Fuel Up! 4 Steps to Lighting Your Q4 Fundraising Fire

December 5, 2023
10 minutes

What if I told you that you could walk into the Q4 giving season confident that you're going to beat last year's success?

You'd probably call me crazy with everything happening around us, but hear me out because we're in my favorite part of the fundraising calendar: learning and optimization season!

Before we get started (because this is a looooong article), let's rewind a lil' bit to Giving Tuesday and braid it into our year-end campaign. Here are a few tips to do just that:

The Importance of Digital Fundraising in Q4

Digital fundraising is going to be more important to your success than ever, and right now is the perfect time to set yourself up to have your most impactful giving season yet. 

Throughout this article, I'm going to be sharing testing optimization ideas and examples that have had serious results. Not everything will apply to you, but my hope is that there will be at least one or two ideas you can implement to help level up your giving season success this year. My only ask? If you try something, hit me up on LinkedIn to talk about what you learned—we're in this together, and the more we learn together, the bigger the impact we'll have!

Ok, let's move on to the first and most important part of learning and optimization: getting your foundation right! Every year about this time, a popup reminder comes up on my phone that says, “Put on your socks.”—a paraphrased quote from UCLA basketball coaching legend John Wooden—that reminds me, no matter how “advanced” I think I've become, my foundation must be in order before I can build anything worthwhile.

How do socks and digital fundraising remotely connect to each other? Glad you asked!

Your digital foundation—your technical infrastructure—must be in order before you begin building the best-in-class fundraising program you're capable of.

An honest evaluation of your tech stack starts with a few probing questions:

1️: Is my tech stack working for me or against me? How easy is it for me to make changes to my website? Create new segments? Run split tests?

2: Are my digital platforms built for mobile-first experiences?

3️: When someone comes to my website, how easy is it to make a gift? Is there an easily accessible donation button or is it hidden in my navigation somewhere? How many clicks does it take to get to a giving form?

4️: Have I been wanting to move to any new platforms (giving, CRM, CMS, Email, etc.)? If so, what can I do right now to get that move started?

5️: If, for whatever reason, tomorrow I was no longer at my organization, could someone pick up my work and keep our program running? If not, how can I create a process that is repeatable even if I'm not involved? (This applies to ANY single point of redundancy at your organization or in your fundraising program!) A strong digital infrastructure sets the stage for an optimization program that can:

  • 💰 Add thousands of dollars to your net revenue
  • 🤝 Reactivate lapsed donors faster than ever before
  • 📣 Engage donors in more meaningful conversations and giving opportunities
  • ⌚️ Save you and your team precious time and resources
  • 🛡️ Give you confidence walking into giving season 

Donation Page Optmization Domination

Earlier, I made the audacious leap from socks to your fundraising tech infrastructure. To summarize, your success this season requires a solid foundation. As we get into the fundraising tips to help you raise more with less effort this giving season, it’s imperative that you have a solid foundation to build from. Your technology needs to be reliable and scaleable for you to take full advantage of these optimization strategies—otherwise, you may well find yourself working harder just to keep things running.

Alright, now that we agree that socks + fundraising = insane growth, it’s time for my first fundraising tip to help you raise more with less effort this giving season. It’s time to optimize your donation page!

If you want to get straight to five ✋🏻 winning donation page conversion rate optimization (”CRO”) strategies you can steal, jump ahead now. But if you want to understand the “why” behind the “what,” keep reading!

Why Should You Prioritize Optimizing Your Donation Page?

Why start with donation page optimization? Why not ads or email or content or social? The answer is simple: because every other fundraising strategy culminates on your donation page! Every tactic, strategy, tip, hack, or magic thing you try—including all the other tips to follow—relies on one thing: your donation page being ruthlessly efficient. When you can trust your donation page to convert, then your job gets tremendously easier! It goes from “How the heck am I going to pull this season’s goal off?” to “I know how to make this happen!”

Donation page optimization is the number one way to increase revenue without increasing ☝🏻 effort and ✌🏻 budget. Every percent you increase your conversion rate (total donations / total donation page traffic) is a literal cash deposit 💰 added to your net revenue for the season! But donation page optimization doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t ever stop. That’s why you need to start testing now. You need to know what works and what doesn’t work, so when you unleash the floodgates, you have the same confidence I do that this year will be the best one yet!

