A collage of website "Donate" buttons

On Small Donate Buttons & Contextual Requests for Support

When I’m building a website for a nonprofit, it’s common for the organization to ask me to make their donate button:

  • bigger
  • brighter
  • higher on the page
  • anything else to make it “stand out”

Donate Buttons Don’t Cause Donations. You Do!

I always want to please the client—and I definitely want all nonprofit websites to raise more money for the organizations they support—but this request always comes with an “ok, but…” response:

I’m happy to make this change, but a donate button—no matter the size, color, or position—has never compelled someone to donate on its own. Donate buttons just need to be easy to find once you’ve convinced someone to make a donation.

This seems obvious when you say it out loud, but it’s an important point. It’s the work your organization does and how you communicate that which leads to donations.

Why Donate Buttons Matter

One of the preeminent website usability research organizations Nielsen-Norman Group shows when you do need a well-designed donate button in their research-backed article “5 Tips to Get Donations on Nonprofit and Charity Websites”:

When users were ready to make a donation, they wanted to get to the donation process quickly and easily. Unfortunately, many users spent too much time looking for a way to donate when they were ready to do it. In fact, about 25% of the homepages included in our study failed to provide a Donate call to action. [original emphasis]

Those 25% of websites did need a more-prominent donate button, but they only needed it once their website visitors wanted to make a donation.

In order to generate donations, Nielsen-Norman Group recommends that you “clearly explain what [your] organization does,” “disclose how donations are used,” and “display third party endorsements.” If you haven’t done those three things on your website, it’s premature to worry about the color of the donate button.

Beyond the Donate Button

The fantastic web publication about making websites A List Apart offers an amazing example of how you can increase donations on your website with contextual requests in appropriate website content. In the article “The Core Model: Designing Inside Out for Better Results,” we learn about a Norwegian cancer organization that increased their donations.

[M]any users…look for general information on cancer research, and in this context, we can frame [a request for donations] more specifically: “If you think cancer research is important, you can help us by donating.”

Once they added these contextual, integrated donation requests to their websites, they increased the amount of online donations 398% in the first full year of the new website.

This was in spite of having fewer flashy requests for money on the website:

The previous NCS homepage had several banners and menu items pointing to different ways of supporting the NCS. Today, there’s just the “Support us” item in the menu, and the banners are gone.

This makes sense, right?

“Give me money!”

Ask any communications or development person and they’ll tell you that isn’t a particularly great message to raise money for a nonprofit. Yet, that’s all a “Donate” or “Support Us” button has space to communicate.

So remember:

  • The donate button design and placement is important, but not until you’ve convinced people your organization is worthy of support.
  • Don’t rely on your donate button to drive donations, integrate appropriate requests within the context of other website pages that emphasize the reasons for and impact of a donation.

Luckily, WordPress makes it easy to edit a website, so you can hopefully go make some changes right now!

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