It’s Not Too Late to Supercharge Your Year-end Online Fundraising

There’s a lot riding on your year-end online fundraising efforts. Some nonprofits raise a quarter (if not more) of all their online revenue in December. No doubt your team has been carefully planning its year-end online campaigns and is hard at work implementing the messages. Here are a few last-minute ideas to supercharge your fundraising.

Resend to Non-openers

So much of year-end fundraising is about persistence. For email appeals, that means resending your email message to people who haven’t opened your message. Wait a day or two, pull a report of who opened the message the first time, and suppress them from your resend. Yes, there is always a risk of over-messaging, so be sure to change the subject line.

You might also pick a different time to message such as very early in the morning, in the late evening, or on the weekend, all in the name of standing out to get noticed — and opened.

Add a Special Appeal for Monthly Giving

Year-end is traditionally the time for one-time gifts, but we know that donors are always in search of flexibility and options. Make sure you make the case for monthly giving, either in the body text or P.S. of your email message, and also on all your donation pages. This is one of the fastest growing segments of online fundraising, so jump on the bandwagon at year-end too.

Keep Sending Appeals to People Who Already Donated

We go to great lengths to avoid sending appeals to people who have already donated to our campaigns. But year-end is a great time to keep including recent donors, especially if you have a dollar-for-dollar match. Include a sentence recognizing and appreciating their gift, and many donors will be motivated to give again, or to spread the word via social media with friends.

Ask Your Donors to Tell Their Friends and Family

Your donors feel great after they make a donation to your cause. That’s what charitable giving is all about. Make it easy for your donors to share that feeling with friends and family by adding sharing options on your website “Thank You” page and also in the thank-you email/receipt that gets sent to each donor. Discuss with your online vendors to find out how to add these features.

Add a Pop-up Lightbox to the Highest Trafficked Pages on Your Website

It’s vital to grab the attention of your website visitors during the last two weeks of the year. The pop-up lightbox is a perfect tool to get in front of people and convey your year-end fundraising message, especially if you have a match. Set a cookie for your returning visitors so the lightbox only appears once every few days.

Increase Your Messaging out on Social Media

You’re probably planning some social media messaging at year-end to promote your fundraising efforts, but you’re probably not planning enough. Get creative with ways to promote your year-end campaigns, using tie-in graphics, thermometers, and thanking donors publicly. Your creativity and humor will pay off, especially for your followers who are also on your email list. And don’t forget to track your social media click-through traffic to your donation pages.

Michael Stein is a Senior Account Executive at Mal Warwick | Donordigital in Berkeley, California. With Nick Allen and Mal Warwick, Michael wrote the groundbreaking 1997 book: Fundraising on the Internet: Recruiting and Renewing Donors Online.

Paths to year-end fundraising success in a multichannel world

AMC_YE2013-Lbox3-Calendar_FINAL-copyDirect response fundraising should be multichannel. I say this all the time and while direct causation is sometimes difficult to track, I stand by the principle that truly donor-centric communications allow donors to access information in the channel they choose. We also have the data analysis to prove that multichannel donors are the most valuable donors for an organization to have over the long term.

It’s our responsibility to ensure that the messaging is cohesive and coordinated.

In the real world of people opening their mail, answering their phones, and checking their inboxes, a multichannel donor is a person who knows what matters to them, consumes information in a number of ways, and dedicates some time and their dollars to the cause that moves them.

Maybe it was the person that asked them to make a donation, or the photo on that envelope or at the top of that email, or a headline in large font, or simply the timing of an email that was formatted nicely on their iPhone6 while they were waiting on a train platform – whatever the trigger, later that night they remembered to go on your organization’s website and make a donation.

The most important thing about a multichannel donor is that they decide to give and give in a channel different than their first gift. That change and movement to being “channel agnostic” means that they are more likely to give again to your organization and to give a larger amount.

So, how do you embrace multichannel messaging when planning for year-end? The reality is that every detail matters when it comes to achieving year-round fundraising success in a multichannel world. Year-end fundraising is a unique challenge because of the competition for dollars among organizations and a limited number of donors. The sheer volume of fundraising appeals by nonprofit organizations is enough to overwhelm any person who opens their mailbox or their in-box.