5 Ways to Optimize Your Donation Page

Ok—now that the “why” is clear, let’s get into it. Here are five CRO ideas to steal for your own donation page optimization domination:

1️: Remove the image from your donation page. 😱

That’s right—that beautifully designed image you made to connect your donation page with your amazing appeal. Cut it. Studies from the Moore Neurolab have shown that removing images from donation forms increases the conversion rate because there is less distraction from the donation form.

I’ve seen this firsthand:

  • 📈 Increase conversion rate by as much as 100%
  • 📈 Increase revenue (thus campaign ROI)
  • 📉 Decrease bounce rate by as much as 100%
  • 📉 Decrease load times as much as 2-3 seconds (if you want to understand the impact that has, google “how website performance affects conversion rate” and read the Cloudflare case study)

2️: Reduce the Number of Fields OR Implement a Multi-Step Donation Process

It is no secret that we love to gather as much information about donors as possible to “cultivate a relationship.” The form on your donation page is not the place to do it, though.

Did you know you only need two fields to process a gift (credit card number and zip code)? Now, I’m not saying this is the right amount, but I am saying you probably have too many fields on your donation form. In fact, HubSpot published a study a few years ago of CVR across 40,000 pages. Forms with 4+ fields dropped CVR by about 10 percentage points vs forms with 2-3 fields.

Focus on getting the critical gift processing information (CC + Email + Zip) as quickly as possible, then use post-gift opportunities (survey, email, landing page) to append that information.

Another option: A Multi-Step Conversion form. If you have to have all that contact information, create a multi-step process where you gather the critical gift information first and then the remaining information on subsequent clicks—this creates positive velocity and will increase CVR while gathering more information (bonus, it also opens the door for upgrade offers—while I’ll talk more about in my next post!). Funraise has adopted this model for our fundraising forms with wild success—converting 50% of donors who engage with a donation form!

3️: Test New Donation Page Layouts

Your “tried-and-true” donation page layout with a header image, copy on the left and a form on the right? It can probably work better. Try putting your form in a new spot on your page. Move your copy below the form or to a different side. Change where you put badges, quotes, and other icons. Try a new background color. Every tweak you can make has the ability to impact performance. But keep in mind, every layout you try needs to:

  1. Prioritize mobile experience
  2. Make the actual donation form the emphasis
  3. Reduce friction

4️: Test Your Ask Array

One of the most forgotten parts of a donation page is the ask array. All too often, I see organizations defaulting to the standard, out-of-the-box, programmed ask array. If that’s you, it’s okay. Just take this as your invitation to unlock even more hidden potential in your donation page. Optimizing your ask array creates a more personalized giving experience, which delivers double value: increased conversion rate and increased average gift. There is so much to test and learn when it comes to your ask array—enough that I could write an entire post dedicated to it—but we’re going to keep this simple.

Here are the three core ask array options to test:

Ask Order

You can set your ask array to increase or decrease in value. The jury’s out on best practice. Test it to see what works best for you!

Ask Amounts

This one will take the most amount of testing. I like to start by structuring the ask around your current average gift. Have one ask slightly lower, one close to the average gift, a slight stretch, and then a large stretch ask. This gives you the most coverage so you’re not isolating micro donors nor minimizing larger-capacity givers. As you gain data here, you can continue to adjust amounts to bolster your average gift and conversion rate!

Selected Ask Amount

You should be pre-selecting an ask amount on your donation forms. If you’re not, that’s test #1 🙂 From there, experiment with the different ask amounts in your array and see what delivers the highest gift and best conversion rate.

💡OR💡 You can tap into tools like Funraise's personalized giving forms to use machine learning and artificial intelligence to automate this entire process and deliver 100% personalized, optimized ask arrays to every donation page visitor!

5️: Social proof

This tip is one of my favorites, a strategy that’s quickly being adopted from the for-profit sector. Adding “social proof”—things like quotes and rolling donation lists—to donation pages taps into the psychology of “belonging.” People want to be part of a group, particularly a successful group. When you’re able to show potential donors that others have gone before them and had the experience they’re hoping for. It’s why word-of-mouth was such a powerful marketing “strategy” and why influencer marketing maintains a top position in almost every marketing campaign today. How can you test this? Try one (or both!) of these:

👉 Add a powerful donor “testimony” (”I chose to give to organization XYZ because I believe in the mission and see the change in my community it is making!”). Try rotating testimonies, placing them in different locations, and adding them to your donation process—particularly if there’s a stage that has a higher-than-average abandonment rate.

