Charities and other non-profit organisations are missing out on online donations because they are not explaining clearly enough to visitors their aims and how they intend to use the money when they receive it.

Nielsen has been carrying out user testing of 23 non-profit websites in the US, giving users the task of choosing recipients by comparing a couple of sites in similar categories e.g. American Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity, and actually making a donation.

The tests did find some issues in general website usability, which Nielsen calls 'donation killers'. This included:

  • 53% of donation killers related to poor content, unclear writing, missing information etc, which meant that users couldn't find out about the aims of charities and how their money would be used
  • The other 47% were usability issues related to page and site design, including cluttered pages and confusing navigation. More seriously, on 17% of sites, testers couldn't find out where to donate.

This seems a very basic error to make, especially as some visitors will arrive at the site, perhaps having just seen a TV advert, with the intention of donating. A nice clear button / link to the donation page is what's needed.

On the Save the Children website the donate link is displayed prominently in a red box on the right hand side of the page, therefore no room for confusion:

Save the Children donate button

Most of the UK charity sites I looked at managed to make the donate option clear enough, though it was harder to find on some than others.

For example, on Scope, though the 'donate now' link is in red, it is in small text, and not as prominent as some of the other menu options on the page. Some charity sites could perhaps learn from e-commerce best practice and make donate links more visible.

While the study found a few issues with the payment process, especially when third party payment providers were involved, the main issue was content usability, and the fact that charity websites failed to explain what they do and where the money goes. This means that some non-profit websites can increase the money they receive from the public with some simple changes.

Graham Charlton

Published 30 March, 2009 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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