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What You Need to Know About Online Giving

BlogCLA.DONATEBy Brad Davies

It’s worse than you think…

According to a May 2013, PewInternet survey on American adults use of the Internet, most individuals prefer to go online to take care of various tasks in their lives such as banking (61 percent), getting news (78 percent), and communicating with friends (88 percent). Yet online giving, despite recent growth, remains behind as only 50 percent of adults go online to make a donation to a charity. Worse still is that online giving typically makes up less than 10 percent of an organization’s overall income.

When we began pondering why this was the case, we figured it was a generational thing. We assumed that baby boomers — who make up the majority of donors — were just lagging when it comes to giving online, as they are content writing checks and mailing them in. That worked on the surface, until we did our own research and found that 47 percent of 60-plus-year-old donors have gone online to make a gift.

So Dunham+Company joined with Next After to conduct a study to discover whether the actual process of giving a gift online was keeping more people from donating through a charity’s website. What we discovered was alarming!

In this study we took an in-depth look at 151 charity websites, analyzing 46 specific key-indicators across four critical online fundraising processes to identify the problem. Unlike a typical study that interviews organizations, this study sought to “interview” each charity’s website. We looked at:

  • E-mail Registration Process
  • E-mail Communication
  • Online Donation Experience 
  • Thank You/Gift Acknowledgement Process 

Here is what the study revealed:

1. Not another generic e-newsletter

The first step toward getting people to give is getting people to care. When people care about your cause, they are expressing a share of mind. Share of mind leads to share of heart, and share of heart to share of wallet.

But how do you measure genuine interest online? By virtually asking them to “raise their hand” by signing up to receive e-mails so they can learn more from you.

In looking at what organizations do to get visitors to their websites to “raise their hand” — to motivate those visitors to provide their personal e-mail addresses — 66 percent of the organizations offered little to no perceived value in what they said they would provide. No one wants to get another design and/or content-poor online newsletter, yet this was the predominant offer.

Ensuring the ease of registering e-mail addresses online isn’t enough. Your organization must create a compelling reason for e-mail registration. That’s the starting point for creating meaningful relationships with web visitors. Without that, there is no hope for cultivating these interested subscribers into financial supporters.

2. Thanks for signing up, talk to you in a month

Our research found that a shocking 88 percent of organizations do not have a welcome process in place for new subscribers.

Why does this matter? A person’s interest in your organization is highest within the first 30 days of signing up. It’s crucial to begin cultivating the new relationship during this time frame, yet virtually no organizations are doing this.

3. You mean, we have to ask people to give?

In addition to not having a welcome series in place, we also found there was little to no e-mail communication requesting support within the first 90 days. In fact, 56 percent of the organizations studied did not ask for money or make an appeal in those first 90 days — a time when potential new supporters are most interested. Don’t be surprised that you don’t have any online gifts if you never ask for them.

But wait, there is more. In our most recent survey of donors who have given online, less than three percent make a gift to an organization because of an e-mail. So if e-mail is not the main driver of online giving, why is giving online still lagging? If you look at a typical donation form, you will start to understand why online giving is lagging.

4. Donate – because we said so …

Of the groups we studied, nearly half of the donation forms lacked any compelling reason to make a gift. It seems as if organizations believe “if you build it, they will give.” Putting up a giving form is not enough. Donors want to know their gift is going to make a real difference in the lives of people. Donation forms that do not have any emotive elements and a clear rationale as to why someone should give will fail to inspire donors, and thus won’t capture gifts.

5. Donors on smartphones not welcome

Not only do half of the giving forms fail to excite donors or give any reason why their gift is needed, 84 percent of these forms are not mobile-optimized even though one of our recent studies shows that 62 percent of donors own a smartphone. If the only time it is easy and convenient for people to give online is when they are at home, it is no wonder that giving online continues to lag.

6. Thanks, but no thanks

Great, so someone has overcome the boring copy on your website and has given you their e-mail information … received an e-mail and made it through the confusion of your donation page, and has given you a gift. Now how do you reward them for making this epic journey?

By saying, “Thank you!” of course, but amazingly, 63 percent of the organizations in our study, after saying thanks, did not give donors a next step. No link to a video to show the donor how a Bible transformed someone’s life, no smiling image of a person they just helped — nothing, nada, zilch.

Now what?

While you might be congratulating yourself on the increase you are seeing in online giving, the reality is this growth is most likely not a result of your online genius.

We believe that the recent increase in online giving is only the result of donors deciding they would rather give online than mail a check. So it’s time to wake up and do something about it.

You can get ideas on specific things you can do to improve your online giving process by reading the complete study here.


Brad Davies is the vice president of digital services for Dunham+ Company where he leads a global team responsible for creating and executing online campaigns. He is currently on a quest to design the perfect donation form. You can e-mail him at

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