As a direct response agency, we’ve learned to adapt and innovate in the unique environment of year-end fundraising. Below is a quick overview to how we approach year-end fundraising success in a multichannel world.

  1. Create a communications matrix that honors the donors’ perspective. Align your channels by reviewing your year-end calendar for mail, email, website promotion and telephone solicitations. Consider how your donor and non-donors audiences will react to getting multiple appeals for funds in different channels. Adopt a donor-centric approach and make sure your appeal calendar is driven by their needs. Honor and accept those things that won’t cross channels (not everything can be integrated!).
  2. Scour your organization for other opportunities to coordinate messaging. These might include newsletters or magazines, direct mail acknowledgment buckslips, welcome kits and welcome series, videos or other online resources.
  3. Segment your audiences carefully and integrate those segments into the communications matrix. Think about the best way to approach each with the correct ask or cultivation. For example, what about those folks that are getting direct mail during the year-end email series? What about those who aren’t? Also plan for coordination in gift asks – although donors will often give higher gifts online, it’s important to keep gift strings similar across the channels.
  4. Fundraising techniques aside, it’s the content and messaging that you create that will drive your supporter’s attention span and engagement. Donors want to be asked and inspired to make a year-end gift. Take the lead-time you need to produce engaging content that can span across direct mail appeals, emails, videos, year-in-review annual reports, holiday cards, infographics and more. Remember, donors have short attention spans (especially online donors), so highlighting key points are important whatever the channel – direct mail letter P.S. content, reply devices, and email masthead and sidebars, to be exact.
  5. Carefully consider your email calendar in December so you can create the right cadence for your supporters. One message per week and then an increasing number the last few days is the new normal, so jump on board and craft an authentic email series that inspires your supports to give. Consider the dates that your mail will reach donors in-home and if the content is complementary.
  6. Acknowledge the multichannel touches – we often reference or show a visual of a direct mail package that the donor is receiving in an email message. And we’re careful to strategically include dedicated URLs in direct mail packages if donors want to make their gift “immediately online.”
  7. On your website, be sure to use your homepage carousel or above-the-fold content areas to highlight the theme of your year-end campaign online and offline. It’s common for supporters getting your mail to visit your website to make their year-end gift. Deploy a lightbox on your website to catch the attention span of your visitors.
  8. Use paid advertising channels at year-end to reach your supporters wherever they might be. Search engine marketing, Facebook ads to custom audiences, and remarketing to visitors of your website or your donation pages can play a vital role in creating visibility for your year-end campaigns, and increase year-end giving across all of your channels.
  9. Make it social! Using online social networks at year-end is vitally important to connect with the attention span of your supporters. Dedicate staff time to posting year-end content on social media channels, and schedule coordinated tweets and posts on all channels. In your emails and on your Web pages make it easy for your supporters to spread the word about your year-end campaigns.
  10. Keep testing and trying new things. Every audience is different which means it’s vitally important to test to see how your audience responds to multichannel tactics.
  11. Don’t neglect January as an important time to thank donors—across all channels—for their year-end support.

Multichannel fundraising does require more effort and resources. But the end results is cohesive messaging and a larger group of dedicated donors.

photo-thumbnail-mwosi-2Mwosi Swenson is the President and CEO of Mal Warwick | Donordigital. She has worked in direct response fundraising for the past 20 years and has managed the direct mail, telemarketing and online programs for some of the nation’s most respected environmental, advocacy, and political organizations.

Making the most of your year-end fundraising campaigns

Make a year-end lifesaving gift today.

It’s September, and the Year-End season still seems a long way away. Even if you aren’t quite ready to start your holiday shopping for family and friends, you should start planning your organization’s Year-End fundraising strategy today. Nearly 30% of ALL charitable giving occurs during the last month of the year, and most of that comes within the last few days of December. So make sure you are primed and prepared to make the most of it!

Many clients ask us “when is the best time to send our Year-End fundraising appeals in the mail and online? Is October too early? Is December too late?” The short answer is that there is no cut-and-dry timetable—but it seems that organizations are starting to send their Year-End appeals earlier and earlier. Just recently, one of my colleagues received what appeared to be a holiday fundraising appeal in her mail, complete with pictures of Santa Claus and snowflakes on the outer envelope. August is probably too early for your Year-End fundraising to hit households.

