6 things nonprofits can learn from e-commerce checkout pages (and apply to their Donation Pages)

Working to optimize web content with nonprofit organizations, I’m regularly asked to help improve donation page conversion rates. Clients usually want to know … What are the best practices? Do you have case studies on what converts well? Even though nonprofits do a lot more testing than in years past, published research on what “works” to lift donation page conversion rates is still fairly hard to find. That said, there’s plenty that charities can learn from optimization efforts on e-commerce checkout pages when it comes to improving the user experience for donors. Image1_C+B_Checkout_1_smallThere are a large number of commercial marketers who test everything—in order to maximize conversion on their websites. These companies (and the experts they hire) have identified common “conversion killers” on checkout pages via live testing and usability research. As a fundraiser, the key question you’re going to have while reading this is… How do I get more people through my online giving process to complete a donation? Let’s take a look at 6 tactics commercial marketers have identified from extensive testing on their checkout pages that improve conversion. These techniques are all easy to apply on web donation pages. (Insights described here are adapted from research conducted by the Baymard Institute). #1: Remove seemingly unnecessary steps Oftentimes, staff with no training in web usability gets involved in decisions about what to include on a donation page. For example, your development director may want to collect a lot of information about online donors during the giving process to put to use at a later time. The result is often “form field creep,” i.e. you get greedy and ask for too much information up front. Unnecessary steps and questions lengthen the giving process and irritate a portion of your potential donors, causing them to abandon the page without giving and lowering conversion. Below are examples of unnecessary steps I see required on many donation pages (along with the reason each can harm conversion):
  • Telephone number. People fear marketing calls, so it’s a deal breaker for some if their phone number is required.
  • Program designation. This assumes the donor is already familiar enough with your programs to easily make a choice, which isn’t true. The question unintentionally introduces difficulty into the giving process—and encourages the visitor to leave the page to figure out which program to select.
  • How did you hear about us? It requires the donor to stop and think (something you absolutely want to avoid on a donation page). Your aim is to make the process ridiculously easy and painless.
  • Comments. The user has no idea what you’re fishing for, but people feel compelled to enter something into a blank field—and may get hung up trying to figure out what to enter.
  • Tribute/honor gift fields displayed by default. At first glance few will notice that these fields are optional (because web users skim pages, they don’t read every word). As a result, lots of fields create the perception of a longer form and a more difficult process.
  • CAPTCHA puzzle. These are pure pain for the web user. Even thinking, breathing humans stumble when attempting to decipher those distorted number and letter combinations. If spam is a major problem on your website, find a skilled developer who can help you implement a solution that does not require your donors to perform difficult tasks. This article describes five front and back-end alternatives to CAPTCHA.
  • Multiple email list opt-ins. They require the donor to expend cognitive energy in studying and choosing between offers (another type of difficulty), and distract from the priority conversion goal of the page—giving.
Is your organization guilty of asking for too much? If any of the items above are included on your donation pages, stop and ask yourself if the information is valuable enough to sacrifice donations in order to get it. #2: Ask for name and billing address first, payment information last When arranging fields on a form, always put the easy stuff first. Based on Robert Cialdini’s behavioral psychology research and the six principles of influence, the principle of commitment and consistency means people are more likely to finish something once they’ve gotten started. For example, it’s much harder to abandon a book when you’ve already read 90% of it than when you’ve only read a few pages. Similarly, people are more likely to complete a form after they’re more than half-way through it—because they get invested in the activity. As such, it’s best to put the easy steps first, i.e. those that encounter little psychological resistance like name and address fields. Anxiety and fear are at their peak when donors enter sensitive information like their credit card number—so it’s best to put payment fields at the end, where they’re less likely to disrupt a donor’s progress. #3: Don’t ask for the same information twice Web users are very good at remembering if they’ve been asked to enter the same information multiple times—and get irritated when they must work harder than they feel they should. Because this happens most often on multi-step forms, it’s well worth examining your conversion funnel to eliminate any instances where you ask the donor to enter the same information more than once (e.g. gift amount, email address, contact/billing fields). Instead of creating extra work for the donor, auto-populate their initial entry in subsequent steps requiring that same piece of data. With respect to mobile, this can be especially frustrating given the difficulty most have filling out forms on small screens. On a mobile device the UX can be greatly enhanced by changing the order in which information is collected. Consider asking mobile users for their zip code prior to their street address, so that fields like city, state and country can auto-populate based on the zip code, thereby eliminating the need for users to make those entries. Image2_Mobile form_zip code first Keep in mind that if you decide to automate—it’s best to allow the user the option to override the output data, since there’s the chance that their zip code may not yield the correct information in all cases. #4: Avoid in-line form field labels Web designers (and some marketers) love in line labels because they make forms look so clean and polished. Image3_in-line FF exampleHowever, when form field labels appear inside the field itself they cause a lot of usability problems. This is because instructions disappear as soon as the user begins typing in the field. If the donor gets distracted for any reason (or merely loses their train of thought) they cannot recover the instructions without deleting their entry entirely and clicking outside of the field. The Baymard Institute has found that in-line labels contribute to a lot of form validation errors because even after the form is submitted the in-line labels still don’t get restored to help the user understand how to fix a problem. If error guidance is not highly targeted and specific, users get frustrated and typically abandon the transaction process right there. #5: Make entry errors easy to fix It’s incredibly frustrating when making a purchase or donation online to submit form and trigger a validation error with little or no guidance on how to fix it. We’ve all seen opaque (or even hostile) error messages displayed at the top of a form that give us no idea what exactly we did wrong: Image4_Bad_form error messagesThe unfortunate donor who receives this type of message is now thinking… Uggh, what did I do wrong? Good error language is both courteous and precise about which field is cause a problem—and requires a correction. Below are three best practices when designing error messages:
  1. Be nice. Avoid negative and critical words like “problem” or “failed.” No one wants to be scolded for making an error.
  2. Be helpful—and clear. Provide specific guidance to the user on how to resolve the problem, e.g. This entry cannot contain dashes or spaces. And always use plain language—not “developer speak.” This language is a form of customer service, so be sure that someone with good communication skills is in charge of writing it!
  3. Place the error message in close proximity to the field that triggered it, not at the top of the page. Encapsulation of the problem field in red can help it stand out better:
Image5_Field label error_encapsulation And while it’s not mandatory, you should consider offering phone support for especially high value conversions (like monthly giving) to ensure that problems can be remedied by human intervention as a last resort. #6: Make the page look secure Many web users are acutely concerned about the risk of credit card theft online. Because most web users have little familiarity with “https”, simply having a secure page is not enough to alleviate their concerns. While donor anxiety about page security cannot be eliminated entirely, you can lessen its impact with targeted and timely reassurances. The best remedy is a visible indication that your site is secure, i.e. a recognized security seal located in close proximity to anxiety-producing steps (payment information fields). Security seals have far less benefit if they’re not easily noticed by web users while they’re completing payment fields. Besides locating the seal near to where donors enter sensitive information, encapsulation of payment fields (i.e. boxing them off with a distinct background color) is another technique that visually reinforces to the donor that their information will be secure: Image6_encapsulate_payment fields Finally, there’s some evidence that widely recognized seals like Norton-VeriSign, McFee, and TRUSTe appear to confer a greater benefit than lesser known providers. Brand awareness likely increases web users’ trust in these particular seals. Image7_Trust_seals_consumer confidence Conclusion These six techniques test-driven on e-commerce checkout pages are well worth trying to improve conversions on your web donation pages. How you apply them will depend in part on your current practice—as well as how flexible and customizable your donation forms are. Regardless of which techniques you use, remember that optimizing donation pages (or any other web page) for conversion is not a “one-off” exercise, it’s an ongoing process of testing, learning and application. Web conventions, user expectations, and visitor needs are constantly evolving, and your important landing pages need to be, too.
photo-thumbnail-dawnDawn Stoner is Mal Warwick | 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.

