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Five Common Mistakes Nonprofits Make in Their Online Fundraising Campaigns

May 29, 2012

Last month I donated online to 25 of my 32 Favorite Nonprofits in celebration of reaching the benchmark of following 100,000 nonprofits, nonprofit staff, and nonprofit service providers on Twitter. Usually I donate to one or two nonprofits at a time, but to go through a list of 25 nonprofits in less than two hours made it abundantly clear that many nonprofits still need to tweak their “Donate Now” process to maximize online donations and their social media ROI. The rise of social media has significantly changed how our supporters digest our messages online and as a result website and e-newsletter design has evolved dramatically in recent years. The “Donate Now” process of many nonprofits, however,  still seems to be stuck in 2005. That said, here are five common mistakes that nonprofits are making in their online fundraising campaigns:

1) No social networking icons/pitches on the “Thank You” landing page.

Your nonprofit’s “Thank You” landing page is the page that your donors land on after they have entered all their personal and credit card information and clicked the “Donate Now” button to process their donation. Out of the 25 nonprofits that I donated to recently, only one had integrated a social networking pitch into their “Thank You” landing page – and it was text-based and buried at the bottom of the page after multiple paragraph’s of arial 10-point text about the nonprofit’s mission, vision, benchmarks, and annual reports (boring). What a lost opportunity to convert their donors into Facebook Fans, Twitter and Pinterest Followers, and blog subscribers!

Online donors give a lot of attention to “Thank You” landing pages because they want to confirm their donation went through and out of the 25 nonprofits that I donated to, all 25 times I was presented with text-heavy, too-overwhelming to read, spamish thank you messages… or simply white space. My suggestion: Cut the text to a couple of sentences, increase the font size, add social networking icons or graphics with a message to donors to “like/follow/subscribe to stay current on progress” being made by the nonprofit, and add a “Thank You” video or slideshow/graphic. In short, make your “Thank You” landing page more visually-appealing, social, and action-oriented:



2) No social networking icons/pitches in the “Thank You for Donating” follow-up email.

Honestly, I was shocked that not one of the “Thank You for Donating” follow-up emails that I received included a message to “like/follow/subscribe to stay current on progress” or  a “Thank You” video or slideshow/graphic. It was like no time had passed at all… that the Web had never gone social and I was in a time warp of online fundraising best practices circa 2005.  Most of the emails were text-only with the focus on the nonprofit’s “tax ID number and please save this email for your records.”  What a tragic lost opportunity! Donors open these emails to confirm their donation went through… you have their attention, so why not encourage them to follow your progress on Facebook or Twitter or to watch a video or view a slideshow of achievements? You want to be able to further inspire your donors to give again through social media, but must they actually go and search for your nonprofit on those sites of their own free will to like or follow you? What are the chances of that happening? Yikes. This is a huge missed opportunity and if your “Donate Now” vendor does not have the ability to customize “Thank You” follow-up emails and landing pages, then I’d find a new vendor:



3) No “Thank You” video or slideshow/graphic.

I am huge believer that people don’t read like they used to and that nonprofits need to make a significant effort to build their video and digital libraries. With peak fundraising season beginning in four months, you still have time to create a “Thank You” video or slideshow/graphic that you can add to your “Thank You” landing page and “Thank You for Donating” follow-up email. With the rise of social media and thus information overload, how your nonprofit says “thank you” needs to evolve to accommodate today’s online donors. To help you get inspired, here are Eight “Thank You” Videos Created by Nonprofits.



4) Hard to find “Donate Now” button.

At least half of the nonprofits that I donated to made it difficult to find their “Donate Now” or “Donate” button. It was either buried within “How You Can Help” or “Support Us” links or non-existent on the homepage. So, in 2012 to maximize online donations, the best practice for “Donate Now” or “Donate” button placement is to embed it in the navigation of your website so it’s visible on every page of your website. Also, placing it in the upper right-hand corner ensures that it is quickly found and making it a bright color makes it “pop” at first glance, such as:

The Nature Conservancy :: nature.org

World Wildlife Fund :: worldwildlife.org



5) A multiple-page, multiple-choice donation process.

