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Charities and the Art of Giving

Encouraging support through financial contribution

Charities are facing increased financial constraints with much funding having been withdrawn or greatly reduced. Recent years saw a sharp downturn in the levels of donations given by individuals with fewer people choosing to give less financial support and less often.

This trend has begun to reverse and donations in the UK have doubled in the last five years. Six out of ten adults donate to charity and this is rising slowly. Online donations form a small but significant part of the wider fundraising efforts with 7% of individuals using online mechanisms to contribute. Ensuring that opportunity to contribute financially is user friendly and uses a cost effective system has merit for maximising donation potential.

Not just the what and the why but the 'how' too.

Compared to e-commerce websites charities start at a disadvantage to elicit money from visitors. Typically when a user visits a website they have something they want and are already prepared to pay for it. 

Often visitors to charity website may do so to seek information, resources and are motivated by curiosity not acquisition. Charities must therefore communicate value propositions strongly and very clearly in order to attract donations and further support.

The Charity Commission concludes that many charities are very successful at identifying and communicating their aims and who it seeks to benefit the 'what' and the 'why'. Where they are typically weaker is in the 'how', showing clearly how people will benefit from actions taken. 

Traditionally demonstrating the value of donations involves showing very clearly the what happens to contributions.

Example of good practice:

Unicef use photos and case studies to provide a strong connection between individual donations and positive impact. 

For some charities demonstrating the value proposition is more obvious. Charities that are primarily research and campaigning bodies face a real challenge in communicating how the work they do benefits from public financial support nut the it does present a great opportunity to highlight the myriad of work conducted. 

Breaking down the activities of of research based charities into small monetary values in order to connect with donations in a very real way may be impractical but showing connections is still advisable good practice.


5 Pounds a month enables us to continue to provide toolkits to schools. 

10 Pounds a month funds ongoing research.

Providing clear value propositions linked explicitly to actions and connected to donations is a powerful motivator for giving.

It is 7% harder to give money away than to spend it.

A review of 60 non-profit or charitable websites found that it takes a user on average 7% more time to make a donation than to complete an e-commerce check out process.  A lack of clear navigation and over complicated or confusing payment processes are highlighted as areas of weakness. 

Donating money draws on the same mental model as buying and can benefit from using the same cues. Giving clear suggestions of what to donate helps guide users into the donation process.  

Example of good practice:

Action for children offer donation suggestions and a blank field for personal choice. They include clear navigation on their home page and strong bright calls to action.

Charity donation framework

Nomensa's framework provides a good overview of the process of donation. The emphasis is on the important role of reward which distinguishes giving from spending.  In e-commerce transactions users need receipt and acknowledgement, but charities must go further. To engage and promote likelihood of future giving donors must be rewarded and shown appreciation. 

Thank you

A simple thank you is a powerful thing. Research suggests that participants who are shown gratitude are twice as likely to participate in the future

Furthermore, positive association can extend beyond action to the brand itself.  Expectation satisfaction plays a important role in repeating behaviour. When we give money we have an expectation that what we do will be appreciated and so we assign a positive value to the act of giving. If we are then thanked that expectation is proven correct and our attitude is further enhanced and we see our behaviour as good extended to "giving is good" therefore "I am good" and "this charity is good". 

The role of social media

The role of the thank you page is clearly important and can go further than promoting repeat donations. A well designed thank you page can engage donors to take subsequent action and move from supporters to advocates. 

Social network platforms are a simple yet powerful way to promote advocacy. A Facebook share option or Tweet button capitilises on the positive feeling that donors have about donating and allows them share their pride and in doing so raise awareness.

An oft overlooked area is the exit from user action feedback pages. To avoid dropout users should be offered alternative ways back into the main site and onward on their journey. This may be in the form of a return of the main navigation or in highlighted relevant content.

Example of good practice

Barnardo's give thanks for contributions using very human language, they offer non monetary ways to contribute further and they make good use of social media platforms to make advocates of their donors. 


  • Inspire users to donate with clearly stated plain English value propositions
  • Explain and show what you do, who you benefit and how donations are spent
  • Present clear calls to action and goal driven navigation
  • Simplify the payment process to minimal steps and include donation suggestions
  • Say thank you and promote emotional engagement
  • Include opportunities for donors to become advocates through links to social network sites

Helpful sources

Charity Aid Foundation, UK Giving 2011, December 2011 

The Charity Commission, Initial analysis of the research into public benefit reporting, July 2011 

Nielsen Norman Group Report, Non-profit and Charity Website Usability - 2nd edition, February 2011 

Normensa, Creating the perfect donation experience, February 2012

Grant, A and Gino, F A little thanks goes a long way: Explaining why gratitude expressions motivate prosocial behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 98(6), Jun 2010

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Tagged: charity | blog | donations