From likes to donations: how to streamline the online giving journey

LONG READ: Our guide to turning social media follows into supporters who donate and take action online.

Chloe Green | 23rd Jan 18
Shortlisted entries for for the National Fundraising Awards 2018 Best Use of Digital technology category include innovative digitally-led fundraising campaigns.

Low conversion rates from social media have many charities wondering if their fundraising efforts are going to waste.

But potential donors and supporters don’t stop at social media. Charities have to be ready, at every step, to encourage them along the journey to donation.


Matt Collins, managing director of charity digital agency Platypus Digital, argued in a provocative Guardian comment piece in 2016 that “most charities now spend countless hours and money investing in their social media channels and it is time to stop.”

Many organisations rush headlong into social media strategies, only for them to end up on the backburner when they realise that people aren’t storming the gates to donate to their cause.

For a lot of small and medium charities, this worry is exactly what is holding them back from social media. They may have got started but aren’t sure how they will prove its value as a method for driving donations.

But as Carlos Miranda, founder of charity digital agency Lightful pointed out in his piece rebuking the article by Matt Collins: “Social media isn’t a magic bullet. Simply having a social media profile doesn’t mean you’re going to raise money, just like having a website doesn’t mean you will receive traffic.”

When looking to turn online views, follows or clicks into donations, charities often forget the most essential element – putting themselves in the shoes of the supporter. For them, the social media post that they clicked on is just one step in the journey to the donate button or supporter form.

That is why it’s important for an organisation to take a joined-up approach and look at all the elements of the journey to donation, how users are behaving, and how to more effectively lead them through the different stages of conversion.

“Your email data and web analytics can tell you a lot, but also make the most of other internal info – don’t just think in terms of digital data,” advises Florian Engel, CEO of charity digital agency more onion.

“If your organisation has a supporter care team, or staff or volunteers who deal with the public, they will be a mine of useful information about your supporters and where they interact.”

“And of course you can always ask – surveys can be a great way to gain information, and keep supporters engaged. This will help you work out which messages and channels you can make more of to reach more people like your current supporters.”


Preaching to the converted

An organisation may have a great social media presence, search engine rankings and online advertising in place. They can do all the hard work to drive people to their website, but, once there, people still don’t donate.

“Getting people’s attention is the first step,” says Engel. “The second is to make sure that you make it as compelling and simple as possible to take action. So, firstly looking to mobilise people via specific channels, and secondly to optimise conversion rates on the landing page.”

A website that is confusing, unclear, difficult to navigate or does not deliver on a user’s expectations will lead to high bounce rates: the percentage of people who arrive on a site and leave without visiting a second page or clicking on anything.

Visitors from social media tend to have a higher bounce rate, but there are some steps charities can make to keep people on a site, focus their attention whilst they’re there, and get them to donate or perform a certain action.

“Actual testing with real users is really important,” says Engel, “but even before that, spend some time following these journeys yourself, and digging into the web analytics to see where people get stuck. This can give you vital insights into where there’s room for improvement.”

As Harry Hurd, founder of non-profit web design agency Clear Honest Design, explains, charities first need to be clear about what they need the user to do once on their site:

“90% of the initial challenge when redesigning a website is actually nailing down what it is you want people to do on a site, then framing it around that. If it is, say, donating then you go through with a fine tooth comb and, for every single design decision you make on the site, check if that is going to make it more likely or less likely for someone to click a donate button, and if not – change it.”

Social media has high bounce rates because people may leave the site and not interact if they end up on a page which was not exactly what they expected it to be. For that reason, social media channels need to have very clear signposting prefilled so they know exactly what it is they’re going to be landing on.

Similarly with Google Adwords – it is vital to make sure that the keywords an organisation is marketing are reflected in the pages they are sending people to, instead of just a homepage by default.

“Imagine that people come to your site without context of what it is you do or why you do it,” says Hurd. “It needs to be as uncluttered and clear as possible. Make it very difficult for people to miss the thing you want them to interact with.”

“If people aren’t doing what they want you to do on your website, it isn’t the audience that’s in the wrong – it is because your website isn’t simple enough or designed well enough to get them to do that thing.”

This could be easier said than done. One common tip is to design a website with the least technical or knowledgeable user in mind.

A service called ‘the user is my mom’ set up by UX professional and web developer Scotty Allen, is a great example of this mindset- people pay him to let his mother Pam review their website on the basis that: “you should design for users who are unlike you,” such as an older person who is less fluent in navigating the internet. “If they can’t understand your site or read it with ease, they will struggle and give up.”