Once you’ve looked at your organization-wide mailing schedule for the last 2-3 months of the year and decided on the best timing for your Year-End appeal and follow-up (yes, we recommend a follow-up!), then think about the fundraising goals you want to accomplish during this Year-End season and how you will achieve them. Are you aiming to increase your income by a certain percentage over last year? Or is it more important to increase the average gift or upgrade a specific number of donors? Likely it’s a combination! Once you know your goals, you will need to think of tactics that will help you reach them — such as incorporating a matching gift offer or including a premium.

Next, take a look at the testing you’ve conducted throughout the year in the mail and online. Any test that successfully boosted your response rate or your average gift is probably worth rolling out in Year-End to maximize your response. Like many organizations, your main goal is probably to get as much money as possible in the door before December 31. In that case, skip the hard press for monthly sustainer sign-ups and focus on one-time gifts. But, if recruiting new sustainers is a top priority for your organization right now and you don’t mind sacrificing some Year-End revenue for the sake of long-term income, then sustainer recruitment promotions on your website could be some of your best tools at Year-End.

Your Year-End appeals are a great opportunity to upgrade your current donors to higher levels of giving, since many are generous during the season of giving. Think about which donor segments you can target for upgrade asks to your mid-level giving group. Add an aspirational gift amount on the reply ask string. Or, consider offering a back-end premium for donors when they increase their commitment to your organization.

Don’t let your Year-End mailing get out the door without careful consideration for a coordinated online fundraising strategy. Your fundraising emails can mirror the message in your direct mail piece to create a cohesive campaign. For online donors who were also sent a direct mail piece, it’s a good idea to add a message at the top of the email with a note saying “we wanted to follow-up with you” or “did you get our appeal in the mail.” Put special consideration into how you select your email audience so you can target donors with email addresses on file that recently got your appeal in the mail.

For your website, there are some very simple and effective ways to drive more visitors to your donation page. Adding a Lightbox to your homepage for the month of December is a proven technique to raise money online at Year-End. On December 31 and the days leading up to it, consider redirecting all your homepage traffic to your donation page so that any visitor to the website automatically lands on your donation page. This tactic may seem a bit extreme, but if your leadership is serious about raising as much money as possible during the last days of the calendar year, then it’s worth trying, if even for just one day.

A lot of our clients ask us these days about #GivingTuesday, and whether or not it’s worth participating in as part of a Year-End strategy. 2014 will mark the third annual #GivingTuesday online event to raise awareness about charitable giving through social media and online sources. While still a young program, the money raised on #GivingTuesday has steadily increased year-over-year. Compared with your other Year-End efforts, #GivingTuesday likely won’t generate nearly as much income as your direct mail or emails. But if you don’t want to leave any stone unturned, you should consider participating. Make sure you assemble a strong group of volunteers who will be dedicated to spreading the word about your cause on #GivingTuesday.

For further reading, I recommend:

Sabrina Sutton Naylor is an Account Manager for Mal Warwick | Donordigital and is based in Washington, DC. She manages mail fundraising projects for Ocean Conservancy, and International Medical Corps.

Kick-start Your Donation Page Optimization Efforts: Test These 7 Emerging Techniques

To improve your odds of raising more money online in 2013, most organizations would be well served to dedicate more time and resources to donation page testing.

But a greater commitment to testing is no guarantee of better results. The fact is, not all things on your donation page matter for conversion. To get statistically significant improvement, you need to focus making changes your visitors actually care about.

Below is a list of 7 emerging techniques on donation pages that we think do matter for conversion. All were in evidence during the recent year-end giving season—and focus on changes that improve usability or increase the perceived value of giving relative to its perceived cost.

Consider incorporating some of these ideas into your testing program for 2013:

  1. Shorter pages:More 2-column forms are replacing long, 1-column forms in order to make the giving process appear shorter and simpler, and bring the donate button above the fold.Example: Earthjustice (click screenshot to enlarge)



  2. Multi-step donation processes in which each step is short and super-focused:This technique can involve breaking up the giving process into bite sized pieces across multiple pages, or merely coding the steps to unfold as the user progresses through a sequence of micro-decisions, as in the case of the Obama Campaign.For this tactic to succeed (in testing or otherwise), it’s essential that your software platform is able to consistently load each step without delay.

