Click go the donations!

Originally posted in Fundraising & Philanthropy Magazine Australia, June 22, 2015.


Dr Steve Francis and Ghizlaine Mallek of FrontStream explore the psychology behind donation pages that convert every time.


Converting your website visitors into donors who will support your cause is the primary focus of your online fundraising activities. According to a 2012 report released by UK digital design agency, Nomensa, 47% of potential donors give up prior to even making a donation due to the online donation journey lacking intuition and engagement.

This article is designed to provide some insight into the psychology behind donor giving, in order to help you address donor drop-off on your donation page.

The psychology of giving

Melbourne-born global ethicist Peter Singer’s book, The Life You Can Save, explores why supporters decide to donate to a cause:

  • The identifiable victim: Identifying with a singular person and their circumstances motivates far more than the plight of hundreds or thousands of people.
  • Parochialism: If donors can relate to your cause, they are more likely to give.
  • Futility: Supporters donate in direct proportion to the impact they believe their donation will have: the smaller the impact, the less they are likely to donate.
  • Fairness: Donors require confirmation they are not unfairly taking on too much of the burden.

So on your website landing page, an appeal to your potential donor is the most critical component and must stand out. To be effective, this must be relatable. Keeping Singer’s lessons in mind, appeal to the heart rather than the head, create a sense of urgency for your supporter to move into action and give, demonstrate how their donation will help, and most critically, who it will help. Make it personal.

Your organisation is only the conduit for giving

Donors are giving through your organisation, not to your organisation. In reflecting on Singer’s challenges of futility and fairness, your supporters need to believe their donations will help ‘identifiable’ recipients. Connecting donations to impact demonstrates this.

For example, in a ‘suggested giving’ template on your donation page, use a phrase such as “a donation of $15 will help send a child to school for a month” rather than “consider a gift of $15”. Donors want to know they are part of a concrete solution that changes people’s lives.

The Leukaemia Foundation are doing a great job of illustrating impact on their World’s Greatest Shave donate page. The page lets visitors know that $27 can provide a pack to help someone understand their disease, while $80 gives a regional family a place to stay for a night near their treatment facility. It goes even further by transparently asking for ‘a little extra to cover our processing fees’.

Directed deference to authority

According to Professor Robert Cialdini, an expert on the psychology of persuasion and author of the seminal book, Influence, the psychological triggers of directed deference to authority are a powerful motivator for action. In other words, if an organisation is viewed by a potential donor as an ‘authority’ in relation to the cause they believe in (having addressed all of Singer’s pre-requisites for giving), a strong call to action will direct donors to action.

The call to action itself must be simple, create a sense of urgency, and be designed to look “clickable” (such as a button). A simple anagram to remember is AIDA: A = Attention, I = Interest, D = Desire, and A = Action. The words on the button are as important as the design itself. Active wording such as “Feed a Family”, “Help a Child in Need”, “Donate Today” will help donors understand their next action and prompt them to act.

WaterAid Australia is a great example, as the website is filled with key elements outlined by Singer, such as personalised storytelling, illustration of impact and simple navigation. WaterAid’s bold, clear ask for donations and fundraising makes it easier to follow through with giving.

Provide social proof

In Influence, Cialdini famously developed the concept of social proof, in which actions or behaviour are seen as more appropriate when others are doing it. People are social by nature. With this in mind, it’s important to consider that fundraisers want to know that if they are working hard to achieve the goal, others are also doing their part. This stems from an innate need for fairness and social inclusion, and maybe some competition too.

Showing potential donors that your cause is important to others with a support board, listing fundraisers, teams, and the amounts they’ve raised, will inspire action. If you can, your page should include social media insights and an overall amount raised.

If you are using Facebook as a fundraising platform, your number of ‘likes’ is an indicator of social proof. The more information you can give about your cause and the supporters who are donating to it, the stronger your appeal and online donation conversion.

Wild Women On Top’s Sydney Coastrek for Fred Hollows Foundation is very effective at motivating fundraisers and donors. Boards track the progress of each team. Year on year the amounts raised and number of participants have increased by tapping into the competitive side of sport and altruism of trackable fundraising.

Inspiring donor conversion

It will take time and effort, but by understanding the psychology of giving, you can create powerful donation pages that inspire donor conversion.

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