This post explains how to get donations through your charity website. It is aimed at small charities with small budgets. There is no magic formula for getting more donations - building a committed base of donors takes a lot of small steps. But these 10 steps will help you improve quickly.
1. Tell compelling stories
People will only give money to your charity if they resonate with your cause.
To write good stories on your charity’s website you need to understand your audience and connect with them. Then you need to translate things into terms that they will understand and relate to, e.g. ‘In one year, Grace earns the same as an average UK worker earns each day’.
Don’t get carried away with your word count. 500 words should be the upper limit. The narrative arc of the story is much more important than the details. A good story will often include surprise, tension, emotion or conflict. Simple devices like before / after photos can help to reinforce a clear narrative.
Example of a good story
Remember to make the story more readable by breaking it into small paragraphs and using headings, quotes and images.
Lastly, don’t forget to include one clear call to action. Make it abundantly clear what your user should do next and make this step as easy to take as possible. The more closely you can tie this in with the story the more effective it will be.
Allowing them to take a relevant and meaningful action can make the reader the potential hero of the story.
2. Present impact clearly
Impact reports aren’t only for institutional funders. They form a powerful part of your marketing funnel and can be a resource to drive online donations.
While your homepage should succinctly explain the change your charity seeks to make, the impact pages should be short, lively demonstrations of the changes you’ve made in a specific area over a specific period of time.
Try to make the report as visual as possible. Consider maps, graphs, timelines and images but don’t get carried away with this to the detriment of the actual content.
This post on producing digital annual reports explores tips on how to communicate your top successes on an annual basis.
Example of strong impact page
Don’t mistake impact for outputs.
It’s sometimes appropriate to talk about your outputs:
‘Last year we spent only 5% on administration and 95% on charitable activities’
But it's normally more powerful to talk about outcomes:
‘Last year we helped 100 young men move from the streets to their own apartment. 95 are still there today.’
3. Run campaigns
This is bread and butter to larger charities but many small charities miss the opportunity because it feels like too much work. But campaigns are more about understanding what motivates giving than about creating additional work.
Campaigns are so powerful because they create urgency. They demonstrate clearly why your audience should act now, not later.
A good fundraising campaign has a clearly defined goal and a fixed time period in which to achieve it. Because of these parameters, a campaign must either succeed or fail, it can’t just exist. This creates drama and is more engaging than simply asking for money.
Don’t be afraid of honestly failing against your campaign goals. This is all part of your story and one failure can provide a powerful foundation for a future success.
You don’t need to design the next world-wide viral Ice Bucket Challenge to run a successful campaign for your charity. A great way to get started is to run a simple matched funding campaign. Here are some steps to follow:
- Approach your major donors to ask about them supporting your next matched giving campaign. Try to secure an ambitious but achievable target.
- Define a clear purpose for the funds, e.g. launching a new program or purchasing a particular piece of equipment. The more tangible the better.
- Agree a fixed timeline - when will the funding window start and end.
- Start warming up your pipeline of new, small or not-yet-donors in your mailing list and on your social networks. Tell them about the matched fund, the goals and the timeline.
- Design a content campaign for the funding window. This needn’t be complicated - it could be short snippets that bring people into the detail of some aspect of your work.
- Run it, learn and do it better next time.
There are third party donation platforms like The Big Give and Local Giving that run these matched campaigns regularly so you could also jump on board there or just check them out for inspiration and do it yourself to keep more control over the process and a greater connection with your donors.
Receiving donations via SMS text message can be a powerful source of income for small charities. Almost any charity can benefit but there are limitations to consider. This post explains how text giving works, what it costs, when you should use it and how to get started.
4. Use real images
Much of effective fundraising is about reducing the gap between donors and beneficiaries and photography can be a powerful mechanism for achieving this.
When you are getting your charity off the ground then stock images are fine. They can at least give an indication of who you work with and thereby enhance your written messages on the website giving more depth to the words. But as soon as you can, start to use real images.
This post on How to Commission a Charity Photoshoot provides loads of tips on how to brief a photographer to get just the right images for your fundraising and communication needs. If you don’t yet have the time or budget for real photography, check out these 8 places to find free photos online.
5. Provide social proof
Social proof is important for two reasons: It creates trust and pressure.
Building trust with your supporters is a prerequisite to them donating money. Whether it is the first or fiftieth time they have heard from you, they will only give if they are confident that you will look after their money well.
Here are some practical ideas to bring social proof to your fundraising pages:
Share what other supporters are saying about you.
