Donation Form Usability

Jakob Nielsen is considered the leading expert on website usability in the world. His firm, the Nielsen Norman Group, does a variety of studies and reports every year in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. Jakob’s website regularly reviews and discusses trends in usability.

Back in March of 2009, they published a new report called “Donation Usability: 58 Design Guidelines for Improving the Donation Process and the Usability of Essential Information on Charity and Non-Profit Websites” by Janelle Estes and Jakob Nielsen. The report references Target Analytics, a Blackbaud company, and the 2008 donorCentrics Internet Giving Benchmarking Analysis in several places throughout the report, including the following:

“In 2008, non-profits got about 10% of their donations online, according to a survey by Target Analytics. Given the high growth rate for Internet donations, we estimate that they’ll constitute the majority of donations by 2020. If non-profit organizations get their sites into shape, that is.”

The entire 124-page report, complete with 111 color screenshots, can be purchased online for $98. It probably pays for itself in no time at all. They looked at 23 nonprofit websites and asked testers to complete two important tasks: Participants visited two non-profit sites within a given category and decided which of the organizations, which had roughly similar missions, was most deserving of a donation. They were then asked to use their own credit cards and make an online donation to the chosen charity. I thought I would share a few findings to hopefully get you thinking about the usability of your own websites and donation forms.

What Donors Look for Online
The researchers asked users to tell them what they need to know before they feel comfortable making a donation to nonprofit online. 83% of participants wanted to know the mission, goals, objectives, and work or the organization, 67% wanted to understand the use of donations and contributions, 42% looked for signs of legitimacy and reputation, and 33% said local presence was important information. The report also notes that not one person made a donation to an organization that had objectives they didn’t understand or feel comfortable with.

What Donors Don’t Like Online
The report reviews things people referred to as annoying, confusing, or frustrating when viewing a nonprofit website. 17% said their biggest turnoff was a lack of or unclear information about mission, goals, objectives, or work, another 17% were bothered by an inability to quickly find where to donate, 13% said a lack of or unclear explanation of how donations are used was annoying, and 13% were frustrated by busy or cluttered homepage or site. The report recommends that nonprofits use the homepage to address the top two questions potential donors have: what you do and how you use donations.

What to Do and Why
The report contains 58 different nonprofit website and donation form guidelines. The guidelines include lots of examples from the nonprofit websites that were used as part of the testing. Here are just a few of them:

  • Explain why someone would be interested in donating, and provide a link to do so.
  • If you are rated highly by watchdog organizations, mention it.
  • Use real examples of people you have helped and situations you have improved.
  • When asking for a donation amount, list pre-defined contribution amounts, along with an “other” option for users who want to donate a different amount.
  • Confirm the transaction has been processed.
  • Provide information about your organization’s presence on social outlets so users can connect with you on them.

Just Your Average Donor
The Nielsen Norman Group screened out any participants who were ”technical experts,” such as IT personnel, programmers, or Web or software engineers, since they have expert knowledge in using the Web. They also screened out any participants who worked at a nonprofit, because they have expert knowledge about these types of organizations. Users were required to have made a donation to a nonprofit in the past 12 months and at least half of the participants were required to have made a donation online using the organization’s website in the past year. This is a good reminder not to use your staff or website builders for testing if you want more valuable feedback.

Just Do It
Some of the findings in the report are obvious. Some of them are simple to implement. Others reveal some fundamental flaws to how a nonprofit is using the web as part of their fundraising efforts. I am sure that a few recommendations might be met with some resistance and a couple of excuses of why they can’t be implemented. You would be surprised what a difference a few changes or testing of your own can make. So stop saying “no” to getting better results and say “yes” to success.