Simple is Better: Shorter Forms, More Donations

Roderick Campbell 09/24/2015
Simple is Better: Shorter Forms, More Donations

As a nonprofit fundraiser, what are your top priorities?

This seems like a simple question, but you should take the time to create clear answers.

Here's a suggestion "my first priority as a nonprofit fundraiser is to raise money."

Do you agree? We can fall into a neverending discussion about the strategies for raising money, stewarding donors, and building community engagement -- but let's be clear about the ultimate objective; your primary goal is to raise money to impact a cause.

If that's the case, there are three things you need to do:

If you fail at any of these three things, it's going to be extremely hard to raise money effectively. 

But isn't this obvious? Don't all people understand these basic concepts? Well...not if you look at real-life implementation. Today I'm going to focus on the easiest of these three requirements "making it easy to donate funds" and I'm going to share specific, actionable advice.

Adding extra fields and steps is the worst thing you can do.

You're going to be tempted to collect a bunch of data from your donors while they're making a donation. Our team has spent the last 3 years extensively researching, testing, and re-testing the impact of adding fields to the donation process, and our results are conclusive: don't do it.

When you add fields, decisions, and required steps to your donation form, you're increasing the friction between potential donors and their transaction. Even one or two extra fields can make a huge difference in the number of transactions that are completed (as much as 7-10% per field). Ask yourself, would you rather have more donors to steward or fewer donors with more data? 

The answer is more donors, because you can always continue to collect additional data after they've invested in your cause, but you can't retroactively salvage the donors who never completed their transaction because the form was too long. 

But what if you really, really want that extra data? We recommend simply redirecting to a survey after they've completed their transaction. Some of your donors won't complete the additional survey questions, but that's a whole lot better than losing them altogether. Keep your donation forms as simple as possible and you'll see big increases in online giving.

Nonprofit Donation Processing ComparisonAbove left: CommitChange optimized form. Right: typical nonprofit donation form.

Make your asks simple and relevant.

We're fans of the "Keep It Simple" (KISS) principle. The most effective fundraising campaigns we've seen have all been exceptionally easy to understand; a problem is presented in a clear, visual manner, and supporters are asked to complete a straightforward action ("create a $55 recurring donation to save a child every month"). Try to avoid asking supporters to complete complex actions and avoid mixing soft asks "share this" with hard asks "donate."

Your appeal should also be entirely understandable without text; meaning, the problem you're solving and solution you're presenting should make sense to the reader visually.

Remove as many steps as possible.

We support this by allowing nonprofits to easily create customized giving forms with pre-defined amounts, giving intervals, and designations. You can see an example of SOIL Haiti's monthly giving appeal as an example. By pre-defining that the gift will be a monthly donation, you're able to eliminate 2 steps in the giving process (selecting giving interval and donation amount), which reduces a lot of donor friction.

You should also avoid complex designation and dedication options. Seriously, avoid the temptation regardless of what those 4 highly-vocal donors say. Why? Because most of your donors have no idea what a "designated donation" means and they'll end up searching on Google to determine how they should designate their gift. This is bad in two ways: you're encouraging restricted donations and you're encouraging donors to get lost on Google, never to return.

Our solution was very simple. We still support these fields, but we simply moved them to the end of the transaction. Once the donor has completed their gift, we present them with options to add arbitrary designations or give in honor of someone.

Summary: Reduce Donor Friction

As a professional fundraiser, your job is to educate the community and reduce the distance between your supporters' passion and their action (in this case their donation). Next time your board of directors or an colleague insists on adding extra fields, remind them that those extra steps are going to cost your organization money and create donor friction. Is that little bit of extra data worth losing potential relationships? That's up to you, but at least you'll be making an informed decision!