A couple weeks back, Alia wrote an important post about the urgent need to communicate clearly with donors. Allow me to pile on, with a particular focus on the lost art of using your website as an important fundraising tool.

Back in the Jurassic Age of the Internet (late 90s), user testing was a thing. We would begin the design process by asking our prospective visitors what they want and why they are coming. And ideally, we’d invite 5 or 6 folks to actually try to navigate a prototype. In the best of circumstances, the result was easy-to-navigate websites where the most-demanded stuff was prominent.

Somewhere along the way everyone seems to have dispensed with that. I’m honestly not sure why. The result has for many groups been a web presence that is all about how we want to see and talk about ourselves rather than how we want to engage you. One pernicious aspect of this is unintelligible text. A recent client’s About Us page scored ‘post-graduate’ on the Hemingway Editor. According to that resource anything that scores over Grade 9 is problematic. Something that scores ‘post-graduate’ borders on unreadable. This is a costly mistake if the goal is to inspire giving, and it’s a mistake we see committed every day.

From a fundraising viewpoint, you want to speak to the donors’ cares and passions and do it in plain language. Alia reminds us to avoid throwing everything you do into your ‘About Us’ copy (last we checked ‘About Us’ and your financials are the two places prospective donors are likeliest to visit.) And you have to do it in the language of ordinary humans.

We’re so caught up in our own language of policy-speak or activist-speak that we often miss the fact that we are talking past the people we really want to reach. So here is one more tip to add to the list Alia set out:

Test your web copy with your target audience. It only takes three or four 20-minute sessions with donors or prospective donors to surface major problems. You don’t need to hire someone to do it. Just ask the donor to perform a task, such as deciding whether or not to make a gift. Are they inspired? Are they turned off? Can they find their way around?

Websites seem passe, perhaps especially to the millennials and Gen-Zs who are in charge of your site. Keep in mind that most of your donors are predominantly older Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers. We believe your site is still fundamentally important to fundraising, not only as a transaction portals but as a place to ‘seal the deal’ with someone who may be thinking about making a substantial gift.

Why do you think websites are failing at the job of engaging donors? We’re curious and would love your thoughts!