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6 Ways to Make Online Giving Easier for Your Ministry’s Donors

A woman's hands holding a pile of coins and a small handwritten note that says "make a change"

[W]e limit the potential of electronic giving when we regard it merely as a technical solution to technical problems.

Lewis Center for Church Leadership

The growth of digital giving continues to accelerate, with a 42% increase over the three year period of 2019-2021. Online giving now represents 12% of all giving. Notably, faith-based organizations see the highest percentage of digital giving, at 16.8% of their total donations. This is true both for older, existing donors who are moving their giving online. But it’s also true for a new generation of donors who do virtually everything on their devices. 

As a ministry organization in this day and age, you must embrace digital fundraising as part of your donor development process in order to continue connecting with your supporters. But just as years of experience have developed best practices for offline donor development, it’s important to consider both the technical and user experience (UX) approaches that can impact online giving.

Digital or online giving includes donations through a website, app, mobile device, or SMS. The considerations for each are different, of course, but many of these principles will apply across them all.

Let’s take a look 6 considerations for growing your online giving:

1. An easy win: accept many methods of payment

We’re leading with the headline: If you’re only accepting donations through a single credit card form, you’re missing out.

Today’s donors use Venmo, PayPal, Cash App, and other payment platforms. Grabbing a debit or credit card in order to input the 16 numbers on the front, the expiration date, and the 3-digit CVV code on the back could generate enough friction to keep someone from moving forward. Having additional payment options increases the likelihood that donors can use their favorite app to donate at the moment they feel called to do so.

Incorporate a credit card updater

A credit card updater is a program offered by credit card companies that automatically updates subscription customer card data. Adding a credit card updater to your payment processing platform can help ensure that automatic payments continue even when a donor needs a replacement card because they lost it or their info is out of date. Having an updater like this is a small step you can take to seamlessly decrease ministry donor churn.

A woman sitting with a MacBook on her lap, holding a credit card in her hand

2. Focus on the user experience

User experience (UX) design is the process design teams use to create products that provide meaningful and relevant experiences to users. This involves the design of the entire process of acquiring and integrating the product, including aspects of branding, design, usability and function.

Interaction Design Foundation

Traditional donor development teams strategize on the best messaging for communicating with prospective and existing donors, including scripts to use and timing for those communications. Similarly, user experience designers focus on the usability and desirability of digital tools. A focus on UX helps reduce or eliminate friction or frustration for prospective donors to make it easier for them to give.

Optimize for mobile

The most important of these UX principles is to optimize your giving platform for mobile. Whether it’s a website or an app, chances are high that donors will interact with you on a mobile device. If your site is outdated or optimized for large screens, this process can be frustrating (if not impossible) and result in lost donations.

Offer smart recurring and one-time donation options

Many donors will appreciate the opportunity to set up a recurring donation, even if they won’t hunt for that option on their own. Set up your donation forms to make this selection obvious and easy. If possible, adjust the dollar amounts to reflect the recurring or one-time donation selection. You’re less likely to have a donor who wants to give $500 on a monthly basis, but someone who is moved to give a one-time donation might be excited about that option.

Offer 1-click donations

Make financial contributions easy for existing donors. If a donor has an existing account with you, enabling 1-click donations from an email campaign can make it easy to give during the current campaign rather than requiring them to hunt down their login information and navigate to the correct spot on your website for that donation.

3. Create personalized experiences

Similarly, look for ways to create personalized experiences for your donors so they don’t feel like faceless, nameless donors.

Personalize communication

Personalization can be as simple as including the donor’s name in the greeting of an email communication. Or it can be tailored further to highlight other details of their donation history:

  • “Thank you for your gift of $X!”
  • “You’ve been a donor for X years.”
  • “Your donation helped us XYZ.”

This personalization helps build stronger relationships with donors. It demonstrates an organization’s appreciation. And it encourages donors to continue giving.

Prefill information whenever possible

As with enabling 1-click donations, prefilling information for donors is another way to personalize the experience and remove friction from the donation process. Using first-party cookies, email merge tags, or account settings, you have the opportunity to prefill forms for returning users so that submitting a form or making a donation requires minimal work on their part.

Automate follow-ups

Email follow-ups, or drip campaigns, are another opportunity for personalization. Tailor donor emails to each recipient’s interests and activities. This will show your organization cares for them as an individual, while also increasing their engagement.

