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Focus on Impact, Not Transactions, for Better Donation Pages

Resource Center - Foundation

By Derrick Feldmann

(Sept. 7, 2010) It was only a postcard, but it caught my eye. A direct mail piece from a nonprofit organization, its sharp graphics and design enticed me to read it. Its well-written copy invited me to visit the organization's website to donate. Impressed, I decided to check out the organization.

Let's start the timer: After reading the postcard, (45 seconds - yes, I scanned it), I'm intrigued enough to go to the organization's website for more information. So, I fire up the Internet (5 minutes - login to computer, open the browser, etc.) and type in the web address (something like, "") and wait for the window to open (1-2 minutes). Please note: Normally, I would circumvent this step by entering the organization's name into Google and accessing the site through the search results, but this time I decide to follow the organization's rules. (FYI to development directors: Not all donors follow your rules.)

At this point, I've invested a little less than 10 minutes in this exercise, and I'm waiting to be rewarded with something spectacular. But, before the screen pops up, I get a call from an Achieve staff member with a question that needs to be answered right away, and then I'm briefly distracted by a growing to-do list (5 minutes). But I'm committed to seeing this site. I mean, this postcard was wonderfully crafted, which means the site ought to be even better ... right?

Finally, the page pops up and this is what I see (excluding graphics):

Thank you for your commitment to the cause. To make a contribution, please fill out the form below. If you have any questions, please call the development office at [phone number].

And that's all.

My first reaction is, "There has to be more." I poke around the web page, thinking maybe I've missed something. I mean, the postcard message was good, and I expect it to be backed up with something impressive. It isn't. Just dry, boring copy. In the blink of an eye, I bail out, log off and move on to something else. Total time invested: roughly 15 minutes. Pay-off: zero.

I wish I could say I was as surprised as I was disappointed, but I can't. The truth is, many nonprofits' web donation and support pages focus first on completing the transaction, and second - if at all - on continuing the story. That's a big mistake.

This is unfortunate because a donation page offers the perfect opportunity for sharing the story of need, impact of gifts, profiles of donors and more. A well-crafted page will help seal the deal; one that focuses solely on the transaction will be transparent and uninspiring. Consider my chain of events: I committed close to 15 minutes and then walked away without taking action.

How do you avoid this mistake? By considering a few key factors when designing your donation page.

1. Tell the story. Provide visuals, links to video and graphs of impact on your donation pages. Provide ongoing support materials to guide the donor through the process of gifting. Reassure the donor throughout this process, letting him or her know how a gift will be used and the impact it will make. Remember: These people are online and might not have experienced your work in person. Bring your work and mission to life through your website.

2. Highlight donors. Let existing donors tell stories about the organization and its work. Videos or testimonial statements that focus on donors' support and explain the work of the organization will help prospective donors connect with the impact their gifts can make.

3. Make impact visual. Create visuals on your site that explain where the money goes and promote the transparency of gifts. Accompany these visuals with information about opportunities for donors to get involved in volunteer opportunities, advocacy work and more.

4. Define donor communication. On the donation page, tell donors how the organization will continue to communicate with them. For example, explain how they can find updates on programs via social media, describe the communication processes surrounding volunteer opportunities, and highlight specific communications for donors.

5. Be specific. Donors like specifics; provide them. Be creative and describe where a $500 gift will go and how it can be used. Provide links throughout the donation pages - including the transaction pages - that allow a donor to get an idea about what a $500 gift can do in each program. Extend this idea even further by having an existing $500 donor describe what his or her gift is doing for the organization. This form of peer modeling can influence the thinking about gifts.

6. Provide updates. Create a section on your donation pages for ongoing - at least quarterly - updates to donors on the use of gifts and the state of the cause. This form of stakeholder communication will keep existing and prospective donors aware of potential opportunities to continue their support.

Derrick Feldmann is CEO of Achieve LLC. Achieve is a consulting firm that serves small and mid-sized nonprofits and organizations with new or emerging development programs (

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