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Eric Rardin 6 min read

Don't Flunk Online Fundraising 101

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is be honest about worst practices in online fundraising. In fact, in almost any situation it can be hard to be honest when that means criticizing someone. We don’t like to criticize our friends and colleagues. But we’re not doing anyone any favors if we don’t tell them when they are doing something really wrong – like flunking "Online Fundraising 101."

One practice I’ve seen occur over and over again is sending donors to a decision page, rather than a donation form. A decision page is the page where you ask people to decide whether to donate using a credit card, using PayPal or other online payment method, or though the mail. It’s fine to offer alternative ways to give, but you have to do it in the right place.

According to research by several fundraising consultants such as Sea Change Strategies, if someone clicks on your “Donate Now” button on your home page, they should be sent to a credit card donation form. Period. End of story. Now, at the bottom of the form, or to the left or right, you can offer them a link to donate in any other way, including by snail mail. But you must take them to a form first. These people want to donate money now. Every additional click will cost you. People get distracted, or get frustrated that you’re making it hard to donate. Don’t lose them at this crucial step.

The same strategy goes for email appeals. If you send an email donation appeal to a constituent and they click it, they are ready to donate, and since they are responding to your email, they plan on donating online. Far more people donate online using credit cards than any other payment method. Don’t make someone take another click to give you money. You had them at hello.

This may sound like I’m stating the obvious, I am. Except many nonprofits are still failing Online Fundraising 101.

Here’s one recent example. One organization whose mission I strongly support, sent an email appeal to a couple thousand brand new email subscribers. Amazingly, 8 percent of them clicked through. That’s four times the average click through rate. But none of them donated. I wondered why, so I looked at the message and link. Sure enough, they didn’t go to a donation form, but to a decision page. When I suggested changing this strategy, they told me: “Our existing donors have no problem with this, they still donate, so it must not be a problem.” Here’s the thing though: Those existing donors cared so much about this cause that they took more time and effort than normal to find a way to donate. That’s great. But what about all the other visitors to the organization’s website? How many of these people clicked on the Donate Now button and then abandoned the process?

It would be useful to post some links to pages that do this to make the point, but I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Does your website do this? Will you share a link? If so, please paste it in the comments.

*Eric Rardin is the Director of Nonprofit Services for Care2.com.

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