy and more discipline and typically doesn’t feel as good.  Part of the reason people donate to your nonprofit is so they can feel great about themselves – and you’re already taking a little of this benefit away before they’ve even made the gift!  

Because of this (and other factors too detailed for this blog post), more information and more choices lead to your donors delaying their donation choice.  And since these online donations were rarely part of any specific long-term plan they have, if you lose the impulsive gift you often lose it forever.

Your Donors Have High Expectations

When considering the effectiveness of your donation flow, I think a natural instinct is to compare yourself with other nonprofit websites, or even your own nonprofit’s past websites.

Your donors, however, aren’t coming from any of these places.  They are coming from Apple or Amazon or or  Sites that not only know their conversion numbers inside and out but have entire teams working around the clock on upping these figures.

Here’s what they all have in common:

  • They talk to their site’s visitors on an emotional level (not a rational level)
  • They make it as quick and easy as possible to make a transaction
  • They are all optimized for mobile
  • They all hone in on only the information needed to make a quick decision

Amazon (which has the toughest job in this area since they have so many different types of products) goes so far to have a “Buy Now” button which practically eliminates the donation flow completely.  They do this because they know that every extra step in the donations process (in this case the purchase process) loses a percentage of your donors.

Donation Flow

Just keep this in mind.  Every single piece of information you ask for results in losing some donors.  Require their email, lose a small percentage of your donors.  Ask for their phone number, perhaps lose a little higher percentage.  Ask for their address, lose an even higher percentage.  And each one of these is separate – so they all add up.    

Looking at many nonprofit donation forms, I’m amazed they get any donors at all.

Yes, you have to ask for some info (you have to send them a receipt, so at the very least you need their email for example).  But you should look at these questions as holes in a bucket, with the water being your donations.  Every single question is a hole in the bucket.  A few small ones may be necessary, but too many and you’ll have nothing left to drink.

Your Donors Don’t Want To Be Just Another Record in Your Database

Your donors don’t want to give you their address.  Or their age.  Or their favorite color.  Or their favorite sports team.  They just want to make a quick donation and move on with their busy lives.

And they’re smarter than you think; they know why you’re asking, and they simply don’t want to be another piece of data in your database.

They want to be the star of the story – the pivotal donor that came in to save the day, helping your nonprofit accomplish its super important mission and helping people in a life-altering way – They don’t want to be record number 3,247.

So Why Does This All Matter?

Finding a way to measure and optimize your donation flow isn’t always super easy for most nonprofits.  

But it’s worth it.  Not just because you’re losing a lot of online donations, but because those small gifts are the first step in what could be a long-term donor relationship leading to a major donor down the road, and those relationships are starting more-and-more online. 

The nonprofits that best understand and address this will be the most successful (and perhaps the only nonprofits still around) in the future.

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