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The Donation Process
A Four Step Process for Online Donations by Credit Card

The clicks a donor must make to donate online with a credit card should never be taken for granted. In the world of virtual giving, where studies indicate that up to 80% of retail shoppers may abandon their shopping carts before completing their purchase, you should be sure to ask, "Is our donation software missing something important that causes donors to quit before giving?"

When you consider a donation engine software provider, avoid being abandoned by your donor by choosing a provider that is sensitive to the donor's experience.

Once you get your donor to consider a donation (once they've clicked "Donate Now" button), look for this four step process when you consider a donation engine provider.

No donation should take more than four steps to complete, in this order:

Each step should take place on a separate screen that is designed so that your typical web visitor does not have to scroll down to complete form elements. The first three steps should be able to be completed in three screens (without scrolling) and should be clearly labeled so that the donor knows exactly where she or he is in the process.

-- Ask first for a specific amount for a specific purpose. The first decision the donor should be required to make is the amount of his or her gift and the purpose it will go to. Deciding the amount is the most important step for the donor. Sure, you want contact and follow-up information, but it will be easier to get once the donor has committed to a gift. Don't offer unusual gift amounts like $450, but always provide an alternative that lets the donor specify their own amount.

There are some good options for online planned giving programs, but generally you shouldn't ask for specific online gifts in amounts of more than $1,000. Yes, you may get them. One person in a group I spoke to had received a $77,000 gift online, but designating a purpose and recognition was an appropriate part of the off line follow-up.

Don't confuse the donor with too many gift choices that have vague purposes. Display three to five different amounts, each tied to a clear result. Online donors, more than offline donors, are interested in results. let the donor know exactly what the donation will accomplish in synopsis form. And then be sure to include a link, "For more information," in case the donor wants to learn more about the program they would be supporting. The Heifer Project offers a fabulous example of a gift catalog, but organizations with a smaller budget can accomplish their goals with fewer, carefully chosen choices.

Be sure that the point where a donor selects their gift amount is on the same page as the description of the result. If you are allowing an online donor to choose between different funds -- a program gift or a capital campaign, for instance, those should be two entirely separate donation processes. Don't mix bricks and mortar with immediate program needs!

-- Don't ask for optional information you don't need from most donors. Donors find requests for superfluous information annoying and even intrusive. And never require that the donor remit all of their contact information when they make a gift.

Require only the information that is essential to process the credit card donation: First and Last Names, Card number, expiration date. City, address, and zip should be considered optional unless your credit card processor requires them. Ask for an email address in step three, but don't require it. Never ask for a telephone number with the gift. And why would you possibly want a fax number?


Online giving is usually an emotional, impulsive experience. The more information you request, the more you ask the donor to rethink the gift, and the more likely it is that the process may be abandoned.

Never ever store the donor's credit card number, not even if it's stored as a cookie on the donor's computer (what if they happen to use the computer at the public library?). Assure the donor that their card number is not being stored, and provide a direct link to a clear privacy policy that discloses what you do and do not do with the information collected during the donation process.

Use columns wisely to avoid forcing the donor to scroll, and don't forget to display the selected gift amount, and purpose, from Step One.

-- Present all of the information that you've received so far and invite the donor to click on a button labeled "YES" to complete their gift. Allow the donor to make corrections to their information directly on this screen, or have a second button labeled "Corrections" or "Not Yet" that will send the donor back to Step Two.

Wait until Step Three to ask for the donor's email address in the context of sending the donor an acknowledgement. And, at the same time offer them the opportunity to opt in to an email alerts list. One study suggests that, in the minds of most donors, the act of sharing an email address implies permission for a later contact. Store the email address and use it later in a targeted email appeal. But don't add the donor's email address to your online newsletter without express permission.

-- Say thank you three times. Take the donor to a thank you screen. Generate an auto reply for an email thank you. And generate a snail mail thank you in not more than two business days. The thank you screen is a good time to invite the donor, optionally, to forward your site address to a friend, to complete a feedback form, to join a discussion group, to take some other additional action on behalf of your mission.

The donor experience is not the only criteria on which to base your choice of a donation engine software, but I believe it may be the most important. Since most donation engine providers won't perform all of the tasks described in these steps, when choosing one, look first for adherence to the basic steps and their order, and then to the ability complete the details within each.

You can find more information in our article, Online Donation Engine Providers, as well as at our Donation Engine Provider Table that displays a comparison of various providers.

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