    If page load times are at all sluggish in a multi-step process, this technique could backfire in a big way, since any delay increases user frustration and contributes to higher page abandonment.

    Example: Charity Water (click screenshot to enlarge)



  3. Donation page supplants the homepage on Dec 31st:This pushy tactic goes one step further than a splash page call to action for year-end giving; it puts a donation form in front of the visitor before they’ve expressed any desire to donate.But if there’s one day of the year it might make sense to remove one click from the online giving process, that’s December 31st –a day in which a huge portion of your site traffic seeks to accomplish this one task.

    The caveat with this technique is that there’s no set of comparable conditions for testing outside of December 31st. Surely, this technique would backfire at any other time, when site visitor intentions are not so homogenous.

    Even a brief stint of testing on December 31st is a level of risk that many organizations are probably unwilling to endure, given the stakes. But for those brave enough to try even for a few hours, it’s likely to yield valuable insights.

    Example: Feeding America (click screenshot to enlarge)



  4. Embedded video to express mission impact & successes from the year:This technique can be very effective if the video has a high production value with content that’s on point for your audience. Generally speaking, videos that work for fundraising feature poignant imagery, emotionally resonant music, tight editing, and a clear call to action.But while a well-produced video can be a powerful motivator, it’s essential that the video doesn’t serve as the sole vehicle for your message. Your call to action and value proposition for giving still need to be summarized on the donation page apart from the video. This ensures that all visitors have a positive user experience, regardless of whether they watch your video.

    Example: Share Our Strength (click screenshot to enlarge)



  5. Large, hard-hitting images with very brief copy:A powerful image can deliver greater emotional impact than a copy-intensive page. This is especially true if your cause has charismatic beneficiaries (e.g. jaguars, puppies, children). Image-driven pages can also produce a more streamlined giving process since they’re devoid of clutter.Of course, this isn’t an equal opportunity tactic. Some nonprofit causes look much better in photos than others. If your work doesn’t lend itself to this technique, consider #6 below.

    Example: Save the Children (click screenshot to enlarge)



  6. No photos:This tactic isn’t new or surprising for causes that have a difficult time expressing the value of their work in images (e.g. civil liberties groups), but we’ve also noticed this trend on the donation pages of groups whose work does provide great opportunity for visual reinforcement (international relief orgs).While the wrong photo (e.g. one expressing no value or that looks staged) can surely backfire, I question the wisdom of removing photos when a cause has strong visual assets to employ. The only way to know for sure is to test it!

    Example: AmeriCares (click screenshot to enlarge)



  7. No detours:To keep visitors tightly focused on the main call to action, donation page wrappers are stripped of global navigation and visible links to other parts of the website are removed. Typically only the brand ID is linked to the homepage.While this technique has been in use for several years, we’ve noticed that it’s becoming much more widespread on donation pages for larger organizations.

    Example: PETA (click screenshot to enlarge)

 

Five easy things you can do to improve your year-end fundraising

Between now and the end of the year, most nonprofits will raise between 25% and 50% of what they will raise online all year. Don’t be overwhelmed! These easy tweaks don’t take much time but can make a big difference.

  1. Resend to non-openers. You don’t always need to go to the trouble of creating another email message for your campaign. Make sure the one you just spent all that time on is really being seen! Generally fewer than 22% of your intended recipients open your email messages. Wait a day or two, pull a report of who did open the message the first time, and suppress them from your re-send. Or wait until later in your campaign, choose the message in the series that performed best, and send that one to non-openers. Be sure to change the subject line.
  2. Include people who already gave to your email series. We usually go out of our way to ensure we’re not sending messages to people who already gave to the current campaign. However, at year-end, your donors are motivated and may be ready to give again. Rather than suppressing donors once they give to your campaign, add them back in to a message or two. Include a paragraph recognizing that they already gave and their gift is appreciated—and you hope they’re inspired to make another donation.
  3. Add an upgrade request. If your current donors have given a certain amount in the past—for your organization that could be $25, $50, $100, or $250 or more—ask them to give a little more this time. Add a paragraph to your email message that thanks them for their past gift and asks them to do even more this year: “Thanks for your last gift of $x to Friends of the Unicorns. Your donation made a huge difference, and now we’re doing even more to help save these amazing creatures. This time, I hope you can give $y.” Or, if you’re not certain about the accuracy of your data, you could simply choose a higher donation level to be pre-selected on the donation form when former and current donors click through (vs. non-donors).
  4. Make sure there’s an option for monthly giving. Tis the time of year for one-time gifts…but just in case your donors want to commit to giving year-round, make sure the option is available to make a sustaining gift rather than a one-off. You’ll be glad you did at this time next year.
  5. Ask your donors to tell their friends. Your donors are at their most fired up right after they give. Make it easy for them to share their excitement with their friends by adding share links to the acknowledgement autoresponder email and thank-you page (the web page they are automatically led to after pressing the Submit button on their gift). Make sure you include a link to the donation form with a source code—and for Twitter, include any relevant hashtags.