After donating to 25 nonprofits one after another, I had a new found appreciation for the nonprofits that only asked for my name, mailing address, and credit card information with the donation process being completed in one single page (without a mandatory phone number field!). Some donations lasted 3-4 pages and required that I create a username and password or choose to give between multiple campaigns or opt-ins. I kept thinking of the impulse donors that read, watched or viewed something inspiring on Facebook or Twitter and were ready to donate and then presented with a relatively tedious and long donation process. I am convinced many donors lose that fleeting inspiration to give and drop out of the process when presented with multiple-pages and multiple choices. If there is anything that nonprofits should be learning as result of the proliferation of the Social Web is to keep it simple. For example, study the “Donate” page on Water.org:


All that said and on a final note, I would suggest that someone on your social media staff donate $10 to your own nonprofit at least twice a year to gain first-hand experience of your own “Donate Now” process. Many of the suggestions above would be obvious to a good social media manager if they experience the process themselves. Donating to your own nonprofit on a regular basis also helps you catch any glitches that may have popped-up since you first signed up for your “Donate Now” service. I just donated online to client of mine and did not receive any “Thank You for Donating” email at all even though according to the vendor that my client uses to process online donations, I should have.:)

Related Links:
11 Donate Now Best Practices for Nonprofits
Webinar: How Nonprofits Can Successfully Utilize Online Fundraising and e-Newsletters

19 Comments leave one →
  1. May 29, 2012 1:29 pm

    Great Article! Making it as easy as possible for donors to both donate and share the experience with others is something that many charities seem to neglect. I think they become too focused on explaining the problem and their work, not realizing that donors are also looking for a pleasant and easy experience. This becomes even truer for those impulse donors who have a sudden urge to donate and don’t want to be bogged down by having to search for the donate button.

  2. Editor permalink
    May 29, 2012 11:42 pm

    Reblogged this on Social Media Marketing for Non-Profits and commented:
    Worth a read…

  3. May 30, 2012 10:40 pm

    Love this post. I talk with my clients about this all the time. Like anything else, we must be user-centric. I recently tried to donate to a charity I like and became so frustrated with the process that I ended up offering pro bono consulting because it just made me so sad. They’d worked so hard to get me to the point of wanting to invest, yet they were on the verge of losing me. They were shooting themselves in the foot!

  4. May 31, 2012 8:49 am

    Reblogged this on Katey's Keep and commented:
    Great Info for not only our mission, but to anyone trying to raise funds for charities in such a hard economic environment!

  5. June 4, 2012 11:14 am

    Great article! Thank you so much for sharing. While all are great suggestions, the multiple-choice donation process really makes the giving process more individual for the donors. Donors come to our organizations for varying reasons, all rooting with their unique desire to make a particular social impact. Giving them donation options only cultivates their desires to give and participate. By *not* providing options, we mitigate those with shallower pockets as well as those who desire to do more.

  6. June 5, 2012 11:24 pm

    Thanks for the advise it counts a lot more beyond even that belt of charity

  7. June 6, 2012 2:02 am

    This is a fabulous blog entry that every non-profit should have on hand when they are working with their IT and marketing department when they are putting together an online donation campaign. Some simpler steps which can make a huge success in being able to really engage donors besides just a basic ask and thank you. Great work!

  8. Tracy Moavero permalink
    June 6, 2012 10:00 pm

    I just discovered the “quick gift” on the Amnesty Int’l USA site, and I’m jealous and want it for my own org! Mouse over the Donate button to see.

  9. Natalie permalink
    June 8, 2012 12:51 am

    Reblogged this on Be Like Water..

  10. Kathryn Belt permalink
    June 11, 2012 6:51 am

    I love all of the content you send out. Since we’re just a tiny staff here at The Wildcat Sanctuary and we spend the majority of our time caring for over 100 rescued big cats, every little tip you give us is invaluable! It’s impossible for us to keep up with all the technology, but you make it a bit easier knowing what we really should pay attention to. Thanks to your article, we created this video “Thank You” for our last fundraising program. Everyone seems to like it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ueg8FyxWXlE and it’s helped get the word out even more about what we do and how important donations are. Thanks again for your advice!!

  11. June 12, 2012 12:33 pm

    Great article! We work with many nonprofits across a variety of causes and we continue to see these common problems throughout the industry. We are building out some products and solutions that are addressing these very problems at http://www.stratuslive.com. Keep up the good work!

  12. June 13, 2012 5:12 am

    Fabulous Post, thanks so much! Perfect timing for us as this is next on the list!! I shall definitely be following your tips as they make perfect sense:) thank you!

  13. July 25, 2012 6:29 am

    Hi Heather;
    I’ve been trying to get Network for Good to incorporate our social media links on the auto generated thank you (or “landing page” as you call it; NFG calls them “receipts”) for months. The problem is it appears to be a security issue; no live links on any pages that contain secure information, which the autogenerated thank you page does. They are working on this so that in the future those of us who use them as our donation software will be able to have our social media platforms readily available for donors who have just donated. Thought you might want to know what the story is! thanks for all your good work….

    • nonprofitorgs permalink
      July 27, 2012 3:59 am

      Too bad. They need to get that changed and be able to adapt. They also need to allow nonprofits to not make the phone number required to give. They can do it… not a security issue… they just need to prioritize it and invest in the time required to change their software. Keep pushing them! Frustrating.

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