CDE project 11c digital section 2 part 1: putting the principles and actions into practise

Written by
The Commission on the Donor Experience
April 28, 2017

Technological innovation and its use for charity

The voices calling for charities to stay on top of new technologies are neither new nor small [1], but it is important to keep the focus on the charity and fundraising mission when considering new opportunities. An exciting new technology with sweeping popularity is not necessarily a valuable fundraising or engagement tool. Its potential should be evaluated against your charity’s aims and the donors’ needs. That said, innovations in technology may open up unexpected and valuable new opportunities for fundraisers, which makes it imperative to stay informed about trending technologies.

Nesta experts remind charities that to successfully deploy new technologies, the focus should be on the features wanted by donors, that online and offline experiences need to be linked, and failures along the development path are inevitable [2]. In a 2013 experiment with ten charities, the following checklist was established to prepare the implementation of innovative solutions, from a general operations perspective [3]:

  1. Why are we doing this? Be clear on the strategic rationale for open innovation.
  2. What is the problem we are looking to solve? What is the opportunity we could take? Uncover the unmet needs. Ask
  1. this question several times. Challenge your answers.
  2. Does it need a tech solution? Consider all possible ways to solve the problem, include no tech and low tech.
  3. Who will use this? Apply a user-centred approach to design, build and test your
  4. innovation.
  5. Who will help us build this? Partner with users for requirements, external experts for advice and delivery partners for implementation.
  6. How will we know it will work? Use an evidence-based approach and build low-cost minimum viable products. Test with both ‘cold’ and known end-users regularly throughout the build process.
  7. Have we considered using agile methodologies? Using simple, iterative processes can foster creativity and collaboration, while lowering costs and building usable products.
  8. Where will the solution be hosted? Understand the process and infrastructure
  9. implications of hosting internally vs. external / cloud-based options.
  10. Who will maintain this post-launch? Put plans and service level agreements in place for when things go wrong.
  11. How can we scale this? Prepare a portfolio of strategies and business models to ensure your solution is replicable, scalable and can be sustainably financed in the long-term.

Marie Curie’s gaming platform to engage new donors, Mencap’s online giving in schools project, Keep Britain Tidy’s online network and the Children’s Society’s “pop up” experiences for prospective supporters are all examples of this framework put into practice.




Understand and design based on donor preferences

The above implies that charities need to understand the preferences and interests of potential or loyal donors and to design the website and donation process in the way that best corresponds to those. Surveys and trials are likely to give valuable insight into the quality and attractiveness of a donor’s journey, which makes them an investment of great importance.

Money for Good UK undertook a major study [1] and mapped donor motivations as below. These motivations have major implications for designing the donor experience online, concerning messaging, prompts and information about the charity’s work provided on the website. It is therefore of utmost importance that charities conduct thorough analysis into the “types” of supporters likely to visit their website, their preferences and motivations, in order to design an online donation experience that is most attractive to the audience in question.

As an example, Barnardo’s saw a 17% increase in online donations after an extensive study and redesign of its online journey [2]. Key to this project was a thorough analysis of the website visitors, which uncovered preferences and attitudes among potential donors that could then be mirrored in website and user experience design. 



Online Journeys

In order to effectively and meaningfully engage donors online, it is advisable to imagine the donor’s interactions with the charity as a journey. Charities should put themselves in donors’ shoes and aim to understand how the donor might hear or read about the charity, what would make it more likely for him or her to stay engaged. While the idea has already gained traction, with for example a UK fundraising guide available [1], there are also paid services to help charities improve their digital donor journey [2].

Recommendations for designing online journeys:

  • To motivate a potential donor to give, some of the most powerful emotions are empathy and creating a sense of “it could have been me”
  • Rewards are important, but if rewarding/thanking messages appear prior to completion of the donation process, they may actually discourage and disrupt the donation.
  • Incorporate reciprocity as far as possible, to make donors feel engaged as partners rather than purely givers. Most charities also emphasise “the difference you make” in their messaging, with MacMillan Cancer Support as a good example [3].
  • Social validation: tell the donor about actions others have taken and the difference they made [4]. This will help foster a sense of community of people joining together to solve an issue or help someone or something become better
  • Thank you messages at the end of the donation process are of great importance, they should be persuasive (see Storytelling) and can invite donors to take further action for the charity [5]
  • Base every decision on features and design, on traffic data and statistics. Use this data to ensure a donor receives the right type of message through the right channel at the right time. MacMillan Cancer Support reduced their attrition rate by 50 % in that way [6]
  • Touchpoints after the first donation are crucial: charities need to keep up a sense of being welcomed and engaged for the donor through follow-up emails, mail, and to provide easy ways for them to engage other potential donors. Barnardo’s is a good example here - their follow-up email included a survey asking about the donor’s motivations and attitudes, which again feeds into building a better experience and making the donor feel valued [7] 








Click on the image below to see Project 11c in full - PDF format

About the author: The Commission on the Donor Experience

The CDE has one simple ideal – to place donors at the heart of fundraising. The aim of the CDE is to support the transformation of fundraising, to change the culture to a truly consistent donor-based approach to raising money. It is based on evidence drawn from first hand insight of best practice. By identifying best practice and capturing examples, we will enable these to be shared and brought into common use.

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