7 Ways To Get More Donations Through Your Website

You've built a site for your charity or non-profit, complete with donation links, but no one is giving you any money. Why not?

Here are 7 things you can do to increase your chances of making money for your charity via your website.

1. Own it

There is nothing wrong with asking people to support your charity. If it is to exist, you need the support of like-minded people.

Consider the reasons why people give to charity.

When a donor sends money to your charity via your website, they are making a purchase just the same as any other. They’re not buying a tangible item that will be delivered the next day. They’re buying something altogether more meaningful and immediate than that: a warm feeling.

Doing good deeds is proven to be good for the soul. If you’re interested in the research, have a look at this Harvard research paper from 2009, which concluded that charitable giving actually makes people happier.

A couple of points can be drawn from the report:

First of all, you’re not tricking people into parting with hard-earned cash against their will. You are giving them the opportunity to feel good about themselves by playing their part in making the world a better place.

PRO TIP: Ask for donations right there on the homepage. Ask for them everywhere you talk about the great work you do. Be explicit. If you are a research organisation that makes papers available online, mention how much it costs per year to offer those papers and ask for a donation to allow the service to continue.

Secondly, it’s okay to be clear about the personal benefits of donating. Offering people the opportunity to feel good about themselves could even work better than asking them to donate to a cause, although this will depend on the context of the request and the cause for which you are fundraising. It may sound at odds with the image of your organisation, but this excellent article from Fundraising Now points out that donors themselves will sometimes say certain words sound tacky, when in practice the words are very effective at attracting donations. Try it, it might just work for you.

Research from 2015 showed email was responsible for one third of online fundraising revenue in the USA (see this and other useful charity fundraising stats here), so reach out, tell people how much you need them, focus on your impact (see below) and just ask.

(In the course of researching this article I found a fascinating article about the human tendency to believe that giving to a medical charity will protect them from the illness the charity works to prevent. While I can’t recommend promising eternal life as an incentive for donating, it shows how people tend to donate for very personal reasons, and that’s completely okay.)

2. Share the dream

What is your mission? To save lives? To provide all children with a safe space to play outside? To bring together communities and promote peace?

Shaping your mission into a short message and putting it at the top of your homepage over the top of an emotional human image (either negative or positive) is the simplest way to draw people in to your website. When people find it easy to understand and agree with your goal, they will find it easy to support you. Another bonus of having a clear mission is that it brings everyone inside your organisation together to focus on achieving that one goal.

Seeking inspiration? Here are some mission tips from Donorbox. Or check out the best charity websites of 2018, according to the agency Charity & Biscuits.

3. Focus on your impact

Did you know that emotions are a dominant driver of the majority of decisions we make? You might think you chose your car for its fuel consumption and large trunk, but you actually chose it for the way those attributes make you feel; responsible, practical, a good parent.

In fact, without emotions, we struggle to make decisions. If you find this an intriguing subject, you should read about a researcher called Antonio Damasio who studied people with damage to the area of the brain where emotions are generated and noticed they couldn’t make even very simple decisions.

PRO TIP: A donation is a decision, and decisions are emotional, so be clear on how your organisation affects the feelings of the people or animals it works to help.

One way to do this is through impact stories, which are like testimonials but longer.

Make a list of people or other organisations your charity has worked with and send them a little questionnaire, such as:

  • How did you become aware of our organisation?

  • Describe what happened when you worked with us.

  • How did working with us make you feel?

  • Would you work with us again? Why? Please include examples of specific conversations and experiences to help us tell your story.

Target people you know have been positively affected and ask them to help you drive more donations through your website. Even busy people will take the time to help if they feel a debt of gratitude to you. Shape their answers into stories, accompanied by photos. Link to these stories from pages on your website where you describe the services you provide. Link to them from your homepage.

Notice the question about feelings? The more feelings and emotions you can work into your impact stories the better. You can describe your play days and hospices and research activities all you like, but if you’re not explicit about your emotional impact on the people you serve, your website will struggle to make money for your organisation.

Accompany each story with a donation button or link. If the person said working with you helped them to feel safe, cared for, or just plain happy, repeat their words. “Want to help more people feel safe like Tom? Make a donation.”

