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Jastine Lumbres
by Jastine Lumbres

How To Avoid Common Donation Mistakes

Avoid common mistakes.

Articles and books on donations (the best platforms, how to increase donations, best practices) in the nonprofit world are a dime a dozen. There is no shortage of information on how to successfully approach donations. We here at Elevate Clicks even have our own two cents to offer with our article on how to increase monthly donations. But one thing that isn't always discussed and something that we might even shy away from are the things we should be avoiding in the donation process. Very few of us have the fortitude to address our mistakes, but for nonprofits it can be a very valuable exercise, something we discuss and work through below.


Right off the bat, it is important to work out the kinks in donations long before the process is underway. There are three mistakes your nonprofit could possibly make that you could trip up your organization before you even get to the door:

1. You didn't do your homework.

We're talking classic scenario here. As a nonprofit, you should always be comfortable in the position of a student, always learning about the best tactics or techniques in running your organization. That being said, the idea of a dog eating your homework on donors, new or long-standing, sounds kind of silly.

As with determining your audience in fundraising campaigns or other projects, you should also be aware of your donor base. Invest in donor management software. Using this software, your nonprofit can start with donor demographics and can figure out your donor's giving patterns (or lack thereof). You can learn more about your donor base and figure out what kinds of campaigns a specific donor has given to in the past or what even scares them off from donating. With this information, you can group your donors together and tailor the kind of messages and approaches you can use to encourage them to give.

2. You didn't plan ahead.

Your nonprofit needs to have a game plan from beginning to end, from a team constructed specifically for donations to all the little things in between. Here are a few things you should remember:

• Pick the right platform for collecting donations. We have a few suggestions with our list of best donation websites.

• Have your Thank You letters and emails in place to be sent after the acknowledgement page on your nonprofit website or the third party website your nonprofit is using to collect donations.

• Make sure that there is a recurring donation option to remind donors that there is more they could do.

• Finances are in order so there isn't a hold-up in receiving the money from donations.

Before you even head out the door, test everything out! Test out the donation page by clicking on the donation button, filling out the informational fields, and taking it all the way to the end of the process with the acknowledgement page that pops up after the donation has been made. Take it step further and even test out the Thank You email you should already have in place and doing a final edit of the Thank You letter you'll be sending via direct mail.

3. Your staff isn't properly trained.

You need to be prepared for any occurrences that could happen during the donation process, so put together your donation dream team. Handpick those you feel will be best suited for the task of managing donations when they come, like those who have prior experience in technology and finances. You team should know the entire process inside and out. Make sure that your staff is also well-informed about your organization, programs, and other projects so that they will be equipped in the event that a donor needs help navigating the donation process, would like more information about your organization, or is looking for more ways to contribute. A good team, a well-oiled donation machine, is a necessary tool for donation success.

Asking for Donations.

You've made it out the door and your donation machine is up and running, but there are still a few areas that can suffer during the actually process itself if you make the following mistakes:

1. Your donation forms are a puzzle.

There is nothing more disorienting for a donor than a complicated donation page that is difficult to navigate. To help remedy this, make things easier and reduce the number of fields on your donation form. Eliminate a few fields, such as the one asking for a donor's phone number or even skip the email confirmation step entirely. Only ask your donor for the most pertinent information; the less information your donor has to fill out, the better. Wording is also important on your donation form; Bradley Heinz from the Optimizely blog suggests trying different wording variations on your call to action such as "Support" or "Support (insert project name here)" to give your donation form that extra flair to separate it from other campaigns.

2. You're stuck in the Middle Ages.

Keep up with the latest in technology and in the online world. Start with making your donation forms mobile-friendly. Text to Give software and websites are really taking off. Most of today's donors are constantly on the go; making donations mobile will give donors the ability to contribute anywhere and at anytime. Your website is another place to keep up to date, as a nonprofit with a responsive website has a 34% higher conversion rate as compared to those whose websites are out of date.

3. You're too general or too vague when asking.

Don't be wishy-washy when asking for donations. Define a specific dollar amount for your donors and offer different tiers of dollar giving. Not asking for the right amount means that you won't be able to reach your goals of raising enough money for your cause. Just the act of asking straight out is crucial, as said by Kristin Clarke in her article on common donations errors, "Ironically, this is the most common mistake made, according to [Curtis] Deane. 'Most people don’t like to ask for money, so they talk about the organization, the issue the gift will support, and the wonderful benefits of programs, but they never actually say, ‘Will you consider a gift of $10,000 to support this program?'" When all is said and done, don't be afraid to ask donors to contribute on a monthly basis; include this request (or reminder) in emails, newsletters, or any other content that is being sent out to donors directly.

4. You focus on the money, not on the donors themselves.

Yes, the money you gain from donations is important, but the donors who are giving you their money are equally important, if not more so. Highlight what donors can gain from supporting you: the feeling that they have made a difference. Make them feel like they are a part of your team. Network for Good suggests avoiding using "I" and "We" in your messaging templates, but instead switching to "You" to put the donor front and center.


1. You didn't say “Thank You” in a timely manner.

It’s only polite to show generosity to your donors for their contribution. That being said, don’t lag on your Thank You's. Typically, after donating, the process will wrap with a Thank You message at the end, like with most things when you purchase something online. Be sure to follow up with a message sent to the donor’s email to show a more personal recognition of their contribution. If resources allow, send another Thank You via direct mail, perhaps a card or a signed letter, to really drive that Thank You home, both literally and figuratively. The time stamp on a Thank You message varies from an email 30 minutes after the donation to 48 hours max. We believe that the sooner you thank your donor, the better to really encourage that feeling of having helped a worthy cause. 

Be wary, however, of the tone of your message. Your Thank You message/email/letter should not sound like all of your other fundraising materials. It should be warm and genuine, with a soft invitation to participate or contribute more.

2. You don’t praise or remember those who have contributed in the past.

Don’t forget to recognize those veteran donors or others who have donated in the past. Keep them in the loop and personalize their messages by actually stating that you have been thankful for their help in the past, etc. Gretchen Barry of Nonprofit Easy suggests doing a “donor of the week” segment where your nonprofit highlights a specific person or group of people who have donated within that week. Thank them in a segment on your blog, website, social media, and other channels. She also suggests writing what is called a “wins” blog post that shows what has been done with donations and how successful it has been for the cause. This is something Allan Pressel of GuideStar also encourages, to “tie donor actions to results” so as to give them a boost to give more by including updates on seasonal or quarterly emails.

Side note: Ever heard of Google's nonprofit program?

Did you know Google provides nonprofits with $10,000 per month in free advertising credit? This program is known as Google Grants and it's available to almost every 501c3 nonprofit organization. Learn how we can help you get the most out of the Google Grant program. Click below to get started!
There's a smarter way to do Google Grants.

Jastine Lumbres

Jastine Lumbres
Jastine is Elevate Click's first content writer. She received her BA in English from UC Riverside and Master's in English degree from Claremont Graduate University. She currently lives in Rosemead, CA with her family.

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