“My main piece of advice,” Says Hurd, “is speak to people outside of the bubble of whatever sector you’re in, and ask them if they understand the language you use, whether they understand what it is you want them to do. So many problems could be fixed by people speaking outside of the industry circles they’re in.”



Small screen, big funds

Online payment platform PayPal processed over $1.1 billion charitable donations from around the world over the 2017-2018 holiday period. In the UK, 43% of those were from mobile devices.

But a recent report from nonprofit digital consultancy Reason Digital found that charities missed out on an estimated £1.5 billion in donations last year due to high bounce rates on their websites, with the largest bounce rates from mobile users.

Despite 68% of all visits coming from mobile users, a staggering 79% of these navigated away from the websites after viewing just one page, compared to 58% on desktop.

Mobile users tend to stay on websites for shorter periods of time, so it’s even more important to keep their attention. But the Reason Digital report implies that many of the charities’ websites were not built with mobile users in mind, with users less likely to donate or engage with the organisation as result.

“What our findings suggest is that charity websites are not retaining user interest, which ultimately translates into missing out on large amounts of donations,” says Matt Haworth, co-founder of Reason Digital. “This can happen for a number of reasons, whether that’s an unresponsive or poorly optimised website, or a misleading link to the website.”

“These users represent a vast and potentially untapped audience for many charities. It’s therefore vital for charities to not just attract new users, but keep them on the website and encourage them to find out more through a properly optimised design and a carefully considered user journey.”

A website not designed for mobile users is also a major reason why organisations may not be found on Google, as having a site which is optimised for mobile is now best practice for SEO. In 2016 mobile overtook desktop as the primary device used to access the web, and as a result Google now rewards mobile-responsive websites.

Google’s guide to building a more mobile-friendly site is a good place to get started.


Leading the way

A common barrier to social media fundraising is proving its value to trustees or senior management, because it’s difficult to explain why ten shares of a Twitter post don’t automatically translate to ten donations or sign ups.

But Vinay Nair, co-founder of Lightful, finds that the tide is starting to turn. Trustees are beginning to understand that just having a social media account may not be a magic machine for one-off donations, but it can be a hugely valuable long-term strategy for building supporter loyalty.

“Buy-in is a real issue,” he says, “But there is now starting to be a recognition that a charity should have some kind of presence digitally. The issue is trustees who may not be resonant with social media themselves.”

“It’s important to learn from others and to showcase what other smaller charities are doing, to show to senior management and trustees. We are increasingly seeing examples of smaller organisations doing really good work.”

A good example of a smaller organisation with a successful digital fundraising strategy that drives people to donate and take action is the campaign group 10:10 Climate Action. Through its Facebook and Twitter posts it shares a mix of its own blog and news content, and relevant content from around the web, with a consistent upbeat tone, around the issues of wind and solar energy.

From there, people are driven to a well designed, uncluttered website where the issues are presented in straightforward language and visually appealing interactive graphics.

But most importantly, each page has clear calls to actions and a prominent ‘donate’ button in the navigation. There are a number of personalised tools where users can enter their information to find out, for instance, if their area has energy-saving LED streetlamps, making the issue personal to them.

Users are then clearly prompted to take action such as signing a petition. After they’re finished completing an action, the website makes it easy to share the page, providing a pre-filled post with a clear call to action for others to get involved.

For charities that aspire to emulate approaches like this, Nair says there’s no time like the present.

“Start listening to what’s happening on different social channels and then start testing messages,” he says. “That’s the first stage of understanding who your audience is, when and where it’s best to post, and what resonates with them. Whether it’s more statistics and facts, or case studies and personal stories, or visuals, for instance. Then you can start splitting your time across all three elements – listening, content creation and engagement.”

“Rather than supporters over here, social media audience over here, a good mindset is to think of them both together as a group of people that are supporting your work. This helps you see a more natural understanding of why social is a really important part of an organisations communicating, fundraising, and amplifying their story.”

And once someone has completed the initial task you want them to, the journey for the supporter should not end at donating or signing up. Once a supporter has taken an action, it pays to thank them for their support, to keep them engaged through email and reward them for their interest.

As Engel points out, too often, people sign up to a campaign, receive no follow up for weeks, and when they do, it’s simply a generic newsletter sent to all supporters.

“This doesn’t recognise what they’ve done, when they did it, or where they are in their engagement with the organisation,” he says.

“In general, the best time to ask people to do something is while they’re interested and engaged, and still remember what you asked them to do before!”

“A donation ask on an action thank you page can be really effective for example – people are still involved in the process, asking doesn’t seem intrusive, and it offers them a chance to follow through on the commitment they’ve just made by taking a campaign action, for example.”