Is your Donation Page letting you down? Try this 7-step formula for building a high converting page

People reach your landing pages by clicking on a link in an email or a paid search ad, via a button on your homepage, or myriad other ways. Regardless of how they get there, the language they saw upstream made some sort of promise about the content a visitor would find if they clicked through to a landing page.

Persuading someone to take action on a landing page requires keeping that promise. In other words, a visitor will take action if the offer is consistent with what she was expecting—i.e. there are no surprises, and the perceived benefits of taking action outweigh the costs.

Brian Massey’s excellent book Your Customer Creation Equation: Unexpected Website Formulas of The Conversion Scientist™ defines a simple litmus test to ensure that your landing pages keep their promises—and move visitors closer to your conversion goal. The test is to evaluate each element on your donation page with one criterion:

Does it facilitate the donor’s decision-making process?

If the answer is yes, keep it on the page. If the answer is no, remove the element, as it’s probably harming your conversion rate. We know there are stakeholders in your organization that may argue to keep numerous elements on landing pages. This article makes the case to remove as much as you possible can.

I like to think of this test as a fool-proof tool for designing high converting landing pages. To illustrate how it works, let’s apply the test to elements commonly found on web donation pages:

  1. Primary navigation

    Primary navigation typically appears on every page of a web site out of habit. But on a donation page, navigation provides an easy way to detour off the path to giving, and access to content that isn’t relevant to making a donation decision (Programs, About Us, Get Involved, etc.).

    In my survey of 53 different year-end donation pages last month (mostly large, national organizations), navigation appeared at the top of the page on 19% of them. Thankfully this is down from 2013.

  2. Secondary calls to action (e.g. follow us on social media, sign up for our email list)

    These kinds of actions commonly appear in the page shell of a donation page. Again, they distract the visitor, compete with your donation ask, clutter up the page, and tempt visitors to leave your site. (Seriously, there could be kitten photos in my Facebook feed!)

    To my surprise, social media icons were displayed on 23% of the year-end donation pages I surveyed. Do you really want to send your high value donation page traffic to Mark Zuckerberg?

Now, let’s look at the 7-step formula for building a high converting donation page, adapted from Massey’s advice for constructing effective landing pages.

  1. Define Your Call to Action

    A call to action (CTA) is the simplest expression of what you want the visitor to do on your landing page.

    Appropriate CTA language for your donation page depends on how you frame financial support for your organization generally. The way it’s expressed on your donation page should be consistent with what you say elsewhere—not only on your website but also in other marketing channels.

    When defining the call to action, make sure it’s specific and in the active voice. Some examples include:

    • Make a Donation
    • Become a Member
    • Join [your organization name]
    • Give a gift

    Because urgency is a well-established technique for increasing conversion, pairing your CTA with words like “today” or “now” can also lift response. (Please avoid ending CTAs with exclamation points and resist the urge to write in all caps because that’s interpreted on the web as yelling)

  2. Fulfill Your Promise

    Fulfilling your promise to visitors on a donation page means being consistent with the copy the web user saw upstream. Repeat the exact keywords words or phrase the visitor clicked to get here—don’t bait and switch on a donation page. Repetition provides positive reinforcement to the web user that you’re going to keep your promises.

    The page headline (every donation page needs one!) and subhead (if you choose to include one) are the primary vehicles for orienting visitors and grabbing their attention. Make it clear and obvious in your headline what the visitor can do on this page. Be specific—and make certain that you also address visitors’ burning question: What’s in it for me? (Why should I take this action?)

    Below are some donation page headlines that do an excellent job of expressing the CTA and the benefit(s) of giving:

    CTA plus benefit headlines

  3. Give the Visitor Something To Do (but not too much!)

    What a donation page visitor must do to successfully convert is complete a form. Testing consistently shows that each additional field you include in the form area will reduce your conversion rate.

    Long forms often intimidate prospective donors; all but the most highly motivated folks will abandon them. Use a simple, streamlined form that asks only for information needed to complete a transaction. As I noted in a previous blog article, defer nonessential questions and steps that lengthen the process until after the transaction is completed.

    There is no right or wrong way to display form steps—some find that a single page converts best, while others break up a form into multiple, short steps displayed over several pages. You must test to find out what works best with your audience.

    The short form used by is a great example of focus and simplicity:

    Democrats_tight form

  4. Sell the Offer

    Never assume that because someone navigates to your donation page they’ve already decided to give. With donation page abandonment rates often 90%+, the vast majority of visitors to your donation page are just kicking the tires—and need a compelling reason to pull the trigger.

