Donors Flee When Processing Too Slow

December 10, 2013       Zach Halper      

Shiloh Stark, acting director of online growth and cultivation at Amnesty International (AI) in Washington, D.C., was unhappy six months ago when he looked at the organization’s website traffic from mobile devices. There were an impressive number of visitors from mobile users but the visitors who made a gift through their donation page were considerably fewer.

“The primary thing we saw was our mobile traffic rate was up but our mobile conversion rate was down,” said Stark. “These were trends that were important to our future campaigns.” They got to work on creating an improved donation page.

The problem of low conversion rates of mobile users is hardly unique to AI. According to a study by London-based Open Fundraising, while 20 percent of donations made online in the past year were via mobile devices, more than 50 percent of potential donors never got to the point where they could make the gift simply because it took too long.

And according to Dale Knoop, founder and CEO at fundraising firm Raz Mobile in Kansas City, Mo., it’s vital for nonprofits to make sure donation pages are mobile optimized given the ever-increasing use of mobile technology

The word “optimized” is important here. A lot of organizations talk about being mobile friendly. It is more important to be mobile optimized. What’s the difference? It comes down to usability.

Elisa Cheng, senior director of design and implementation at Zuri Group in Bend, Ore., which was instrumental in the AI transition, said that the most common reason for donor abandonment is content being too wide for the mobile screen. This requires users to scroll horizontally to see all of the text, and can lead to action items being too small for fingers to easily click.

“Form fields need to be big, the form itself should have a vertical layout with the labels for each field on top of the input box, not next to it,” said Cheng.

“When someone wants to make a gift, you have to help them right away,” said Knoop. “If people can’t see what to do next, that’s not really a fulfillment action. The longer it takes, the closer you are towards abandonment.” Abandonment isn’t limited to specific age groups. Whether a Baby Boomer or a Millennial, donors are going to drop off if the process takes too long.

“Easy is easy no matter what age you are,” said Knoop, who stressed that mobile donors are usually driven by impulse. You’ll likely lose the donor if you aren’t able to take advantage of that impulse in the first few minutes, Knoop said. “A lot of this is on the organization to look at what the donor is doing during that one minute they are compelled to make a donation.”

This is where Knoop’s idea of a mobile optimized landing page comes into play. Rather than just updating your donation page to make it more readable on a mobile device, he suggested streamlining it to make the experience as quick as possible.

“Speed matters in a mobile setting because you are on the go,” said Knoop. This is backed up from statistics from online retailer Amazon, which reported that an increase of just 100 milliseconds (ms) in response time on its site translated to a 1 percent reduction in sales. Knoop said the same logic applies to fundraising. In this case, if the process takes more than a minute, you are likely going to lose the donor.

Laura Quinn, executive director at technology nonprofit Idealware in Portland, Maine, agreed that nonprofit managers need to look to optimization to create an effective landing page for mobile donors. With more fundraising campaigns originating through email, Quinn said that you will have to assume that many of the people who read the message will be doing so on a mobile device.

Quinn said that the first thing an organization should do when looking into a third-party vendor is to make sure they have a “responsive form,” meaning that it adjusts to the screen size of the mobile device. After that, it’s all about making the process as fast as possible for donors. This means you should only ask for information that is relevant to the donation (i.e., name, contact information, and donation amount).

Quinn also suggested making it possible for the system to store the donor’s setting so, if they want to give again they don’t have to re-enter their information.

“Even tiny changes can have a big impact on the success of your landing page,” said Quinn.

This point was made abundantly clear to Stark and his colleagues at AI after they conducted some A/B tests on their landing page. By sending different versions of the same page to donors via email, they were able to see how changes impacted conversion rates. For example, when they increased the size of their text on one version of the landing page, they had an 11 percent greater conversion rate than the version with smaller text.

Stark also found a noticeable difference in conversion rate based on the type of gift they were asking of the donor. “The interesting thing we found was that users are less comfortable making a sustaining gift,” explained Stark, who noted that despite the lower conversion rate, monthly gift requests produced a greater value donation. Specifically, the conversion rate was about 34 percent less while the value (when calculated to include the 12-month value of each monthly gift) was 50 percent more.

The changes Stark and his team made included asking only for “transactional” related information. “We only ask them for what they came to the page to do,” said Stark. They also made the contents of the page change depending on the type of device being used. The results were an overwhelming success. According to Stark, the conversion rate from fundraising emails increased 91 percent from the previous year, including a 242-percent increase from mobile devices. The results were a surprise, even to Stark.

“At first I thought the dramatic increase in conversion rates might be due to a reporting glitch, so I cross referenced them against our email click data to make sure our reporting systems were producing similar results,” said Stark. “I attribute the improvement in conversions to enhancements in our forms, donors who are more comfortable making gifts on mobile devices, and to a more effective email strategy that prioritizes making more relevant and targeted donation asks.”

All of this is not to say that donors never drop-off when they use a desktop-based donation page. In fact, according to Cheng, the average conversion rate for desktop donation pages are the same as mobile: 50 percent. She also said some of the same techniques to improve conversion rates for mobile users can be used for PCs. For instance, Cheng recommended having donors enter credit card information first. “As a user, getting your credit card out and entering the number is the hard part. The sooner a user does this before seeing the rest of the form questions, the more likely they are to submit,” she said.

Cheng also said that changing the text of your donate button from “submit” to “give now” has shown to have a positive impact.

The fact that the conversion rates are exactly the same speaks volumes about what donors think about donation forms, said Cheng.

“Most forms online today are not optimized for mobile use so the fact that conversion rates are still around 50 percent means that users may not have as high of expectations for how forms will work on their mobile devices,” said Cheng. As Internet usage on mobile devices increases, this expectation is only going to increase. As expectations increase, it is going to be more and more important to make sure your forms are meeting those expectations, she said.

“Folks have to be savvy,” said Stark. “The kind of changes we have described can make a difference but it’s important to look at two things: Results will be specific to your change, and it’s important to pay attention to statistical results you are seeing.”