These independent voices make it much easier for someone to trust you.
Provide information about donations.
Offer a range of donation options with one marked ‘most popular’. Social pressure is a reality that you can take advantage of as part of persuading someone to give. We are social animals and we like to feel generous. For this reason, we are more likely to give if we see others give and we will be influenced by the amount they give.
Publish public ‘thank you’ notes.
These can be anonymised if you think appropriate. Or you could ask people’s permission to thank them publicly which could be even more powerful. These public thankyous then serve the dual benefit of making the donor feel valued and increasing the chances that others will follow suit.
Share progress towards your goals
If you want something less direct, try being more transparent about your progress towards a particular campaign goal. You could publish how much people have donated so far or over the last week/day. This builds the sense that the goal is shared among your community of supporters.
6. Make a prominent donate link
This may sound obvious but it’s surprising how many websites make the donation process hard to find. Making the process prominent will not by itself make people want to give you money. It will, however, make it much easier so that those who are inclined, are less likely to give up halfway through.
Check that your donation link is prominent in the header of your website on both desktop and mobile. Also, make sure that relevant page (such as a story or impact page) has a prominent link to donate at the bottom so that it’s the natural next step after reading the content.
Example donate link
7. Branded donation process
It may sound equally obvious that you want to keep people on your website as they make a donation but technical limitations often mean this doesn't happen. Lots of charities push their donors out to different websites with different branding in order to donate. Sometimes these systems even require your donors to create an account with that third-party website before a donation can be made. This results in lost donations which can be avoided by a good donation process on your website.
One major six year study by Network for Good found that ‘The loyalty factor for donors acquired through generic giving pages is 66.7% lower than for donors who give via charity-branded giving pages.’
The White Fuse website and fundraising platform integrates all the systems that small charities need to manage the fundraising journey: website, donations and ongoing supporter management.
Using third-party platforms like JustGiving and Virgin Money Giving, which push their own brand strongly and charge hefty fees, can still be a good approach for event fundraising. That is a very different use case because people running marathons and doing other such events may use those platforms regularly and it makes the fundraiser’s life easier if your charity maintains an account. If you're looking for a different solution here are 5 alternatives to using JustGiving for event fundraising.
8. Donation packaging
Packaging donations into tangible products has two key benefits:
- It reduces choice which makes it easier to say ‘yes’
- It creates a direct link to your impact
When faced with too many choices, website users experience choice paralysis which leads to a deferral, often permanently, of the choice. You can avoid this issue by removing choices from your donation process.
And if potential donors don’t understand where their money will go, they are equally unlikely to give.
Organisations that run sponsorship schemes have long understood this. A creative example is YMCA with their successful ‘sponsor a room’ scheme. This immediately communicates what the money goes to (particularly valuable for a charity like YMCA that has at times struggled to communicate clearly what it does).
9. Offer rewards
For your donors to feel valued by your charity, you need to reward them.
Thank your donors
Often, the only reward people want is to be recognised, assurance that they have helped a good cause and to feel good about having done so. Make sure you thank people, individually and personally. This isn’t complicated and doesn’t cost a lot if you’re organised.
Explain the impact
To help ensure people know their contribution is making a difference is to tell them so. This could be simple and generic or, for higher value donors, could be linked to a particular project they have backed.
Make it public
People often won’t sing their own praises, not in the UK at least. But, they probably won’t mind if you thank them and ‘big them up’ publicly. Take to Twitter and Facebook to call your donors out by name, thank them and share the impact their support is having. Thanking them generally for their ‘support’ avoids any potential embarrassment.
This can be hard to get right and it’s important not to waste money on producing high volumes of physical items that people don’t really care about. But well-targeted, tasteful tokens like t-shirts, fridge magnets, framed photos, etc can be a powerful way to connect with your donor.
Offer membership or affiliation
Membership doesn’t have to be anything formal but it can help build a sense of community and belonging. An ‘inner circle’ of dedicated supporters can carry a sense of ownership over the cause and be relied on more than most to get involved and provide useful feedback. It can sound intimidating but it's possible to create a membership website on a surprisingly small budget.
10. Combine all the above strategies
While each of the ideas in this post can have an impact in isolation, the real impact can be seen when they are integrated.
Asking for support is often more fruitful if you already have some form of relationship with the prospective donor. You, therefore, need to engage them over time with other content, information, events and campaigns.
To build your community of supporters you need to consider people at different stages on a journey with you. People may move from visitor to volunteer to supporter to advocate to key donor. This journey can take time and you will want to communicate different things to different people.