How to Use Psychology to Boost Online Donations – Guest Blog by Stuart Palmer

27th August 2019

Stuart is a Charity Meetup regular and  helps charities in the digital space. The world of charitable donations is hugely competitive and with so many great causes out there, how do you make donors choose your organisation?

Stuart’s guest blog aims to unravel the psychology of donations.

Experts in behavioural economics, a field which draws heavily on psychology, have demonstrated that when it comes to donating to good causes, the heart really does rule over the head.

As you will discover below, colour, contrast, layout and other visual factors can have a powerful effect on attention and response while the actions of other donors has a very real (and surprisingly strong) effect on our own behaviour.

We also respond positively to concrete examples and love to finish off tasks, disliking open ends and things we can’t visualise.

If you are designing or commissioning a charity or non profit website, use the insights below to positively influence donor behaviour.

Get help from Google

Before you can even start applying behavioural economics to potential donors, you have to raise the visibility of your website with the search engines.

As a charity, you will need to get into the heads of potential donors and come up with a list of keywords or phrases they might use to arrive at your website. You can then use a keyword tool such as Google Keyword Planner or Keyword Revealer to fine tune your search terms.

For example, if you are an environmental charity, you might imagine potential donors are typing in ‘green campaigns’. In actual fact, at the time of writing, ‘green initiatives’ is attracting more searches while ‘Earth Day 2019’ was extremely popular.

By incorporating these words and phrases in your webpages, you can fulfil the basic step of getting donors to your website in the first place.

You will find more help with search engine optimisation by visiting our SEO articles.

It may also be worth your while checking if you are eligible for a Google AdWords grant and bidding on relevant keywords.

Map out your donor journey

A donor journey is the non-profit equivalent of a customer journey. It is a visual representation of all the steps your potential donors might make on the way to your donations page (and beyond).

Wherever possible, you should make sure that your donations page is only one click away from whatever page your visitor is on. By communicating your need for support and providing a ‘Donate Now’ button on every page, your donors will never be confused about what to do.

This is a good general point. The more options there are available on a webpage, the less control you will have over where your visitor goes next.

Think about the next step after a donation too. Rather than leaving your donor hanging on a ‘Thank You’ page, suggest other ways they can help. Can they share your page with their friends? Would they sign a petition? Might they even set up a recurring donation?

Create a branded donation button

A ‘Donate Now’ button provides a strong and clear call to action for your supporters but it is a good idea to invest in branding your button rather than using a generic one from PayPal or similar.

A study by Network for Good found that branded donation buttons performed 38% better than unbranded buttons with 66% of donors returning to support again in the future.

Whatever your designer says, ask them to use a colour that is unique on your website. Tests have shown that buttons which contrast in this way attract a lot more clicks, regardless of how they might look from an aesthetic sense.

Use a ‘shopping list’

One of the key findings from behavioural economics studies is that humans have difficulty processing information about causes that involve large numbers. They can even become overwhelmed and feel the problem is too big to be solved.

The key is to focus on individual case studies. Humans instinctively relate to real people (or animals) going through hard times. By making a donation they feel like they are helping a real person and it makes their generosity seem worthwhile.

The same concept applies to donation amounts. Rather than just asking for a sum of money, spell out exactly what each level of donation can provide. By relating their donation to a ‘shopping list’ of tangible items (mosquito nets, food parcels, school books, water pumps, charity worker salaries, etc.) visitors are more likely to donate.

Master social cues and anchoring

Behavioural economics also affect the amount people are willing to donate. Anchoring is a socially driven process by which donors decide what a reasonable donation is. Here are some tips for using anchoring to raise the average donation amount:

  • Specify a suggested donation amount
  • Pre-tick a check box next to a specific amount
  • Where recent donations are displayed, make a company donation whenever a below average donation is made
  • Display testimonials from donors who have made a big donation and specified the value

The effect of anchoring was studied by Rachel Croson and Jen Shang in their study on social giving over the radio. They would ask for donations and tell the caller what the last donor had given. They found that pushing up the previous donor’s stated amount would lead to an increase in the average donation amount – but only as far as the 95th percentile (after that, average donations went in the opposite direction).

The power of progress bars

Another finding from behavioural economics is that humans love to complete things (jigsaws, Tetris rows, Sudoko puzzles, crosswords, etc.)

The great thing for charity websites is that the same applies to donation targets. Fundraisers which include a progress bar tend to see a flurry of donations as they approach the end goal.

Test, test and test again

Finally, you should thoroughly test your donor journey, paying particular attention to the donations page. An A/B test is a powerful marketing technique by which two different versions of a webpage are randomly served to website visitors and the conversion rates measured. The best performing page is then chosen.

One variable (e.g. font, layout, button colour, button text, etc.) is changed at a time.

It is a good idea for people both within and outside your organization to practice making a donation. A fresh pair of eyes can often spot any obscure insider language or jargon.

About Stuart Palmer

Stuart is Managing Director at Eyes Down Digital, a digital agency working primarily with charities and membership organisations.

Stuart has been designing websites since 1999. Initially trained in graphic design, Stuart fell in love with interactivity and set his mind to the web. Since then Stuart has worked for organisations such as the BBC, Film Four and easyCar. Stuart loves helping teams solve their unique issues through the creative use of technology. Stuart also loves swimming in cold places and shivering a lot.

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