Wendy Marinaccio is a Senior Account Executive at Donordigital, the online fundraising, marketing, and advertising company.  Contact: wendy@donordigital.com.

Get ready for year-end giving by improving your website donation pages

As the 2011 holiday giving season approaches, non-profit organizations need to be mindful to position their websites for successful year-end giving, especially in this sluggish economy when donors are likely to be more selective than ever with their contributions.

While most attention at year-end is typically centered on maximizing reach and visibility through email marketing, direct mail, paid search marketing, and social media, it’s imperative to also focus on your website donation landing pages.

All of your hard work driving supporters to your website can be squandered in an instant if they’re faced with wordy, dense, complicated, and time-consuming donation pages once they get there—which inevitably leads to donor abandonment and lost revenues.

To help you get the most out of your donation pages at year-end, we’ve prepared a list of ‘best practices’ based on our experience testing and optimizing such pages for a wide variety of clients over the past 5 years.

While we’ve found these areas most often have the biggest impact on giving—this list is NOT meant to be exhaustive or to serve as a substitute for testing.

Identifying what specifically works best with your audience requires direct testing on your own donation pages—and the fall season is an ideal time to experiment, as findings can be deployed immediately for the peak giving weeks between Thanksgiving and December 31st.

Best Practice #1: Feature a clear call to action headline

The first two questions any visitor to a web landing page has are:
Where am I? What can I do here?

The most effective way to answer both is with a clear and compelling page headline. The best headlines are succinct and to the point, but also tap into the reason your donors are motivated to make a gift in the first place.

In our experience, donation page headlines that connect giving to a positive impact, e.g. “Donate to save children’s lives” typically deliver stronger conversion rates than pages where the headline simply states the call to action, e.g. “Donate Now.”

From a strict usability standpoint, the page headline should use a font size and color that make it prominent, eye-catching, and easy to read. We prefer headlines in bold, black font on a white background.

Best Practice #2: Present a Strong Value Proposition

Once a visitor has figured out what they can do on your donation page, the next question they ask themselves is, why should I do it? After all, they most likely receive at least one email per day from a non-profit organization asking them for a donation (and at year-end this number explodes!)

Presenting a strong value proposition is essential to converting more donation page visitors into donors. Making an effective case for giving can be accomplished in a variety of ways, but some of the most effective tactics we’ve found include:

  • Explaining in clear, simple language how donors’ money is spent (main body copy)
  • Explaining how your approach is effective, and what you’ve been able to accomplish already (main body copy)
  • Displaying trust seals, a testimonial from a prominent supporter, or mission statement to reduce anxiety on the part of first-time donors.We’ve found that trust seals such as Charity Navigator, Better Business Bureau Accredited Charity, or American Institute of Philanthropy have the most impact on donor conversion when displayed on donation pages above the fold. This is because most web users don’t scroll, so vastly more visitors will see them if they’re displayed on the top half of the page.The most important audience for trust seals is folks who don’t know your organization very well and have never given to you before. This group has the most anxiety about taking the plunge; consequently, they’re more likely to be favorably influenced by a recognized third-party rating, so it needs to be visible very early in the process, i.e. before a user starts to complete the form—not after.
  • Illustrating your organizational efficiency with pie charts that break down expense and program allocations.  Your page should reinforce the message that donors’ money is spent wisely—and mainly on the mission.  This information helps to answer two important questions donors typically have—namely, where does my money go? How much of my gift gets spent on overhead?