👉 Test showing gifts made in real-time, the threshold of gift you show (ex. only show gifts at or above X dollar amount), the amount of information you share (name, amount, location—obviously without giving away too much information!). Test a donor wall vs. pop-ups vs. a rolling ticker-style display.

Concentric Growth: The Fuel to Your Best Ever Fundraising Season Fire

Congrats, you’ve got your socks on and dominated your donation page! You’re testing, learning, and optimizing at a blistering pace. You’re already seeing results. Now what?

Now, we get to start having some FUN!

With an unshakable foundation and a donation page you can count on, it’s time to start pouring gas on your fundraising fire—it’s time to increase traffic to your donation experiences!

“Sure, let’s just flip the switch. We’ve been waiting for you to explain it.” 🙄—every fundraiser reading this as sarcastically as possible.

I get it; if you had a secret stash of potential donors in your back pocket, you would have cashed in those chips months ago. But let me offer you some encouragement—you’ve been fighting an uphill battle in the past, driving (often unqualified) traffic to less-than-ideal giving experiences built on platforms that weren’t ready to support the strategies you were employing. That’s the beauty of the learning and optimization season—we can still see where we’ve been, but we’re looking at it in the rearview mirror as we race towards giving season success this year!

It’s time to introduce Concentric Growth to your fundraising program. Concentric growth is a strategic framework that helps organizations like yours pinpoint the areas for optimization that will make the next best impact on your fundraising program.

What is Concentric Growth?

Concentric Growth starts by isolating the single most important variable in the success of your fundraising program, then works step-by-step in reverse through your pipeline, optimizing each stage along the way. Believe it or not, we’ve already been following the concentric growth model throughout this article. With your donation experience identified as the most important variable, we started with a hyper-focus on making sure it was 1) brilliantly effective and 2) unwaveringly reliable; now we get to start working back up your pipeline to identify opportunities to increase and optimize traffic!

So, let’s fire up your fundraising engines and start accelerating traffic to your beautiful giving experiences.

Own It: Organic Growth

When it comes to accelerating your donation page traffic, there is no better place to start than with people who already know and support your organization. Here's how to begin tapping into audiences that are already qualified:

Website Optimization:

Your main website is perhaps your best option for quickly increasing donation page traffic. Far too often, though, the traffic you’re bringing to your website isn’t being given a clear path to progress to a giving experience. Here is how you can start optimizing your website to increase donation page traffic.

  • Remove as many clicks from your homepage to a giving experience as possible.
  • Find, then optimize, pages that send the most traffic to your giving experiences.
  • Make your website fast.

Email Optimization:

Your email list is your most underutilized resource; it’s time to tap into it and let the growth start flowing!

  • Create segments. Then speak to each segment uniquely. Show your supporters you know and care about them.
  • Tell stories. Like really good stories.
  • Be bold. Send more email!

Think I'm just talking? If you need more proof that you need more emails, listen to Katelyn Baughan, nonprofit email GOAT, give more info on exactly why you should double down on email in Q4 on the Nonstop Nonprofit podcast:

A good donation experience has to be easy, simple and mobile-friendly. 61% of people are looking at email on their phones nowadays.

Growth, Supercharged: Paid Advertising

You’re doing awesome! You’re dominating this optimization game, and the results keep going up and to the right. It’s finally time to start putting your ad budget to work. Here are a few ways to get started:

Lead-Gen Campaigns:

Grow your list of contacts and supporters to double down on the impact we just talked about. You can generate leads through:

  • Paid Search: Deliver a relevant, valuable piece of content when someone searches for a similar topic. Pro Tip—Use Google’s Paid Search Grant to run these ads so you’re able to leverage this strategy and learn what content performs best before putting any of your actual budget into the channel.
  • Paid Social: Opposite to search, social advertising allows you to proactively deliver lead-gen ads to people whom you’ve identified as ideal candidates.

Traffic Campaigns:

Unlock the full potential of your finely-tuned digital ecosystem with campaigns dedicated to bringing qualified traffic into an amazing (digital) experience with your organization!

Remember, when you’re running this type of program, you want to set up your ad campaigns to be action-based rather than impression-based. You don’t just want to reach a new audience; you want to focus on driving that new audience into action. You’ll pay a little more upfront but see a much higher return on the backend!