No Kid Hungry wins Blackbaud 2014 Impact Award for its #SaveSummer campaign

summer-meals-2014-1We’re thrilled to celebrate the news that our client No Kid Hungry has won a Blackbaud 2014 Impact Award for Best Multi-Channel Marketing for their Summer Meals Campaign — which our agency had the honor to work on. No Kid Hungry conducts an annual campaign that spreads awareness about childhood hunger, helps connect kids with food, and raises needed funds during summer months when kids are more likely to be hungry. Many families donʼt know that free meals are available to kids and teens at thousands of sites nationwide — in fact, only 3 million children are participating in these programs. To help increase this number, No Kid Hungry created a SMS program where people can text FOOD to 877-877 to find summer meals sites near them. They have also created an Action Center where people are directed to action they can take, both online and in-person, to promote awareness of and support for summer meals. No Kid Hungry launched an integrated multi-channel campaign to #SaveSummer for kids that lasted from mid-May through the end of July 2013. The campaign included 13 email messages, one direct mail package, an mobile phone texting campaign, numerous social media posts, a coordinated web presence, a lightbox asking single gift donors to “make it monthly,” and a video. blackbaud-impact-award No Kid Hungry took advantage of several opportunities to make this program a huge success. The Arby’s Foundation has been a crucial partner in No Kid Hungry’s work over the years, and provided matching funds up to $100,000 to encourage increased donations. National spokesperson Jeff Bridges has used his platform to help us raise funds, build relationships, and increase awareness of the need for, and the existence of, free summer meals for children. The campaign was a huge success. We surpassed our matching gift goal by over 50%, acquired over 800 new donors, and enrolled over 150 new monthly donors. Over 40,000 letters were sent to Congress asking members to visit a summer meals site, and almost 50,000 individuals used our mobile texting service to locate a summer meals site (100% increase over prior year). Wendy Marinaccio Husman is a Senior Account Executive at Donordigital, the online fundraising, marketing and advertising company.

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. mwosi-thumbMwosi Swenson is a Vice President at 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.