There’s an interesting post by Columbus, Ohio based patron Heather Brown that chronicles her recent experiences donating to arts organizations via their respective websites. The opening narrative describes a frustrating experience where an attempt to make a small, single donation was stymied by a host of hurdles in the online giving process.
The impetus for her charitable venture was a moving concert experience, but everything from required registration, through process dead ends that require the user to call the organization’s respective office during business hours prevented a successful giving experience.
Normally, these hurdles would have caused her to walk away but she pressed on too see if her experience with this one site was unusual. What she discovered was most groups don’t make it very easy to donate online and if it were any other situation, she would have given up.
The process Heather described is called conversion, or how often a site visitor performs a desired action; such as buying tickets, engaging in a social share, or making a donation.
Within the orchestra field, something like online donation conversion is influenced by a few key points that more often than not, are misunderstood.
Your Website And Payment Gateways Are Not (Necessarily) The Same Thing
To really understand donation conversion, it is crucial to recognize that although users enter the donation process via your website, the actual journey and completion take place elsewhere.
The latter stage of the process is handled by a payment gateway, which is often integrated into an organization’s online box office process. For example, box office providers such as Ticketmaster and Tessitura design the processes which influence a donor’s online giving experience and in many instances, the actual web designers are completely removed from the process.
This isn’t a bad thing, and in some cases it can be very good, but there’s value in comprehending the distinction.
Case in point, Heather mentions being required to register an account in order to make a donation. This is a point in the process dictated by the box office provider, it adds additional steps to the process along with multiple page loads and every step decreases conversion rates. So in this regard, less is definitely more.
[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]”We were wrong about the first-time shoppers. They did mind registering. They resented having to register when they encountered the page.” – Jared M. Spool from The $300 Million Button.[/quote]
Back on 11/16/2009, I published an article about this very issue and referenced a study from that time by James M. Spool titled The $300 Million Button which discovered that online retailers lost sales by requiring customers to register before making a purchase. Instead, simply adding a single button at the end of the credit card and related info capture process asking the user if s/he wished to create an account for future use increased overall sales.
The Other Woman
Although nonprofit performing arts organizations have been comparatively slow to pick up on these mainstream best practices, I can say that as an arts organization focused web provider, who is not a box office provider but does offer basic e-commerce functionality, I am seeing more and more users inquire about implementing a donation process outside of the one supplied by their box office provider.
Even though they know that it usually means they will have some sort of ancillary payment gateway fees and they will have to likely need to manually enter the donor’s info into their CRM database, many still find it worthwhile because they know the current payment process is a conversion killer for small donations.
Admittedly, it feels a bit like being the other woman but in the end, I’m decidedly not after any box office provider’s business. If that’s what I wanted to do, I would have done it already but I want my clients to be happy with their box office providers because it makes my job easier; at the same time, I want my clients to be happy with their overall online presence so if that means setting up a simple two screen process so a patron can make a donation in less than two minutes, that’s what I’ll do. The real kick in the pants here is it is actually pretty easy to set up.
In the meantime, give Heather’s post a read; she promises additional installments so it will be interesting to see what else she observed in her online donation travels. Spoiler alert: she loathes Ticketmons…err…master.