Build the right audiences:

  1. Modeled new audiences: Train advertising platforms to find the right people for us by using your existing donor database to show it the type of people you want to reach. Existing supporters (donors: active or lapsed, subscribers, volunteers, etc.): Believe it or not, the best place to start building your digital advertising pool is with the people you already know support you. Site retargeting: Just because someone came to your site and didn’t make a gift the first (or second, or third) time doesn’t mean you’re ready to give up! Bring those qualified visitors back and give them another chance to become a donor.
  2. Capture peripheral search traffic. Find keywords and phrases that work for you beyond the standard brand and “[my-organization-type] + donation” terms.
  3. Reach your audiences: Through targeted display and social ads, testing ad styles and channels along the way

Surround Sound Campaign:

Finally, when you’re ready to combine everything we’ve covered and really blow the lid off your fundraising success, it’s time to launch a Surround Sound Campaign. Surround Sound Campaigns are:

  1. Integrated
  2. Targeted
  3. Multi-Channel
  4. Accelerated

If you want to go deeper on your first surround sound campaign, I’ve got just what you’re looking for!

We’ve covered a lot here. Honestly, more than I had planned. But now you have a roadmap to fundraising acceleration that you can pull from and implement what works for you when it works for you. Start small or dive in. As you're creating your master plan for this fundraising season, here are a few things worth keeping in mind:

  1. Plan for concentric optimization: Start optimizing from the core and continue to work outwards, one step at a time. As you increase traffic to your donation experiences, you’ll have even more opportunities to test, learn, and optimize. Move on to the next level when you feel like you’ve squeezed what you can out of the step you’re currently on.
  2. Remember your fundraising growth formula: 1️⃣ (Accelerated) Volume of Traffic x (Improved) Donation Form Conversion Rate = (More) Gifts to Your Organization 2️⃣ (More) Gifts to Your Organization x (Increased) Average Gift = (Best Ever) Giving Season Revenue
  3. You’re going to “fail”. Some tests aren’t going to work. That’s ok. The only way your optimization program actually fails is if you don’t learn something new. A losing test can often show you more about what works than a winning test!

It's Morphin Time: Power Up Your Giving Season Success!

Your foundation is rock solid, donation page CRO dominated, and are growing concentrically. But now what?

It’s Morphin’ time! (If you’re a 90’s kid like me, you 100% got that reference)

Alright, in all seriousness, it’s time to power up your online fundraising machine!

You’ve done the hard work now to make sure your giving experience is ✨flawless✨ and your foundation is strong 💪🏻, so now we get to take your digital fundraising to the next level—adding tools and features to your donation forms, giving pages, and website to turn your entire digital platform into a lean-mean-fundraising machine!

There are three categories to focus on when it comes to power-ups: some that will make you feel like a fundraising wizard and others that will have you tap dancing to the bank 💰!

There’s a mix of tools, strategies, and ideas for every fundraiser here—whether you’re publishing your first donation page or you’re topping off that beautiful surround sound campaign—grab one or all to level up your giving season performance.

1️: Increase Conversions

The first category of power-ups is all about securing more gifts for your organization. Whether it’s boosting conversion rates on your already 🔥 fire donation pages or creating new opportunities for potential donors to give to you, these are sure to help you make it rain ☔️ this fundraising season.

Multi-Step Donation Forms

Multi-Step Donation Forms have been proven time and again to increase every aspect of the online gift process. From conversion rate to gift amount, implementing a multi-stage donation form will make an immediate difference for you this fundraising season.

Abandoned Gift Retargeting

The not-so-glamorous fact we face in digital fundraising is that most people who see a donation form will not make a gift. But, “if at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again” with on and off-site abandoned gift retargeting. On-Site: When a donor starts the giving process on your donation page but, for whatever reason, leaves the giving page, you want to remind that person of their intent to give whenever and wherever they are on your website. Pro-Tip: Coupling on-site retargeting with contextual giving, you're set to see that hockey stick growth 📈! Off-Site: use digital ads to remind the donors who visit a giving page but don't make a gift about the mission they were looking to support. Use these ads to connect with them wherever and whenever they're online to bring them back to your website to try and secure the gift they'd already started.

Contextual Giving

Also called “pop-up donation forms,” contextual giving turns every page of your website into a donation page. It’s dang near impossible to guess what’s going to motivate every donor to give to your mission. Generosity motivations are unique as the people making the gift. So rather than trying to get everyone through the same progression to a giving page, you can turn every page on your site into a giving experience. This way, you can convert any donor at any time motivated by anything on your site, from annual reports to impact stories, by turning any piece of content on your website into a personalized fundraising appeal! PS: Don’t sleep on the benefits of reducing the number of clicks between motivation and donation form!

