Nonprofit Online Fundraising: Does Your Organization Pass the Test?

In March of 2014, I embarked on an unofficial online giving study. Every week I’ve been making two online gifts of $20 each to various nonprofit organizations randomly selected from my own database of subscribers.

What am I tracking?

1. First off, overall ease of giving: how simple is it to find the organization’s ‘donate’ button on their homepage?
2. How straightforward and seamless is the overall experience? How many ‘clicks’ to make a gift?
3. Am I given the opportunity to make a recurring gift?
4. Do I receive an automated email thank you and/or am directed to a thank you page redirect?
5. Am I receiving a thank you call or a direct mail thank you?
6. What kind of further communications am I receiving, particularly through direct mail?
Nothing complex here. Simple marketing and donor retention fundamentals.

The Results – It hasn’t been pretty

One organization’s online processes, already annoyingly tedious, ended with an error message after I failed a CAPTCHA which instructed me to enter two words when a series of numbers were shown. I was unable to make a donation.

I did like another organization’s use of a widget to determine where the donor had heard of them:

Where did you hear
Surprisingly, some of the worst donation experiences came from organizations using Network for Good as their online gift processor. What I can say about many of those using N4G as their payment processor is that the experience tended to be very much Network for Good focused, rather than donor or organization-focused. The lone exception was the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, an organization that has successfully tweaked the Network for Good back end to result in an entirely satisfactory donor experience from start to finish.

Your lesson: out of the box doesn’t mean further customization isn’t needed

You can create a seamless donor online experience regardless of your payment processor (yes, this goes for PayPal users as well). And the best thing that you can do for your online giving is to divvy up $100 amongst five to 10 friends and ask them to make an online gift to your organization — and be brutally honest in their feedback. You may even try using screen capture software, such as Camtasia, and recording the entire process to unearth glitches in your systems.

Make the time. This is important.

While this project is still in its infancy, the following organizations have already scored an A:

A giant ‘Kudos!’ to Brittany’s Hope Foundation. They scored an A+. Not only was their online donation experience absolutely seamless, I received a thank you call 15 minutes after my first gift from their Executive Director! Donors come first for Brittany’s Hope. The call was followed by a handwritten thank you card, followed a few days later by this Welcome Kit.

Faith in Action of Marathon County may not have had the prettiest online donation experience, but they win for this charming direct mail thank you letter, received within days of my donation.

Thank you letter

Click image to expand

Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway wowed with a seamless online donation experience. Their email thank you came with a reminder about matching gifts, and they followed with a delightful mini welcome kit, which includes a thank you card, sticker and a fold out pocket-sized stewardship guide to the Parkway. Download here.

Our Mims Retirement Haven won points for this donor-centered redirect page:

Thank you page

Scholarship America gets kudos for their systems, which include a seamless online transaction, followed quickly by a direct mail thank you and newsletter. They would benefit greatly by incorporating more donor-centricity into their communications.

My gifts have been random but when the Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms sent a lovely thank you letter, followed by their print newsletter, I became a monthly donor. They don’t know it, but I’m a subscriber to American Bungalow, and a fan of the Arts and Crafts movement.

And, in addition to their online donation experience, Sonoran Desert is rocking online communications, with some of the cleverest email, including this recent email subject header:

Fundraising Letter

How is your organization ensuring a seamless online donating experience — and ensuring that the first gift won’t be the last?

By guest author: Pamela Grow, nonprofit marketing consultant.

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