A woman holding a phone in her hands

4. Be transparent and make info easy to find

Transparency is a key part of building trust with new and ongoing donors. Make it easy for donors to find the information they need to feel good about supporting your ministry. And look for ways to address the questions and concerns they may have.

Demonstrate the impact of donations

Share case studies, photos, and statistics that demonstrate the impact donations have on the work your organization is doing. It’s one thing to talk about the work you’d like to do. But highlighting the work you’ve already done—and tying that to donor giving—is just as important.

Highlight the benefit of recurring gifts often & explicitly

Prospective donors may not realize that becoming a recurring donor at a lower amount provides more value than making a larger one-time donation. Look for ways to highlight the impact of recurring gifts and use explicit callouts to encourage these recurring donations. This could be through banners, through the options available on your donation form, and in various other communications.

Share financial disclosures, charity ratings, etc.

Finally, help prospective donors feel good about giving to your ministry. Make it easy for them to find financial disclosures, charity ratings, and endorsements from reputable organizations and individuals. Don’t make people hunt for these. Instead, put them front and center so they’re easy to find!

5. Avoid dark patterns

Dark Patterns are tricks used in websites and apps that make you do things that you didn’t mean to, like buying or signing up for something.

Chances are you’ve come across dark patterns in the last 24 hours if you’ve spent any time at all browsing the internet. These tricks are used on a variety of sites to encourage sign-ups and upgrades and to make unsubscribing or canceling difficult. To be clear, we’re not saying conversion rate optimization (CRO)—or the practice of testing and iterating to see which wording or layout better appeals to users—is bad. Not at all! We’re specifically talking about those dark patterns that are designed to trick people into doing something they wouldn’t otherwise do.

Where it gets tricky is that some dark patterns have become common enough that we may not realize CRO has crossed into this dark pattern territory. This includes things like making the signup button big and bold while the cancel button is small and hard to find.

As a Christian organization, it’s especially important to avoid this type of trickery. Dark patterns can leave donors feeling disillusioned or conned, which hurts not only your organization’s reputation—but also Christ’s.

Avoid dark patterns around recurring donations

We talked earlier about making monthly or recurring giving easily accessible for donors. In doing that, it’s important to be sure you avoid dark patterns.

For example, if you’re defaulting to a monthly giving option on your form, you will likely find that some donors proceed with that option unintentionally. Your goal, then, is to look for ways to make the monthly default obvious so that you’re still encouraging those recurring donations without tricking people into proceeding. Here are a few ways to do that:

  • Include “per month” or “/monthly” following each dollar amount
  • Use “Donate Monthly” as your button text
  • Have an obvious toggle button between monthly or one-time donations
  • Take the opposite approach and make one-time giving the default while requiring a positive movement to monthly giving

In addition to avoiding dark patterns on your donation form, you should make it easy for donors to pause or cancel their recurring gifts from their account. And always send emails before each donation is processed. The goal each step of the way is to encourage donors to give while building trust with them.

A woman sketching wireframes of a mobile website or app

6. Continue to test and iterate

When it comes to technology and the user experience, there’s no set-it-and-forget-it approach. Technology changes, user expectations change, and your approach to digital donor development will need to change alongside them.

User research is an invaluable tool for this process. Talk to your users and observe their behavior. Then, create a hypothesis and test it. Take what you’ve learned from that test to create your next hypothesis. And so on.

Begin collecting data now for future initiatives

Along the way, you should also keep your eye out for data you can collect for future initiatives. For example, you can include an option for donors to opt in to SMS updates even if you don’t yet have an SMS program. This not only helps you gauge the interest of your donors in this type of program but also helps you begin building a database for when you’re ready to launch.

If you don’t get much of a response, that may guide your decision to continue delaying an SMS program. But if you notice that donors are excited about the idea, you’ll not only have data to demonstrate that excitement but also have the literal data needed to launch it well.

It’s cliche, but the future really is now. Donors expect robust digital giving and donor management options. These are broad strategic conversations you should be having with your team, of course. But there are also easy, immediate changes you can make. Both will help facilitate online giving now and for the future. 

Want to talk through these ideas and their implications for your organization in more detail? Conversations at Agathon are always free, and we’d love to chat!

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