The First Rule of Business

My friend Rory, who has made a good living selling medical equipment, shook his head describing a failing company. “They violated the first rule of business,” he told me. “Make it easy for people to do business with you!”

When I look at the websites of a lot of small nonprofits, I’m struck by how often organizations violate this rule, at least on the donations side. Most of the sites are fairly welcoming to clients, but donors and prospective donors have to hunt all over to figure out how to provide financial support or to connect with the staff members who can help them with donations.

While overhauling websites is a significant project for smaller nonprofits, a few simple changes can make all the difference for you.

1. Put a “donate now” button on the home page. And also on the “Ways you can help” page. And on many other pages, too. If people are flipping through your site and are suitably impressed, make it easy for them to do business with you. Click! Donate!

2. Work to have your credit card donations page (where people go after pushing the “donate now” button) align with the look and feel of your overall website. Some people drop away because suddenly they find themselves in a generic PayPal site and they feel lost or disoriented. They’re afraid to give their credit card number. They log off before they make the gift.

3. Show the name and face and contact information of the staff member they can call or write with questions. Don’t direct them to an “info@” email address and a central switchboard number. Keep it personal. If Gina Capelletti is the Director of Development, have Gina’s photo, her direct line phone number, and her email address right there on every page having to do with donations. Again, make it easy for people to connect with you.

4. Suggest gift amounts, indicate which gifts put donors into the Leadership Circle, let them know what a gift of a particular size will provide, and allow them to choose among programs to support. In other words, turn the very act of donating into an activity that is educational and makes donors feel more attached to your mission.

5. Don’t dwell on how much of the gift is being siphoned off by the company processing the credit card gift. It’s common to see sites that encourage donors to add 3% to their gift to pay for the processing fee.  Personally, I think that’s a turn-off. Stores don’t ask you to pay extra to cover their fees on a credit card transaction. Neither should nonprofits. People already assume there’s a processing fee, and making that explicit turns away more money than the extra payments would bring in. I’m all for transparency – but in this case, silence is golden. Keep the focus on the mission and the donors’ generosity, not how much their gifts are costing you.

6. In the email thank-you sent immediately to the donor for an on-line gift, be sure, again, to provide a contact name and information. And then follow it with a traditional letter. (See my post “Keeping the Glass Filled” for suggestions on thanking people properly.)

A store on Main Street displays its items clearly, turns on its lights, unlocks the door, greets the customers (ideally by name), speeds them through the cash register efficiently, and thanks them for their business. They make it easy. The best on-line retailers do it as well – only 24/7. Nonprofits need to be even better than the retailers. After all, if people need winter boots, they’ll buy winter boots… somewhere. People don’t really need to donate to charity – it’s purely optional. Make doing business with you easy. Don’t create speed-bumps in that process. Don’t play hard to get.

Copyright Alan Cantor 2012. All rights reserved.

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1 Comment. Leave new

  • Ellen Koenig
    May 7, 2012 9:14 am

    Great advice, as usual, Al. It’s important for us all to take a look at our websites from the eyes of someone checking out the organization for the first time.


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