Are We Turning Our Donors and Volunteers into Quitters?

Are We Turning Our Donors and Volunteers into Quitters?

According to multiple studies, 50 – 70 percent of online donation attempts end before completion.

In other words, thousands of people click the “Donate” button—saying “yes” to our value propositions, agreeing to support the people we serve—only to quit before completing the transaction.

At the risk of belaboring the point, let’s put “donation abandonment” into real-world context. We have poured precious resources—money, time, and creativity—into finding likeminded donors and volunteers, convincing them to view our Web site, and inspiring them to help the people we serve.

Potential donors then click the “Donate” button, saying in effect, “Yes! I want to share a portion of my wealth to help others through your organization. I believe in what you’re doing!” Then, at some point during the donation process, more than half of them change their minds, close the page, and do something else.

Donors have agreed to help others through our organization, but our donation process convinced half of them to do otherwise.

This brings us to our third principle of donor and volunteer satisfaction. It is perhaps, the most overlooked, yet the most critical to our bottom line.

Principle 3: A clumsy donation or volunteer process turns potential advocates into quitters.

Non-profit marketing and communications begins with good messaging, on which the first two principles focused.

Principle 1: Donors and volunteers give to people, not to causes or organizations.

Principle 2: Problems urge donations; results inspire activists.

Non-profit marketing begins with a captivating appeal (based on a compelling value proposition) and leads to a clear call to action. But it must not end there. We promise the donor will experience satisfaction in his or her decision to help others; the success of our cause then demands that the donation or volunteer process reinforce their initial decision.

If our donation process erases this initial excitement before the end of the first attempt to help, how can we reasonably expect our organizations to grow?

Think about the economic impact of this. If we simply avoid disappointing donors with our clumsy online donation process, we could double our online revenue and help twice as many people!

Okay. ‘Nough said about the problem.

As I studied the issue of online donation abandonment in depth, I identified five factors of donor psychology that, when addressed with specific remedies, virtually eliminated the problem.

Here are the five principles listed and summarized. We will examine each in detail in coming articles.

Factor 1: Continuity

The perception that the donation process flows naturally from the value proposition and call to action.

Factor 2: Friction

Cognitive resistance to any element of the online transaction process, usually presenting as confusion.

Factor 3: Anxiety

Emotional resistance to any element of the online transaction process, usually presenting as concern.

Factor 4: Momentum

The feeling of ease or effortlessness that continues throughout the online donation process.

Factor 5: Cognitive Bias

Unconscious influences that systematically affect decision-making.

This article focuses on donor behavior because we have tons of data to study. Completing an online donation transaction is relatively simple compared to the intricate process of volunteering, which is fraught with opportunities to disappoint. So, it’s no great stretch to suggest that volunteer abandonment is equally high, if not higher.

Fortunately, these five factors of donor psychology apply equally to volunteers. As we examine each factor in detail, we can evaluate our volunteer processes to maximize participation.

In preparation for the coming articles, talk to your Web development team and have them begin measuring donor abandonment. This is a relatively simple thing to do, even for novice developers. Google Analytics is a free service and it’s easy to configure.

Simply have Google Analytics count the number of times users click any of your “Donate” buttons, then compare that number to the number of online donations received.

Begin tracking these two numbers on a weekly basis, and consider making donor abandonment a key metric in measuring the effectiveness of your marketing, communications, and Web development teams.

Are We Soliciting Donations, or Inspiring Change-Agents?

Are We Soliciting Donations, or Inspiring Change-Agents?

In the article, “We Know the Power of Customer Satisfaction, What about Donor Satisfaction?”, we examined the child sponsorship model used by World Vision and Compassion International, and considered a key principle that drives the strategy: Donors and volunteers give to people, not to causes or organizations.

As we continue our focus on building a strong tribe of satisfied donors and volunteers, and examine what makes the child sponsorship model work so well, a second principle emerges.

Principle 2:  Problems urge donations; results inspire activists.

A compelling presentation of the problem your organization addresses will trigger a response from a percentage of any group you address. So—according to some marketing firms—we increase funding by targeting a specific segment of the general population (to keep production costs down) and then seek to maximize response by communicating our problem-solution program with the right blend of pathos and logic.

To be fair, the approach works, especially for older constituents who tend to be motivated by a sense of duty. Sad eyes, dirty clothes, and flies-on-the-face images do, indeed, prompt donations.

Once while visiting an African village, I asked a child’s mother for permission to photograph her daughter. She saw a white man with a camera representing a humanitarian organization, so she instructed her little girl, “Push out your stomach and look sad.” She was well aware of problem-solution marketing and simply wanted to be helpful.