2️: Increase Revenue

More conversions naturally mean more revenue, but this next set of power-ups will help you boost revenue with or without increasing total gifts to your organization (just imagine the potent impact they’ll make when combined with the power-ups we’ve already talked about).

Automated Ask Arrays

We’ve already talked about the importance of dialing in your ask arrays in this series, but the #1 hack to improve both conversions and average gift is automated ask arrays. Automated ask arrays customize the ask amount on your giving for to each individual visitor, making the best possible ask based on their giving and engagement history. You’re going to increase conversions because donors feel like they’re being asked for a personally applicable amount, and you’re going to see increased average gifts over time because the amount asked is specific to that exact donor!

Recurring Donor Upsells

We all know that recurring gifts are the holy grail of fundraising. Reliable, consistent funding for you to build mission momentum, what more could you ask for? How about even more recurring givers? Adding a recurring gift upsell to your standard donation flow is a proven way to significantly increase recurring revenue without harming one-time gifts in the process. Pro tip: Combining recurring gift upsell with a multi-step donation form compounds the growth of your recurring program!

Donors Cover Fees

I know, even mentioning this probably causes the hair on the back of your neck to bristle, but hear me out. I’ve been a long-time supporter of the DCF as a must-have tool to increase your organization’s net digital revenue. I get it, though; asking for people to give more after they’ve already been generous doesn’t always feel the best. But think about it.

  • When your donors buy concert tickets online 👉🏻 fees
  • When your donors order dinner to be delivered 👉🏻 fees
  • When your donors buy plane tickets 👉🏻 fees

So, really, the question isn’t “Should I ask donors to cover fees?” it’s really “Who deserves to have fees covered more, our world-changing organization or that for-profit company that could totally absorb the cost but doesn’t have to, so it chooses not to?” You already know what my answer is 😉

But don’t take it from me—here are some numbers to back it up*:

  • Over $8 million given back to nonprofits worldwide from fees covered by donors
  • 90% adoption rate from donors choosing to cover some, or all, of the fees
  • 1.5% effective total payment costs (processing and platform fees) thanks to donors’ incremental generosity.

Asset-Based Giving

You’d have to be living under a rock not to have heard about the generosity crisis we’re facing. Individual giving is down and showing no signs of rebounding. But why? The simple answer? Most of your donor’s disposable income is being eroded due to inflation and the cost of living. They simply have less cash to be generous with.

So, give them an option to be generous out of their wealth vs. their fixed income. Give them a chance to give asset-based gifts like stocks or crypto. You unlock so 👏🏻 much 👏🏻 value 👏🏻 when you give donors a chance to give from their assets vs. their pockets. The beauty of it all? You can make giving a stock gift as easy (sometimes even easier) as giving a credit card gift with integrations like DonateStock and Funraise!

3️: Increase Retention

It’s no surprise to anyone in the nonprofitsphere that donor retention is a critical issue. But it doesn’t have to be—these fundraising power-ups help you keep the donors you’ve worked so hard to start a relationship with!

Automated Recurring Gift Renewal

We just talked about the value of a recurring gift, but what happens when the credit card used for the recurring gift is set to expire? Updating expiring credit cards, traditionally a frustratingly manual process causing an unnecessary amount of recurring donor churn can now be automated and frictionless for both donors and fundraisers!

Automated Communication and Relationship Management

No matter how great you are at your job, and I’m willing to guess “rockstar” isn’t far off if you’ve made it this far, you can only do so much in a day. That’s where you get to amplify your impact through automation. From activity-based triggers to automated communications, the right technology helps you get even closer to the dream of 1:1 engagement at scale.

Clearly, there are tons of options when it comes to powering up your digital fundraising this giving season. But I promised that I wouldn’t only help you have your most successful fundraising season, I promised to help you do it while maintaining your sanity. So here’s my final fundraising hack for you to crush your fundraising season goals: Get Funraise.

Every single power-up mentioned here is powered by the Funraise platform, and I’ve just scratched the surface. Funraise helps organizations raise more online and grow faster, all with less effort from essential fundraisers like you. Make the most of this fundraising season this year by powering up your fundraising.

* Note: This data is a two-year look at Funraise-specific data. When you extrapolate this data across the entire industry, the impact is quite staggering.

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