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3 Ways You Can Change Your Forms to Increase Donations

formsNonprofits have different needs, audiences, and missions, yet they tend to operate in a similar and predictable pattern. First, gather contact information. Second, communicate their activities to create awareness. Third, encourage participation in events and campaigns to build community. Fourth, ask for a donation. Technology supports that flow but usually discourages experiments to increase donations because changing anything may be costly. Your online forms, however, offer an underrated and inexpensive way to test new ideas.

Let’s define some terms before discussing experiments. A “form” is any place on your website where visitors enter information into spaces called “fields.” The donation page always has a payment form. Your website likely has email list signup forms, contact forms, event signup forms, and others.

Forms are a classic example of “choice architecture,” a term coined in Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Essentially, how you present choices on a form will influence the decisions people make. Here’s a few ways you can apply this concept to increase donations:

Donations Amounts  

On the donations form, nonprofits usually suggest dollar amounts to encourage higher donations. This an ideal variable for experiments.

As researchers at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business discovered, there is no magic number. Higher suggested donations increase the donation sizes, and lower suggested amounts increase the number of donations. The researchers struggled to optimize for donation size and volume until they distinguished between populations.

In an experiment with the Booth School’s fundraising department, lowering the suggested donation amount increased the likelihood that irregular donors would contribute (the “low” option was half their previous donations). In contrast, with annual donors, a higher suggested amount increased the total each person contributed. They were already committed to contributing and therefore more open to bigger donations.

The implication is that you can send different forms to new, variable, and consistent donors. Test relatively small suggested donations for new and variable donors and larger amounts for regular donors until you find the optimal numbers.

Reduce Friction  

The numbers of fields in a donation form will influence how many people complete it. In April 2017, my team and I studied 62,000 random form submissions from 97 different industries. We discovered that, on average, a payment form with fewer than five fields converts users 19.6% of the times it is loaded on the page. Submission rates plunge as the number of fields increases. Only 15.1% of users submit for five to 10 fields, 11.9% for 10 to 20, and 10.1% for 20 to 30.

The implication is that nonprofits should save and preload payment information on the donations page. First-time donors need to fill out more than five fields. First name, last name, street address, city, state, zip code, and email address add up to six fields alone. If your site saves donor information, you can easily reduce the number of fields to below five on subsequent donations.  

You can experiment with what those remaining fields request. Do donations change if you present the suggested amounts from smallest to largest or vice versa? Left to right or top to bottom? If you add an “In memory of field” field, do people use it and does it affect their choices? Make the five fields count. Better yet, steer donors towards recurring donations to eliminate the friction.

Experiment with Experience

In addition to experimenting on the donations page, run tests on other frequently-used forms. Small but thoughtful changes can create an appreciation for your nonprofit and encourage people to help or donate.

Volunteer forms are a great testing ground. Many organizations schedule volunteers using email, which can create lengthy back-and-forth exchanges and frustrate participants. You get emails saying, “No, that time doesn’t work” and “No, I can’t do trash cleanup at the beach because my back is out.”

Experiment with giving volunteers a sense of choice over the experience. For instance, your signup form can ask volunteers to give their availability with boxes for “Any Time,” “8 a.m. to Noon” or “1 p.m. to 5 p.m.” You could ask volunteers about food restrictions – maybe “Vegetarian/Vegan” and “Gluten-Free” – to ensure that they receive meals and snacks they can eat. Even let people check boxes for the activities they want to do. The person who can’t clean up trash might be more likely to participate with driving, food preparation, or photography.

Small Changes, Big Impact

Our technology stacks can convince us that there is one right way to structure a web page or facilitate a process. Forms enable you to break away from convention. You can test one variable at a time until you find the small changes that have the biggest impact on your fundraising efforts. Focus on the choices you present and the unspoken messages they send to visitors.

Steve Hartert is Chief Marketing Officer at JotForm, a San Francisco-based company providing online drag-and-drop form-building tools that require no coding knowledge. He has 25+ years of international B2B and B2C marketing experience.

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