While the problem-solution approach can be effective, it’s an exhausting treadmill. It requires relentless focus on finding new audiences to replace individuals who grow tired of urgent appeals. It calls for a constant refining of the problem-solution message to increase the percentage of donor response. And then there’s the challenge of prompting first-time donors to give again, or become regular supporters. So, the question becomes, “How can we restate our problem-solution message differently with each appeal?”

In other words, “How can we continue this kind of appeal while avoiding ‘donor fatigue’?”

While the child sponsorship model is clearly is not appropriate for every kind of charity and may not even be possible for most, it works so well because it connects the donor’s actions directly to results.

Here’s an example of a value proposition used by Compassion International on their Web site. (See image.) After only a brief mention of the problem, the appeal promises specific outcomes. Individual donors who enroll then receive prompt confirmation and ongoing reports that describe the results of their giving.

Increasing constituent satisfaction by connecting donors and volunteers to the results of their contributions is hard work. It will require a gradual restructuring of your organization so that the communications and operations teams become equal stakeholders in a shared outcome: donor and volunteer satisfaction.

The donor development question then becomes, “How can we help donors and volunteers feel like they are part of the operational team?” When this comes the objective, the issue of donor fatigue fades away; your communications will inspire hope and fuel excitement for greater involvement.

Moreover, just like the for-profit sector, satisfied constituents become our greatest advertisement.

How can you combine your donor or volunteer development and operations teams to form a cohesive unit?

How can you give each team a genuine stake in the other’s success?

We Know the Power of Customer Satisfaction, What about Donor Satisfaction?

We Know the Power of Customer Satisfaction, What about Donor Satisfaction?

Anyone who gives time or money to a charity does so with the expectation of satisfaction.

That’s not to suggest their motives are selfish. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Donors and volunteers simply want to know that their time or money has been invested wisely, and that our organization has helped them make a difference in the world.

That is, after all, the promise we make in our value proposition. (Assuming, of course, our value proposition is clear and compelling.)

This isn’t new information. Every leader in non-profit organizations I’ve encountered understands this at an instinctive level. Unfortunately, the concept of donor satisfaction rarely finds its way into the marketing or donor development activities of charities, and almost completely overlooked on the ministry side of their operations.

For-profit organizations live or die by customer/client satisfaction. In the non-profit world, satisfied donors and volunteers do two very important things: they donate or volunteer again, and they tell other people about our wonderful organization. And that’s the key to maintaining financial stability while cultivating steady growth.

Many charities eagerly devote precious resources to acquire new donors and volunteers, yet give little thought to making donating and volunteering a satisfying experience.

Seasoned leaders, however, understand that the key metric in organizational growth is not new name acquisition or even first-time donations, but consistent re-engagement. Astute leaders understand that ministry operations and donor development are not two separate functions, but interdependent teams that share a symbiotic relationship.

Consider, for example, two of the largest Christian humanitarian aid organizations in existence: World Vision and Compassion International. Both use a child sponsorship model, which is clearly not appropriate for every kind of charity and may not even be possible for most. However, their system leverages several principles that can be adapted when developing our own marketing and communications strategy.

In this series of articles, we will consider some of these principles and explore ways to apply them.

Principle 1: Donors and volunteers give to people, not to causes or organizations.

If the majority of promotional literature and donation appeals are any indication, this principle isn’t as basic as it might seem.

The child sponsorship model maximizes donor satisfaction by maintaining a direct connection between individual donors and the people served through the organization. Donors get to see the faces, and learn the names, and even carry on direct communication with the people they are helping. This helps each donor experience the satisfaction of generosity while appreciating the organization for its role in facilitating the work.

Any communications strategy we employ needs to connect donors and volunteers to the people they are helping as closely as practically possible.

Take a few minutes to examine your promotional literature and the last several appeals for donations or volunteers.

Who is the hero of the story you tell? Do you highlight the size, strength, successes, or qualifications of your organization? Or do you show the reader how to become a potential hero, a genuine change-agent in the fight against a particular evil?

Do you present statistics or describe the size of the problem you address? Or do you highlight the people potentially helped by the donor or volunteer? Can you tell the stories of representative individuals whose lives have been changed by the efforts of past donors and volunteers?

Can you communicate your value proposition in terms that feel accessible to your potential donors? What can be accomplished with a single donation of [insert reasonable donation here]? How will that donation or volunteer activity change the life of someone for the better?

Now the more difficult question: How can you bring a sense of satisfaction to the donor or volunteer after the initial transaction is complete?

Principle #2 addresses this challenge.