Charities: Do not make this critical online fundraising mistake

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Person making an online payment.

What’s one of the worst things you can do when trying to raise money online? Send your donors to another website just when they are ready to take out their credit card!

eCommerce experts will tell you that this applies to any type of online transaction, not just fundraising, because it adds friction. “Friction” is a barrier to your donor completing the transaction; it can come from a complicated checkout, forcing the creation of a user account, or adding any other additional steps and decision points before the transaction can be completed.

When I started at CanadaHelps in 2013, following a successful career in eCommerce where I scaled and ran platforms that put through hundreds of millions of dollars, I was shocked to find that charities across Canada were linking their Donate Now buttons to their profile page on the CanadaHelps website. This takes the user away from the charity’s branded experience, creating a high level of friction, which can cause the donor to pause and perhaps not complete the donation.

I immediately set out to build Customizable Donation Forms (CDF), giving charities of any size in Canada the opportunity to easily create their own branded donation forms – something that was, to that point, only available to big charities through expensive software providers. After launching our CDFs, we ran tests that showed that branded charity forms perform much better in terms of converting a visitor to a successful donor and with more money raised than linking to their CanadaHelps profile page. Simply put – a LOT more people complete their donation and the average amount of the donation is higher!

This result matched my past experience and expectations – it is indeed universally true. This is also why you’ll see large charities’ websites using custom, often embedded forms. They know that the worst thing you can do when your donor is ready to donate is to push them to a new, unfamiliar site, with more information to sift through and a different look and feel.

We continue to update our data comparing using a CDF and linking to profile page on canadahelps.org. Knowing how important CDFs are, we have an ongoing call campaign to encourage charities to switch to them, and we even give charities a financial incentive (lower transaction fees) when they use CDFs. We make less money this way, but as a charity ourselves, we are in this business for the right reasons. By giving Canadian charities these amazing forms, I truly believe that CanadaHelps is levelling the playing field.

Still not convinced? Think about your own experience as a donor. When you visit a charity’s website, browse through it and gather the information you need, and then are ready to make a donation, you want to get on with it. But if when you click the Donate button you are taken to an entirely new website instead of the simple payment form you are expecting, you are going to be confused and likely frustrated. On the new site – whether it is CanadaHelps, PayPal Giving Fund, or any other third-party site – you’ll need to orient yourself, read the information, look for Terms of Use etc., and still take several steps before completing your donation. If you had lots of time to get through the process and are very motivated to give, you might still complete your donation; but many donors will give up or delay the decision until later (which may result in them not returning at all).

Your CanadaHelps Profile is an important opportunity with a different audience that complements your own online fundraising activities through your website. But it’s not where you should link your Donate Button to – or any other site for that matter. If you are, you are leaving lots of money on the table.

At CanadaHelps, our work is entirely mission-based, not something we are doing as a new corporate social responsibility initiative or covert customer acquisition strategy, and our advice is independent. Yes, we think all charities should use CanadaHelps’ tools because we build great tools! But we think if charities are not using our tools, they should at least ensure they are using the tools that will make them the most successful. Often charities go for what appears to be cheapest, but it’s not always what maximises donations; in fact, the contrary is often true – trust me, I have seen this over and over again in my long ecommerce career.

If charities want to prosper in the digital fundraising age, they need to take the seemingly insignificant things to heart. These “insignificant” decisions are what the entire world of online retail, and any online transactions, rests upon for its success!

So please, stop linking to third-party sites, ours or anyone else’s, and create your own branded donation forms. This is the best practice that is accessible to every charity now. If someone is telling you otherwise, they either don’t know any better or don’t have your best interests at heart.

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