Consider using a sidebar to display “supporting” content such as trust seals, a mission statement, and budget allocation charts. They’re not essential to completing the transaction, but can combine to tell a compelling story of who and what your organization is about—and how you get results.

Best Practice #3: One-Click to Donate

You risk losing donations on your site if you ask visitors to click through multiple pages to reach a donation form, or ask them to confirm their donation with another click after submitting the form.

If your organization uses a multi-page donation process, we recommend re-evaluating each step and deciding whether it could be incorporated into a single page. This may involve eliminating some non-essential questions or form fields that aren’t essential to completing a transaction, such as title, middle name, spouse name, phone number, program preferences, etc. and eliminating a “donation confirmation” page, which often resemble a receipt and confuse some donors.

The cumulative effect of extraneous form fields and questions on donation pages, and a confirmation page prior to transaction completion is to test visitors’ patience and deplete the reservoir of goodwill you have with prospective donors when they first land on your site. The net effect is that some visitors will jump ship before completing the transaction—needlessly depressing the conversion rate on your donation page.

Best Practice #4:  Keep the page focused on a single call to action

In many instances, we find the main web donation page on a site uses the same wrapper as the site’s homepage—featuring utility links, main navigation, secondary navigation and other calls to action on the periphery of the page (e.g. Sign up for email, Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, etc.)

This approach is most often used for the sake of consistency, but can sabotage the main call to action on a donation page, since it provides so many opportunities for visitors to detour to other parts of your site (or leave the site altogether) before making a gift.

One way to solve this problem is to create and test a streamlined page wrapper displaying nothing more than your brand logo and a link back to the homepage—while all other wrapper content reinforces the main call to action instead of competing with it.

Best Practice #5:  Images

Your organization’s work may be such that images are more powerful than words when it comes to communicating how a donor’s gift can help others. Groups that are especially blessed in this regard include those working in international development, emergency first responders, child welfare, animal welfare, and wildlife or habitat conservation.

Featuring an image that reinforces the core message in your marketing pitch and is well-integrated with the rest of your value proposition can significantly improve the page conversion rate.

When selecting photos, it’s critical that they be authentic and relevant—stock photography that looks fake, contrived or unrelated to your mission can actually work against you—serving to distract or alienate visitors rather than reinforce your message.

Of course, some photos have a greater impact than others, so it’s essential to test a variety of images to figure out which one resonates best with your audience.

Best Practice #6: Security Seals

It’s essential to display a recognized security seal on your donation page so prospective donors are confident that their personal information won’t be compromised.

We’ve found that the VeriSign security logo (the most widely recognized brand in online security) is most effective when it appears in the section of the page where donors enter the most sensitive information (such as their credit card or bank account numbers) and complete the transaction (click the donate button).

This is where donors are the most worried about page security—and fear can lead some folks to abandon the giving process altogether if it’s not adequately addressed on the page itself.

Best Practice #7: Offer options—don’t make donors go searching for them

There’s a wider range of donors on your website than ever before—young, middle-aged and older donors, first timers, and long-time members.

There’s no “one size fits all” approach to satisfying these folks. Your donors demand options; and they don’t want to waste time trying to find them.

Make sure your donation pages provide both flexibility and clarity to meet a broad range of donor preferences. With some clever coding, you can present a clean-looking donation page that provides donors with:

  • Single gift or monthly gift-giving options (experiment with tabs, drop-downs or radio buttons)
  • Different methods of payment (credit card, bank account debit, Paypal)
  • A mailing address to print and mail the form in for those that are still reluctant to give online (more important if your donor base skews older)
  • A telephone number to make a gift by phone (especially for pages that make a monthly giving ask the primary action, where a donor is more likely to have questions before making a high-level commitment)

Best Practice #8: A colorful, eye-catching donate button

Large and colorful donate buttons that look clickable and feature goal-oriented language often outperform donate buttons that are small, grey and feature generic language (e.g. a standard grey “submit” button).

Our testing work has found no single color works best on donate buttons—every audience is different. However, most audiences respond better to bright colors (e.g. blue, red, orange, green) than pale colors (e.g. grey, yellow) and button language that makes the action clear, e.g. Donate, Donate Now, versus language that is vague or unclear on what happens next, e.g. “Process” or “Submit.”

