Observations from Year-end Giving

Logos of many popular online donation sitesThe penultimate day of 2011 saw me finally wrap up my year-end giving. This was primarily to support my favorite organizations, but it happened to double as test of multiple online giving services.

I was pleasantly surprised with the various options’ quality, but I think every organization missed a golden opportunity at the end of the process.

“The Sample”

My experiences certainly don’t count as “representative.” I gave to 13 organizations including giving to my favorite WordPress plugins. These were small organizations with only two few exceptions.

The Systems I Used

It’s no news that there are a variety of options out there. Here’s what I used: ((Note, when offered multiple options or combinations of systems (such as Network for Good accepting PayPal), I double-counted the services. Hence, this list adds up to more than 13.))


PayPal is King

In all, eight of my donations went through PayPal. I expected to use PayPal, but not this much. In PayPal’s place, I had assumed I’d give more through Network for Good and smaller, newer, and exciting options like Razoo or CrowdRise.

More Thoughts on Options Not Rhyming With “ZayZal”

The two sites that had embedded giving forms were easy to use and I felt confident in using them because I never left the website or had to enter information on multiple pages. I use the LastPass browser add-on (highly recommended) to autofill my passwords and credit card information, but it didn’t work in every situation.

Paypal, Google Wallet, and Amazon Payments are clunky, but they all had my credit cards on file so they were faster for me to use—though less “slick”—than forms directly embedded in websites. Network For Good also can remember your information, but because they let me use PayPal which already had it, I used PayPal.

Network For Good, however, deserves special mention. They were the only service I used that clearly stated the transaction fee (there was an entire page in the donation process devoted to it) that would be taken from the donation. They encouraged me to add that amount so the organization would get the full gift amount. ((I thought this level of transparency was admirable, and I just hope that people aren’t mislead into thinking that other major services don’t take a transaction fee. They all do.)) Network for Good also offers a level of support and other services aimed at the nonprofit sector that are unavailable from other major services I used, making “N4G” an option in a class of its own.

Some Friendly Suggestions

Only one organization’s website didn’t have an easy-to-find donate button or donation information on their website. I took this as a sign that they weren’t accepting donations and moved on.

Another organization provided TWO options for giving through two different donation processors. I can envision scenarios where this would make sense, but I was confused. Just saying “Select the most convenient giving option” would have increased my confidence.

Multiple organizations allowed me to join their [e-]mailing list when donating. However, most phrased this request along the lines of “Can we contact you?” But what’s in it for me? I would change this up to add more specifics. “Would you like to receive our quarterly e-newsletter?” “Join our weekly News & Event email bulletin.” Explaining the value I will receive makes it more likely to get to my inbox.

Receipts And Followups

After every online donation, I was taken to a page that could be saved or printed. However, in all but one case, I was also sent an email receipt acknowledging my donation. Unfortunately, my last donation was the one that didn’t send the email, at which point I had quit saving the HTML version of the receipt… So while it may be enough to satisfy legal requirements to ask people to print or save an online receipt, an email receipt is the standard, and your organization should make sure to send one.

Opportunity Lost

As I hinted at the beginning of this post, there was one gaping hole in every donation process I went through. Once receiving my receipt from PayPal or another processor, I was usually offered an option to return to the site. Not a single site had created a “Thank You for Giving” page. In most cases I either returned to their “Donate” page or the home page.

A “Thank You” page can serve two very important purposes:

  1. Such a page reinforces that your organization appreciates the gift. A page like this can really get creative and end the giving process on a extra-positive note for the giver.
  2. There probably isn’t a better time to present other ways to get involved with your organization. If you’re looking for other types of donations, volunteers, board members, or even social media “likes” and “follows,” this is the time and place to ask. This ask needs to be respectful, but once people have supported you once, they’ll be more likely to continue that support.


Again, I was really struck by how frequently PayPal was used. For that reason alone, it seems to be a good choice. However, other services like Razoo and Network for Good focus exclusively on online donations, so their services are better-tailored to the donation experience (as opposed to the “money processing” experience).

In general, I was pleasantly surprised to avoid a single technical problem, but I was equally disappointed to not receive additional engagement from any organizations after making my gift.

The end of next year is a long way off, but right now is a great time to improve your online donation system.

Talk Back

Share your online donation frustrations or optimizations in the comments!

2 thoughts on “Observations from Year-end Giving”

  1. Super interesting and helpful post. I’m setting up donation pages for our org and I will definitely implement your suggestions. Thanks Mark!

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