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Randy Paynter 11 min read

3 Ways to Keep Donors Happy in an Online World


Here’s an astonishing fact: Last year, people used online payments platform PayPal to contribute a staggering $8.5 billion to charity. To be fair, online giving is still just one method by which Americans donate a total of $390 billion annually to nonprofits. But the PayPal figure is a sign of the times. The shift to digital giving is a rising and considerable trend.

Faced with movements like this, nonprofits—like traditional businesses—are struggling to regain solid footing. Between channels like email, social media and websites, many wonder whether they are doing everything they can to keep their supporters engaged and satisfied. As the founder and CEO of a social advocacy platform that partners with thousands of nonprofit organizations, I’m often asked for advice. How do you cultivate donor happiness in today’s climate? The good news is that there are some simple but powerful ways to ensure you are on the right path to nurturing donor relationships on a digital terrain:

Think mobile. Make your mobile site a smooth, clear pathway to giving. E-commerce sites like Amazon have set a new UX standard by which consumers expect an online transaction to be nearly instantaneous. This is absolutely applicable to mobile experiences. If your site isn't mobile-friendly, visitors are 5 times more likely to abandon the process—or go elsewhere. However, many non-profit organizations still haven’t fully optimized their websites accordingly.

North Shore Animal League America is not one of them. The world’s largest no-kill animal rescue and adoption organization has made its mobile donation process a frictionless user experience. It’s clean, quick and responsive—and if you've given to the organization previously, it pre-populates your info to save you unnecessary hassle:

NSALA prepulated form (1)

Take a page from this successful 74-year-old organization and optimize the mobile giving experience. Implement best practices like creating easy-to-navigate donation forms with fewer steps and auto-populating donor data whenever possible. Make the entire giving experience quick and simple. Last year, 21 percent—or one-fifth—of all online donations were made on a mobile device. It’s a figure that has grown steadily since 2014. In an increasingly mobile-friendly landscape, nonprofits must clear away any friction along the user pathway to giving.

Keep them safe. Integrate donor security into your company culture from the onset.  

Believe it or not, the FBI recently noted a rise in email scams targeting non-profit groups. Against a backdrop where no one and nothing seems perfectly safe, all organizations must establish a higher standard of security. To protect donors, nonprofits must commit to “do the right thing” from the onset. There are many opportunities to take shortcuts with data security, but if seen as a top priority—as it should be—it’s easier to spend the time and resources up front to put the right protective measures in place.  

Make sure that all donors understand fully what their data is being used for. Only use their information as they would expect you to. Don’t ever use it for purposes that were not clearly and explicitly stated during the sign-up process. Don’t do anything that would violate their trust.

Many organizations use third party platforms they didn’t develop themselves. Do your due diligence and make sure that those partner platforms are also using state-of-the-art security measures and practices. Make sure that your employees have access to donor data on an as-needed-basis only. Any personally identifiable information should be further stored in encrypted files to prevent hackers from gaining access.

If despite everyone’s best efforts something does go wrong, be transparent and honest. Let users know immediately what has happened, what the implications are and what you are doing to fix the situation. You don’t want to compound things by not being entirely forthright. After an incident, make it a company priority to learn from the situation and take every measure and precaution possible to prevent it from happening again.

Get creative. Explore new ways to connect with people on an emotional level. We all like to believe we are more to an organization than a faceless, annual check. For nonprofits, the online landscape offers up new opportunities to involve supporters beyond monetary contribution. Signing petitions, filling out surveys, providing input on a new website design or even volunteering in person are just some of the additional ways people can contribute meaningfully to your efforts.

The African Wildlife Foundation recently rolled out an online personality quiz that matched people to one of the animals it helps to protect. The campaign won a prestigious mobile web award, proving to be a novel and impactful way for a nonprofit to engage with current and new supporters.

African Wildlife Society example

A final note: Don’t forget to thank your supporters, too. Research has shown that sending first-time donors a personal thank-you within 48 hours makes them four times more likely to contribute again. The Humane Society does a consistently good job with this, sending supporters a healthy stream of creatively formatted “thank you” and campaign update emails.

Humane Society example

Long gone are the days when direct mail and phone were the best (and only) ways for nonprofits to stay connected to their valuable donors. The digital evolution has shaken things up, but it’s also uprooted whole new channels to build and nurture donor relationships. Some of the best NPOs are already paving the way, and it's just up to the rest to keep things exciting.

This post was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse. To stay up to date on Randy’s articles, visit his profile page and click “Follow” in the “Articles & Activity” section.

(Title image by rawpixel on Unsplash)


Randy Paynter

As the founder of Care2 and the PetitionSite, Randy is a pioneer of online advocacy. Randy launched Care2 in 1998 to empower individuals to take collective action in support of social and environmental causes. Today, Care2 helps over 45 million members stand together, start online petitions, and share stories that inspire action.