NGOs & Nonprofits

Donations usability

Today’s Alertbox references findings of a Nielson Norman Group research study on usability of donation forms for non-profits.

I’ll be grabbing a copy of the full report, but I just wanted to focus on a couple of points from the Alertbox piece.

The first is this point about stated motivations of donors – what they are looking for from organisations when choosing to donate:

We asked participants what information they want to see on non-profit websites before they decide whether to donate. Their answers fell into 4 broad categories, 2 of which were the most heavily requested:

  • The organization’s mission, goals, objectives, and work.
  • How it uses donations and contributions.

Makes sense – this is how I’d answer too. The first point turns out to be the most important:

…an organization’s mission, goals, objectives, and work was by far the most important. Indeed, it was 3.6 times as important as the runner-up issue…

…(Information about how organizations used donations did impact decision-making, but it was far down the list relative to its second-place ranking among things that people claimed that they’d be looking for.)

On finding the donation link, the piece says:

Amazingly, on 17% of the sites, users couldn’t find where to make a donation. You’d imagine that donation-dependent sites would at least get that one design element right, but banner-blindness or over-formatting caused people to overlook some donation buttons.

Banner blindness means that using “big bold buttons” can actually have the opposite of the intended effect. (If I had a dollar for every request to “make the button bigger and more prominent” and having to argue this case…)

Having clearly labeled navigation options is also important. In my own testing I’ve found that the word “Donate” far outperforms other labels (e.g. “Support”) – another case of being clear on your trigger words for navigation.

The last point I thought worth mentioning was a point specifically on usability. For the most part usability was ok, except for one standout:

Our testing did identify some small usability problems, but the only big problem was caused by sites that used third-party payment services, which stumped some users.

My interpretation of this point is that when non-profits rely on third-party payment pages such as those provided by PayPal or their bank to take donations, that the user experience is significantly impacted.

I think this is particularly problematic for smaller NGOs and non-profits who can’t afford to setup their own e-commerce system, and who therefore rely on such third-party systems.

My experience with such systems as a user has never been good, so I advise my clients (as I did my previous employers) to avoid such systems. My argument was that the break in continuity (being directed to a different site) and the usability issues often inherent in such solutions would significantly impact donor confidence, and by extension $$ raised.

I’ve sometimes heard the argument that people trust the banks’ system better than the non-profit’s website, or that including PayPal as an option on your site actually increases donations.

But the usability issues have always been my biggest concern in not implementing such third party payment systems. (I have only begrudgingly started using PayPal more often because trying to pay by credit card in a PayPal enabled system is such an awful experience.

To date, however, it’s been only my word against the vendors’. It’s good to have some empirical evidence on the matter – so I’m looking forward to reviewing it in more detail.