What Donors Look for on Your Website

December 9th, 2009

Tuesday, 12/08/2009, I heard Penelope Burk speak at the Association of Donor Relations Professionals in Baltimore.  As always, she was charming AND informative, handing out jewels of information in a concise yet authoritative way.  Over the next few weeks I’ll surely be fanning ideas she sparked for me; for now, let me share this priceless insight on how donors use non-profits’ websites.

She reminded us that donors do their homework before giving and, most often, they start with a review of an organization’s website.  First and foremost, they look to answer this question:  “What would you do with my gift if I give to you?”.  Next they look for proof of recent success.  The information they find should be less than one year old and as specific as possible.  As Burk explained in response to a question from an attendee, “A first time donor can be attracted by the organization’s ‘brand’, but repeat donors expect more.  They need to be shown measurable results made possible through philanthropy; general “feel good” information just won’t do.”

Only once these two concerns – what will you do with my money and what’s your track record – have been satisfied will the donor look for how to make a gift.

Furthermore, she reminded us that smart, independent-minded donors (the ones who decide to give for all the right reasons) don’t want to be told what to do, much less when to do it.  Think about it, how does the instruction “Donate Now!” strike you?  Are you more likely to make a significant or long-lasting commitment because you were told to, or because you WANT to?  She suggests “Donate or Learn More” as a better “pull” for donors.

I prefer the use of “Ways to Give”, with online giving as one option on the list.  Whatever the terminology, the donor must not be able to go directly from your organization’s public homepage (which might include everything from prospective student application info to physician finder tools) to an online giving form.  Instead, make sure that they are moved through the key information on what you plan to do with the gift and specific success stories BEFORE they encounter the “ask” – which in the case of online giving presents itself as ubiquitous and impersonal data fields!

I’d add that most sites would benefit from more thoughtful and consistent use of donor-t0-donor communication.  Burk’s research indicates that donors are more likely to give when the ask comes from a volunteer leader.  Promote those leaders, including lead donors, by including stories and/or statements from them in your online communication.  Doing so gives them public recognition and provides motivation to other potential donors.  New technologies allow you to do this with static pages, online video and e-mail that drives traffic back to your website.  As Lynne Wester (ADRP Technology Coordinator and Associate Director of Donor Relations at NYU Poly) stated during an analysis of successful online tools she’s employed, all it takes is forward thinking, creativity and the willingness to justify the effort in terms of cost savings and/or additional dollars raised.

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