4. Provide a shopping list and/or run campaigns

A friend of mine recently donated to a library extension at a local college. She donated the cost of a desk, which sits in the library and proudly displays her name on a plaque. Instead of simply knowing she has contributed to a building, she has a physical object she can stroke and photograph to show for her donation.

Asking people to throw money into one pot doesn’t work anywhere near as well as asking people to donate money to purchase specific items or services. Why? Research was thin on the ground here so I can only speculate that the closer a donation feels to buying a tangible thing, the more real and enticing it becomes. General donations could be spent on wages and admin, which, although utterly essential, doesn’t feel he same as buying a desk for a library or giving what’s needed to achieve a fundraising goal.

PRO TIP: Offer a shopping list or a specific fundraising goal when asking for donations. Do it on the page on which people make payments.

If a shopping list isn’t possible or practical for your non-profit, there are very good reasons to offer suggested donation amounts on your website. This research paper offers more insights into the effect of default amounts on charitable donations. A shopping list of suggested amounts tends to steer people towards making slightly more than the minimum donation, rather like choosing the second least expensive wine on the menu.

5. Make donation buttons stand out

This seemingly small interface detail can make a huge difference to your bottom line.

PRO TIP: Use medium-sized buttons for most calls to action and a large button for donations. Give the donation button a more eye-catching colour, perhaps a colour that doesn’t appear anywhere else on the site.

If you’re interested in how colour elicits emotions read this article about the best and worst colours for buttons on websites, which has plenty of links to research on the subject.

6. Check your traffic

If you don’t have many visitors you won’t get many donations. This sounds obvious but isn’t always the first thing website owners consider. They’ll think about the design and the structure of the website, but not about how to get people to go there in the first place.

PRO TIP: If you’re not getting donations you can find out whether traffic is the problem using Google Analytics. In Squarespace, check the Analytics feature and see how many people are visiting your site each day. If it’s just a handful, think about ways you could entice visitors on to your website.

Here are three ways to reach out for traffic:

  1. Use Social Media to talk about your latest successes or share research and news about your chosen cause. You could use the photo and a summary from an impact story then invite people to your website to read the rest. Don’t shy away from appealing directly for funds and donations. For example, you could mention how close you are to meeting a specific target or offer a specific item in return for a donation.

  2. Email is a great way to keep your followers and supporters up to date with everything their donations are funding. Ask people to sign up to your email list on your website’s homepage, then use email to discuss upcoming events, share impact stories, talk about what’s going on at head office and future plans, and, of course, openly request donations.

  3. Search Engine Optimisation is the obvious way to boost your search engine ranking and compete with larger organisations in your sphere. If you’re on Squarespace, implement my SEO tips on your website. Google loves websites that are regularly updated and keep people coming back, so publish as frequently as you can about events, news and all the latest information about your cause.

7. Improve your site

Once you have visitors, the design and structure of your website is critical to its success.

Big charities with multiple large donors and safe reputations gather donations through their own momentum. They make money, which means they can pay for expensive sites, which makes them look ever more professional and trustable, which helps them gather further donations. This is why I recommend Squarespace, which is makes it far easier for amateur web designers to build great sites than Wordpress. Having a professional website is vital for building trust and showing potential donors that you run a serious, professional operation.

PRO TIP: A decent site will pay for itself many times over in donations so if your website traffic isn’t converting into donations, it’s worth asking a professional charity web designer for help.

At the very least, donating to your charity should be a smooth and easy process that takes place on your own site. If you’re on Squarespace use Squarespace donations or integrate with Donorbox, which can cost you less in commission, depending on where in the world you are. On Wordpress use a donations plugin, for example the Donorbox Wordpress plugin, and never even contemplate linking to another site when asking for donations.

If you’d like any more charity website inspiration, read this page, which lists some of the best charity sites in Australia and what makes them good.

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A Squarespace website designer based in Oxford, UK, I'm on a mission to turn uninspiring, unloved websites into interesting, relevant experiences that show instantly what you offer and why people need you in their lives. More info.