The main purpose of your website may not be what you think

This has been bothering me lately. I heard it from Roger Craver (of The Agitator) at Fund Raising Day in New York: 58% of donors say they research an organization on the web before they give a gift. Stranger yet, few stay to give online. They go back to the world of paper and stamps and give that way.

This is according to DonorTrends survey research. It’s survey research, so it tells us what donors say, not necessarily what they do. But if it’s even close to common donor behavior, most of us need to seriously re-think the design and content of our websites.

Because one of the most important things a nonprofit website does is support giving in offline channels.

If that’s true, and it probably is, here’s what you should be doing:

Find out what donors looking for. They’re probably seeking signs of your legitimacy, but what exactly will answer their questions is a matter of conjecture. It will likely take qualitative research (focus groups, interviews, surveys) or web usability studies to get a handle on this.

Put signs of your legitimacy prominently on the home page. Things like watchdog logos, an expenditures pie chart, and third-party endorsements should be among the most visible elements on the page. Most nonprofit websites either hide these things on secondary (or lower) pages, or put them at the bottom of the homepage, way below the fold.

Make it easy to find the details. That means easy-to-find links to the annual report, financial statements, and recent 990s. Most donors aren’t going to go to that level, but the openness you display is important.

Make it easy for people to find what they’re seeking. That means doing things like:


  • SEO so they can find your website or the place within your site that they want.
  • Display a URL in your direct mail that leads directly to legitimacy information.
  • Don’t let your legitimacy pages be huge lists of links or design spaghetti. Put as much thought there as you do for fundraising pages — these are fundraising pages.


Comments

4 responses to “The main purpose of your website may not be what you think”

  1. Last year Jakob Nielsen did a study on the usability of nonprofit websites. And yes, there’s some difference between what donors SAY they’ll do and what they ACTUALLY do. Still, Nielsen’s findings appear to be generally in line with the DonorTrends survey you mention in today’s post.
    When donors in Nielsen’s study went to USE the website, the two most sought after answers were: 1) What is the nonprofit trying to achieve (mission, goals, objectives); and 2) How will the charity spend my money (what work do they actually do)?
    Donors want to QUICKLY find out what the nonprofit stands for. Does it align with the donor’s ideals and values? And then exactly how does it go about helping people? Once they know this they’ll decide whether to donate or not … and whether to give online or via postal mail.
    But charities don’t have much time (a few seconds) to get their message across. So the website needs plain, conversational text. No jargon and nothing written by committee (that guarantees it will be hard to read). Easy navigation. Free from clutter. Clear calls to action. And so on.
    Oh, and your readers may find it helpful to view this heat map from an eye-tracking study. It’s an image of how visitors view a web page – http://bit.ly/9A4k37 This also aligns with other studies and findings by Nielsen. The map gives designers an idea on where to place the most relevant content that donors seek.

  2. Last year Jakob Nielsen did a study on the usability of nonprofit websites. And yes, there’s some difference between what donors SAY they’ll do and what they ACTUALLY do. Still, Nielsen’s findings appear to be generally in line with the DonorTrends survey you mention in today’s post.
    When donors in Nielsen’s study went to USE the website, the two most sought after answers were: 1) What is the nonprofit trying to achieve (mission, goals, objectives); and 2) How will the charity spend my money (what work do they actually do)?
    Donors want to QUICKLY find out what the nonprofit stands for. Does it align with the donor’s ideals and values? And then exactly how does it go about helping people? Once they know this they’ll decide whether to donate or not … and whether to give online or via postal mail.
    But charities don’t have much time (a few seconds) to get their message across. So the website needs plain, conversational text. No jargon and nothing written by committee (that guarantees it will be hard to read). Easy navigation. Free from clutter. Clear calls to action. And so on.
    Oh, and your readers may find it helpful to view this heat map from an eye-tracking study. It’s an image of how visitors view a web page – http://bit.ly/9A4k37 This also aligns with other studies and findings by Nielsen. The map gives designers an idea on where to place the most relevant content that donors seek.

  3. Tirrah Avatar

    Jeff- Thanks for your blog! I truly enjoy it! … Personally, I always go back to writing a check (even though it’s more complicated) because I know how much non-profits pay in credit card processing fees. I would rather the organization keep a little bit more than pay that fee. Every little bit helps!

  4. Tirrah Avatar

    Jeff- Thanks for your blog! I truly enjoy it! … Personally, I always go back to writing a check (even though it’s more complicated) because I know how much non-profits pay in credit card processing fees. I would rather the organization keep a little bit more than pay that fee. Every little bit helps!

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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