Like images, we’ve found that changes to button color often have a significant impact on the donation page conversion rate—but it can be positive or negative, so you’ll want to test a variety of options to see which one works best for you.

Best Practice #9: Font size and color that donors can easily read

While many of us rely on web developers and designers much younger than ourselves to create web content, it’s important to remember that most online donors are over 40—and a significant portion are over 50.

Small font sizes and pale text (grey is surprisingly common) can make reading your donation page a real challenge. Make sure that your page copy (both headline and body text) uses a dark font (preferably black) on white background and is of sufficient size to maximize readability.

Don’t make donors strain to read what’s on the page—and that includes form field descriptions. If they can’t read it, they most likely aren’t going to make a gift!

Best Practice #10: TEST EVERYTHING

Don’t take shortcuts, assuming that what worked on organization x, y or z’s website will automatically work on yours, too.

Too often, we’re hired for a testing project and find that our clients have adopted changes to their donation pages without testing them first, only to find out later through testing that the change was negative for donor conversion—not positive!

Don’t make these costly, avoidable mistakes. Always test new ideas before adopting them wholesale.

These ideas should get you started down the path to unlocking greater value on your web donation pages!

Dawn 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.

Year-end fundraising: It’s never too early

December is National Fundraiser’s Month and online fundraising programs often raise one-third to one-half their annual revenue in December, especially the very last week of the year.  It’s never too early to make your year-end plan, get buy-in, and gather the assets you’ll need.

Here are some basic guidelines for what’s worked for many of our clients, but things are constantly changing online, so be sure to try at least one new tactic each year.

  1. Make sure your home page makes the case for giving in a powerful and prominent way…and makes it easy to find the donation form.  Many donors will seek you out in December, even without email appeals; more and more donors who get your direct mail will visit your site to make their gifts, as the tax-deductible deadline approaches.  You may want to try a “homepage hijack” – replacing your normal homepage with a special donation page (with a “Go to homepage” link) from time to time in December and/or a “lightbox,” a highlighted rectangle covering part of the home page and asking for donations.  You might want to feature a countdown calendar during the last week of the year.
  2. Make sure your donation “landing pages” are as effective as possible in converting visitors into donors.   Testing now can help improve your pages.  You can also look for “best practices” from organizations such as CARE, Amnesty International USA, Defenders of Wildlife, and Nature Conservancy, who have optimized their pages (though no one landing page layout works best for every organization).
  3. Email often (but not necessarily early).  Most of our clients raise very little before Dec. 15, but emailing around Thanksgiving and in early December puts you on the donor’s map of expectations for later giving.
  4. Email often.  The more you mail in December, the more you’ll probably make. While we all worry about irritating donors and prospects by sending them too much email, they’re already inundated by everyone else in December, so they’ll probably not even notice your extra frequency.
  5. Make your best pitch. So be sure you make the case for giving and highlight the Dec. 31 tax-deductible deadline prominently on the home page and other high-traffic pages.
  6. Consider a matching gift.  This one is controversial because many of us believe year-end is the time you don’t need to sweeten the offer.  On the other hand, we’ve found that matching gifts increase response and sometimes average gift, even at year end.
  7. Figure out what to do on Facebook.  For the first time, you can create a special page (tab) where you can accept donations via an “API” that send donor credit card information into your CRM system, such as Convio.  Few organizations have raised much money this way, but it seems worth trying for year-end, as well as for emergencies and news-driven issues.  You might test a lower gift string on Facebook, given that heavy users tend to be younger and don’t normally use Facebook as a place to give.
  8. Last but not least:  Consider what to do with your largest online donors, the people who gave you $500 or $5,000 online this year or last year.  These folks have indicated they like to give online (though they may give by mail or to your major donor folks too) – and they can provide a major boost in December. Of course, you should have been cultivating them all year, online and off, but now’s your last chance.  Can you send them several Outlook-looking emails from your CEO or ED, trying to speak to them one to one and inviting them to dialogue directly with you?  Can you invite them to a phone or in-person briefing on “what your donations accomplished this year”?  Can you at least recognize their special importance in your emails to them, and make sure their gift string is appropriate to their giving history?

Nick Allen is co-founder and chief strategy officer of Donordigital, the online fundraising, marketing, and advertising company.  Contact: nick@donordigital.com or phone (510) 473-0366.