    “Selling the offer” means answering a visitor’s top question: What’s in it for me?

    In charitable giving this means figuring out what motivates your donors to give. Even for one organization there are many possible reasons—and they may vary due to external factors, e.g. on December 31, tax-deductions are big motivator for many donors, whereas at other times of year the mission-related benefits of your work will prove to be much more inspiring.

    On a donation page there are three especially important vehicles for selling your offer:

    • Copy (headline & body text)
    • Photos & video
    • CTA Button

    Persuasive copywriting is critical to selling your offer. It must give the visitor a compelling reason to donate to you (instead of another organization doing similar work). You want to entrust this responsibility to talented copywriters with a strong track record in direct response. Do not ask your IT team to write copy—and please never write donation page copy by committee.

    Use specifics in your headline and body copy that emphasize the benefits of giving, how you’re effective, unique, and get things done. Focus donation page copy on what your donors care about—not what you care about.

    Photos and video are also important tools for selling your offer—because they can trigger powerful emotions that copy alone cannot. (More on this below in item #6.)

    Button text is the final key element on a donation page that helps to sell your offer. It should reiterate the action a prospective donor is about to take. Be as specific as possible! Vague or neutral words like “submit” or “process” are poor choices—because they’re not clear about what happens next. And they don’t reinforce why anyone would want to take action.

    Below are some examples of motivational button text:


    Audience research and testing are essential to uncovering which “selling points” are most motivational for your donors. Once you’ve identified the most powerful and persuasive arguments, segmentation of donation page traffic can provide additional opportunities to personalize your offer and increase conversion.

  5. Overcome Resistance

    Anyone being asked to enter their credit card number online will have some fear about doing it. This is what’s known in conversion science as “friction.” On a donation page, friction can be remedied with strategically placed trust elements.

    Trust elements that we’ve found can positively impact donation page conversion rates are:

    • Facts that back up claims and establish your credibility, e.g. Specifics on what you’ve accomplished, the size of your membership, the length of time you’ve been around, etc.
    • Independent ratings, e.g. Charity Navigator, Better Business Bureau Accredited Charity seals.

      Independent ratings

    • Security seals, e.g. Norton Verisign, McAfee & TRUSTe are the best known and most influential seals when placed in close proximity to payment fields.

      security seals

    • Social proof such as testimonials by a prominent supporter or positive media mentions about your organization’s work. Below is an example from Donors Choose:


    Finally, remember that your brand logo is the most basic trust element on a donation page—or any landing page for that matter. Don’t forget to include it in the upper left corner of the page.

  6. Showcase the “Product”

    In charitable giving, “showcasing the product” can be thought of as a subset of “selling the offer.” Photos that illustrate a problem you’re trying to solve, show beneficiaries of your work (especially people or animals), or your team in action, help prospects visualize how their gift can make a difference.

    A well-produced video can do even more to tell your story and help to foster an emotional connection with donor prospects—but remember that not every visitor to a donation page will automatically want to watch video (they could be at work or in a public place) so it’s best not to configure them to autoplay.

    Be sure that the images and video you use are authentic and of high production quality—or they can backfire. Photos and video are especially important elements to test to validate their impact on the conversion rate.

  7. Use a Visual Hierarchy

    Every high performing landing page uses a visual hierarchy that reinforces the main conversion goal. This simply means that your page design emphasizes those elements that are most critical to making a decision.

    Good visual hierarchy on a donation page means:

    • A headline displays prominently at the top
    • The main purpose of the page is immediately obvious
    • Steps to make a gift are clear and follow a logical eye path
    • Copy is brief and easy to scan – Trust elements are present but not visually dominant
    • A call-to-action button (there should be only one) is big enough to be easily noticed and contrasts with other elements on the page
    • Color is used sparingly—to focus visitors’ attention on mission-critical elements


If you follow these 7 steps to building a high converting donation page, I’m confident that you will reap the rewards. That said, it’s essential that you validate donation page changes through testing to ensure that they’re actually positive for conversion. Every audience is different and you should be prepared to accept whatever results you see with your own users.

photo-dawnDawn Stoner is Donordigital’s Director of Analytics & Testing and works with clients to help them increase online revenues with web usability best practices and landing page testing. Dawn speaks regularly about testing and optimization at industry conferences and publishes papers highlighting what’s working and not working with our testing clients.

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