optimize online fundraising

Want to generate more donations through your website? Your Aunt Ruby holds the key.

Everyone talks about social media, search engine optimization (SEO), online video and all sorts of other cool technology. BUT if your Aunt Ruby can’t give easily an online gift, you’re wasting your time with all that stuff.

Aunt RubyYou don’t have an Aunt Ruby? That’s OK, “Aunt Ruby” represents someone who isn’t as sophisticated as a web designer or a development person or, heaven forbid, a consultant.

Here’s how it works.

Ask your Aunt Ruby to give a gift online but get her to do it while you’re on the phone with her.

Get Aunt Ruby on the phone and at her computer. Then start a timer. Don’t tell her the URL or how to find your website. Just tell her you want her to give a gift. Listen to what happens. Don’t help her, just listen. Here’s where you may have to mute your phone so you don’t yell in frustration–“Don’t you see?…the donation button is RIGHT THERE!!!”… but you need to listen as she has problems or questions…but don’t help her, don’t answer her questions.

Does she Google? Does she enter your ministry’s name in the search box? Keep asking her: “What do you see?” “What are you doing?” “What are you clicking?”

NO HINTING. NO DIRECTING HER. Breath deeply, she’s probably going to do some things “wrong” but that will help you make your website better.

When she makes it to the home page, you’ll be tempted to help, but remember NO HINTING.

Does she figure out how to give a gift quickly?

Does she enter your website from a search page that doesn’t take her to your home page–uh oh, can she figure out where to give her gift?

Let her go all the way through the process by herself. Listen. Take notes, or better yet, get her permission to record the audio (you’ll love playing it back for that fancy-pants web designer who built you a beautiful but Aunt Ruby-confounding website).

If you’ll do this, we promise you’ll identify changes you need to make in your web archecture or in the documentation.

Here are the kind of problems Aunt Ruby will help you spot:

-Hard to locate donation buttons
-Confusing designation options
-Unclear navigation
-Poorly designed registration processes
-Unexplained donation weirdness (does your page explain that when they click “give” you will direct them to another site to process the gift?)
-Frustrating receipting

LISTEN don’t talk.

Once the gift has been given and (hopefully) a receipt has arrived via email, then ask questions. Questions like:

What was confusing or didn’t make sense?
What would Aunt Ruby change?
It might also be nice to know from her perspective: What seemed to work well?

Don’t get all defensive, just make your website usable by the “Aunt Rubys” of the world. If you do that, you’ll win big.

When we were making our Oneicity donations at the end of 2008, here are the problems we experienced as we donated online to some of our favorite causes:
-we completely missed the donation button we were looking for, duh!
-one gift receipt came as an email from an organization we’d never heard of–Aunt Ruby might be confused by that, we were
-we didn’t want to deal with a particular donation processing center but didn’t have an option
-they got our names wrong or just as bad, only thanked “Steve” (which didn’t delight Kris)
-general receipting when we clearly were giving for a specific project (at least we thought we were)
-page navigation that was labyrinthian
-we had to sign in and provide our personal information before we could decide to give

Have you ever tried to get your “Aunt Ruby” to make a donation to your website? How about your personal experiences giving online? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity

(photo credits: apdk)

Picture of Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas

12 thoughts on “optimize online fundraising”

  1. Good tips on interfacing the online channel. I’d only add that the real “fundraising” took place when you asked Aunt Ruby to give, which in this hypothetical, was done off line.

    DO you think we need different words/terms to describe “people who donate online” vs. a “strategic fundraising campaign strategy”

  2. @Mikey–Great point. If my Aunt Ruby gave because I was cultivating that gift offline then convinced her to give using the web then we enter into Motivation Code territory (sometimes called Approach Code or Appeal Code). The question for us is, what motivated the gift. In the scenario you describe, my personal relationship with Aunt Ruby, motivated it, the web was the conduit. I think you’re right, I’d want it entered into the database as a Personal Solicitation. That’s the motivation.

    This kind of situation happens a lot with Major Donors. The donor rep has the relationship, drives the conversation about the gift and encourages the donor to give online. Incorrectly, that kind of gift is often recorded to an Online Mot Code.

