According to a survey by Barclays Digital Giving, offline payments still account for 80% of charitable donations, which suggests that many aren't making the most of the web. 

In this post I'll look at some of the major charities, and how easy (or not) they make it for visitors to donate online. 

The survey

The results were reported in The Guardian, and paint a picture of a charity sector which seems to have plenty of room for improvement when it comes to digital strategy. 

The survey looked at 300 UK based charities with a minimum turnover of £3m, so finance shouldn't be a barrier to improving online donations. 

Some key stats: 

  • One in five charities are not set up to accept online donations. 
  • 78% of charities that the number of people donating online will increase in the next three years.
  • A quarter of charities said online donations are not relevant for them or their target audience, with 48% seeing a lack of a “computer savvy” donor base as a major barrier.

Some of those stats are surprising, especially the last one. ONS figures show that 76% of UK adults accessed the internet in 2014, while 74% shopped online. 

Presumably the less tech savvy donor base the respondents refer to are the over 65s, though Ofcom stats show that two-thirds of adults aged between 65 and 74 had access to the internet in 2014.

Perhaps this age group are less tech savvy than the under 30s, but I imagine there are still plenty who are more than capable of making a donation to their preferred charity online. 

Charities and social media

Some charities are blazing a trail online, and many are using social media to great effect. 

For example, Cancer Research benefitted from the#nomakeupselfie hashtag, receiving some £8m in donations. 

Ben Davis spoke to Cancer Research’s social media manager last year to find out exactly how it all went down. 

There are other great examples of social campaigns from charities, while Marie Curie shows what can be achieved when charities fully embrace digital. 

Online donations

The bottom line here is that charities should make it as easy as possible for people to donate in a way that is convenient for them. 

Text is one way to make it easy, but mobile and online payment methods should be offered and promoted, otherwise time spent raising awareness is wasted. 

I've been looking at some of the more well-know charity websites to see how easy it is to donate. 

What I want to see: 

  • A usable, easy to navigate website. 
  • A site that works on mobile. 
  • A clear 'donate' call to action. 
  • Easy checkout. 
  • A range of payment options and methods. 

Cancer Research

The homepage is quite cluttered, but the donate link is easy to spot. 


This leads to this page, with the various donation options. 

It's a nice smooth process, and the site caters for major credit and debit cards, as well as PayPal. It's about covering as many bases as possible, so offering PayPal makes a lot of sense. 

It's also a one page checkout too, which means donors can complete all their details without too much page loading. 

It also works smoothly on mobile, which is where the PayPal option can really help. Just entering an email and password is so much easier. 

All in all, a good example. 


This is worth a mention for a clear and smooth checkout process. 

We have clear steps, good explanations next to form fields, a phone number in case of problems, and security reassurances. 

The one thing that lets it down is the lack of alternative payment options: 

National Autistic Society

It's important to avoid any unnecessary barriers, and here NAT provides a guest checkout option for donations. 


This wins for the clearest homepage call to action. Rather than attempting to feature lots of different things on the homepage, it just focuses on donations. 

Also, how can you resist that little kitten's eyes? 


Another example like PDSA, with the homepage geared towards donations. 

Are charities as bad as the survey suggests? 

Having looked through the sites of most of the major charities, I haven't found examples of any which fail to offer methods of donating online. 

Some are better than others, and many could benefit from making the donation process smoother on mobile, as well as offering alternative payments. 

Indeed, I have to look for more obscure charities to find one that doesn't offer online donation, such as Turning Point: 

In another example, Marie Stopes doesn't offer donations on the site, but instead points users towards its justgiving page. 

It should make the call to action clearer, as it's easily missed within all this text: 

In summary

Having been through a long list of charity websites (and that included most well known charities), I've struggled to find many of the issues that the survey describes. 

Most charity sites have very clear calls to donate, are usable and, though there is some variance in the quality of the checkouts, they all more or less work. 

There is some work to be done making these sites mobile-friendly, as is the case with most businesses, but I only found one that didn't accept donations. 

Of course, I may be missing them, and it's obvious that any charity not currently accepting donations online (and by other methods such as SMS) should be making this a priority. 

What do you think? Are charity sites failing when it comes to online, or does the survey paint too bleak a picture? 

Graham Charlton

Published 29 May, 2015 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is editor in chief at SaleCycle, and former editor at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin.

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Comments (4)

Matt Collins

Matt Collins, MD at Platypus DigitalSmall Business

The report is definitely an odd one, but I think it says more about the funding models and sizes of charities than anything else. The vast majority are super-tiny with minimal public reach. They get most funding from trusts (who take applications on paper) and wouldn't get many online donations even if they were well set up for them. The big, well known charities (the minority) have decent set ups on their websites, but could probably do with rolling CRO programmes to ensure they're maximising the donations they do get. The main lesson for the small charities is to use JustGiving and make the most of their support!

about 3 years ago

Michael Gough

Michael Gough, Creative Director at Sparks Branding Strategy & Design Agency

I think any charity that fails to make online donation possible is signing its own death warrant. Older givers may be less inclined to donate online, but charities should be aware of younger generations that have different preferences and whom they will come to rely on for donations in the future. JustGiving is great but small charities shouldn't rule out built-in donate buttons which can be relatively simple and inexpensive to set up.

about 3 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

80% of donations using cash seems about right.

As a reality check, "Cash was used in more than eight out of 10 purchases in pubs, clubs, and newsagents last year".

Also a lot of shops have a charity box beside the till, providing a convenient way to reduce the small change in your wallet while helping a good cause, and there must surely be tens of millions of very small donations from this source.

about 3 years ago

Beate Sørum

Beate Sørum, Keynote speaker, fundraiser and digital consultant at b.bold

Offline activities are definitely still very important. But charities are already losing out on huge amounts of money by not taking digital seriously. One charity I worked with over last Christmas, would have raised €36000 more from mobile visitors alone had they had a mobile adapted and well designed donation form. That is a quite staggering amount of money to leave behind.

Generally, I find that donation forms and landing pages are extremely underestimated in their importance in fundraising. We buy something out of the box and think that it should do the trick. We neglect user testing, design and optimisation. Imagine the sheer number of hours and money that has gone into testing direct mail pieces and return forms. Why on earth would we think that we don't have to do the same online?

A "donate now"-button does not make an online fundraising strategy. In fact - chances are people will not even see the button, as it resembles advertising and causes banner blindness. We have to do the same work of asking, asking and asking again - online too.

The Norwegian Cancer Society tripled its online income in 3 years just by fixing the website (and the old one wasn't that bad). For more volatile kinds of donations like direct debit monthly donors, the increase is 9 times up. 9 times! That shows how much impact optimisation really has.

You can't afford to ignore it in the long run.

about 3 years ago

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