What charities can learn from online businesses

by | Oct 29, 2015

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Charities and e-commerce businesses may have very different ideas of their organisations’ key objectives, and are based on entirely different principles. To exist however, both require conversions. For e-commerce, this means purchases, whereas for charities this usually means donations.

Many charities are trying to widen their reach and gain support online, thus offering the possibility to donate online. You may be thinking that aggressive marketing techniques used in e-commerce may be inappropriate for a charity’s audience. However, there are many lessons to be learned how charities can improve their presence online and increase online donations.

Always be testing

In order to maximise conversions, testing new landing pages, checkout pages and new designs is commonplace in e-commerce. Yet charities often still shy away from extensive and strategic testing.

Commercial marketers are always seeking to improve conversion rates, and by testing different checkout forms they may find that removing unnecessary steps and questions in the checkout process will lead to an increase in completed transactions.

Photo Credit: martincron via Compfight cc

Charities don’t need to invest large sums in expensive A/B testing software or hire a team of developers and designers to set up and handle this.

Tools such as OptimizelyUnbounce and Leadpages are affordable and easy to use. Google Analytics is entirely free and offers the possibility to run content experiments, through which you can test several versions of a landing page.

Donation forms

Charities can learn plenty from optimisation efforts on e-commerce checkout pages when it comes to improving the user experience for their donors.

The e-commerce checkout process is the equivalent of a charity’s donation process, and there is already a vast sea of information on how to improve checkout pages and forms available online.

Many donation forms are set-up to capture as much information as possible about a charity’s supporters. Take a look at your own donation form: are you asking for a telephone number? How did you hear about us? Do you include a field for comments, have several checkboxes for email list opt-ins, require a specific project designation? Do you force your supporters to complete a captcha puzzle before they can donate?

Asking for all this information can be tempting, but there is an unflattering term for it, “form creep”. Unnecessary steps and questions lengthen the giving process. They will irritate a portion of your potential donors, causing them to abandon the page without giving and lowering conversions.


Many web users are concerned about the risk of credit card and identity theft online. By transferring your site to a secure server (https), you can already alleviate some of your users’ concerns. However, not all users are familiar with https, so there is more you can do to make them feel safe, through targeted and timely reassurances.

Provide visible indication that your site is secure, e.g. a recognised security seal located in close proximity to anxiety-producing steps (= payment information fields).

Besides locating the seal near to where donors enter sensitive information, encapsulation of payment fields (i.e. boxing them off with a distinct background colour) is another technique that visually reinforces to the donor that their information will be secure.

Payment Options

PayPal, credit card, direct debit, bank transfer,.. – your supporters will have a variety of payment preferences, so make it easy for them to go through with a donation or payment. Online businesses cannot afford to lose out on conversions simply because they cannot support certain payment methods, neither should charities.

Search Marketing

Online businesses often have a dedicated budget for paid search advertising and search engine optimisation. Many charities may have smaller marketing budgets, but will still be able to get basic SEO right, and with AdWords grants from Google for Non-Profits, charities can bid on keywords that are related to their donors and attract donations online through advertising for free. When running your AdWords campaign, don’t forget – always be testing!

Keep technology up to date

Mobile optimisation for e-commerce is already an old hat, consumers are expecting a website – and the checkout process – to be mobile-friendly, and there is no excuse to deliver a poor user experience on mobile devices in 2015.


Charities can learn a great deal from e-commerce to increase their online donations. By reviewing some aspects of their setup, they will make the donation process for supporters easier:

  • Always be testing: never stop testing new landing pages, designs, and forms. Use tools such as OptimizelyUnbounce and Leadpages, or Google Analytics content experiments to run split tests
  • Review your donation forms: avoid “form creep” by removing unnecessary steps and questions. Don’t make your supporters think too hard during this delicate process, but make it easy, quick and simple.
  • Be safe: move to https and reassure donors that their payment details are protected, by providing visual clues such as security seals and other safety signals such as padlocks and boxed-in forms
  • Offer a variety of payment options: don’t assume that every user has a PayPal account or credit card – or that they want to use them. Provide as many options as possible to make it easy for supporters to use their preferred payment method.
  • Do search marketing: even if your budget only allows for basic SEO, make use of Google Ad Grants to leverage pay-per-click advertising opportunities and attract more donors.
  • Be mobile-friendly: make sure your site is responsive and works well on mobile devices. By only focusing on desktop, you may be losing out on a potentially devastating portion of potential donations.

Do you have any other tips? How does your charity attract donations online? Let us know in the comments!

Want to increase your online donations and gain new supporters? Get in touch at hello@serps-invaders.com and let us help.

Photo credits: Jlhopgood via Compfight cc

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