    I hadn’t thought about having a different term for the two types of donors you describe. We’re currently trying to come up with a term to describe those people who you connect with via social media, maybe even get a gift from them but clearly they are not at the same level of engagement as a traditionally acquired donor.

    If I understand your question, yes, there are at least two types of donors who donate online. 1 group who stumbles onto the website and the website content motivates the gift. A 2nd group who have been part of a campaign (hopefully multi-channel integrated) and give as a result of that. Hoots is saying there might even be a 3rd group who come online and give who received a single non-online impact (like a newsletter with a online giving link).

    So Mikey, here’s your chance to change the way we’re all talking about this–what would YOU call these people?

  3. Yes, this is a problem. Donors have been categorized based on the channel that they give through.

    Once their donation has reached a certain amount they are transferred from that channel (phone, mail, event) into a Major Gift officer’s regular follow up.

    At any given organization the developed channels have been subdivided. A donor who is cultivated by the quarterly mailer (and not the monthly mailer) is usually assigned an internal name based upon that organization’s mail cycles. ie…she is a quarterly “Voice” donor.

    It seems that the industry hasn’t realized this about online. Most people lump it all together.

    The first naming distinction I would suggest is the difference between online gifts, online giving and online fundraising.
    -Online giving and online fundraising are subsets of all online gifts.
    -Online giving can account for random and/or untraceable motivations for why someone clicks on your donate button.
    -Online fundraising is strategic, part of either a focused or integrated, planned streategy to secure online gifts.

    As far as the donors? I don’t think we should assume that people only give one way. Especially if we employ an integrated approach, it should primarily motivate us not to Silo our donor records.

    But, if we want to come up with names…
    we are really trying to measure affinity.

    stumble upon donors might be call –
    Affinity Unknown Digital Donors

    Donors brought to make an online motivated by a friend, temporary cause, or explainable but unplanned event –
    Affinity by Degree Digital Donors

    Donors brought by way of strategic fundraising plans –
    Channeled Affinity Digital Donors

    there must be a simpler naming structure, just a few ideas off the top.

  4. @Mikey–Good thinking, you’re right, you’ll have to come up with catchier names to make these stick, BUT I like the way you’re laying these out. Makes sense.
    Thanks for your insight.

  5. Is that a picture of your Aunt Ruby? Is her name Ruby?

    Naming Donor/Affinity –

    In higher ed fundraising the names of lapsed donors are broken up…
    LYBUNT – lapsed donor who gave “Last Year, But Unfortunately Not This Year”
    SYBUNT – lapsed donor who gave “Some Year, But Unfortunately Not This Year”

    That naming structure emerged by tracking the Frequency that a donor might have given to a mailing or a phone call. They identified their own regularity.

    So this is a correction from my previous comment, we might base the name on the frequency instead of the affinity.

  6. @Mikey–Yep, have a real Aunt Ruby… she’s that wonderful Aunt who never misses a birthday or special occasion–I think she must have 2 secretaries and an elf or two–everyone needs an aunt like her. But no, that isn’t a real photo of her… we’re still negotiating on photo rights…she has a tough agent :).

    Candidly, I dislike the LYBUNT and SYBUNT naming structure. Probably some irrational dislike based in where I was working and who the agency-guys were who were using it when I learned it. BUT, a structure or taxonomy you describe is helpful.

    I prefer the affinity naming because affinity is the key to the future of fundraising in my mind. Time isn’t as tricky as relationships to describe. PLUS if this whole social media deal is going to work connections, relationships and affinity will be the name of the game.

    Good stuff Mikey, keep ’em coming.

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  11. Great photo – too many people in line for the rights to Aunt Ruby.

    We’re finding this post more and more accurate as we talk to older donors. I am sometimes shocked how people navigate. I love testing how people drive our site and are making donations. Recently we came across an older woman who couldn’t type in http://www.cityteam.org (didn’t know what a url bar was or where to type it) she was typing it into mozilla – she didn’t call it Firefox. And then she said that the IT department didn’t install “cityteam” on her laptop. WHAT!!!! CRAZY!!

    The naming issue is a big problem. We are going to have to meet internally about this issue. Sometimes the executives like myself are not looking this deep into the receipt outcomes but you are so right. I don’t want to upset Kris. If our organization was the one who only thanked you Steve – I am sorry Kris.

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