How adjusting the default really impacts online fundraising

Playing with the default donation amount has been really important in our new website, and it turns out it’s really effective.

In a previous post, I shared the fundraising increases resulting from the new and improved website, some quite astonishing numbers. I want to tell you a bit more about the work that we’ve done, and I’m starting with the defaults.

So here’s an interesting graph:

graph showing development of donations given.

Development of donations given for two given amounts, as a percentage of total donations given (online)

The black line represents donations to the amount of 250 NOK ($42.2, €31.74, £26,7). and the green line represents donations to the amount of 500 NOK ($84.4, €63.4, £53.4). The graph shows how big a percentage of number of given donations each of them has compared to the other. (Note that Norway is a high-cost country, so these one-off donation amounts are not as high to us as they might seem to some of you from other countries)

When we first launched the new site back in september 2012, the default amount – our suggested donation – was 250 NOK. Not a bad donation at all, and definitely not anything that would scare anyone away. Other suggested amounts in the drop down-menu in the donation forms were 500 NOK, 1.000 NOK and optional, but 250 was the one visible without pressing the drop-down.

DOnation form wiht 250NOK default

Donation form

As you can see, for the first few months the two amounts 250 and 500 danced around each other in a fairly even share of the total. But in January, we saw the number of 500-donations go down. In hindsight, I believe this to be because the first couple of months were leading up to Christmas. I believe we had a lot of visitors who gave larger donations, because they felt generous at Christmas, and wanted to make a “real” contribution “this once a year”. But when Christmas was over, people reverted to giving our suggested amount – 250 NOK.

Ask for more?

It’s a really scary thing to ask people for twice the amount you’ve previously been asking for. But with, among other things, Adrian Sargeants research on donation amounts, his cases about radio fundraising, inspiring us – we wanted to se if we could indeed ask for more. And we could see from our data that some people were still giving much large donations, while those we hypothesized where “drop-in”-traffic were giving the default suggested amount. So we took a leap of faith and put the default at 500NOK in May of 2013.

I was petrified. I feared angry phonecalls from people wondering who we thought we were demanding outrageous sums from people. I feared conversion rates sinking through the floors. I feared putting people off and chasing them away. I listened for the sound of the approaching stomping feet of a hoard of donor care representatives, demanding my head on a stick.

But lo and behold.

graph picturing the percentage of 500NOK gifts shooting up when the default is changed.

Look what happened when we changed the default

Nobody noticed.

Yes! Ask for more.

Instead, they started giving the now suggested donation amount. The green line soared like a very pretty donation-eagle on it’s way to deliver more money into the hands of cancer researchers.

We’ve been monitoring the numbers closely since the change, seeing if maybe other amounts are dropping as a result. Maybe someone not willing to give 500 would now give 100 rather than 250. Maybe someone wanting to give more than 250 would now give 500 rather than 750. But that does not seem to be the case. The only thing this does indeed seem to be impacting, is the amount those who choose the default give.

If you haven’t tested your suggested donation amount in a while, I urge you to do so. Take a look at your data, see what people are giving. Find out what your optimal suggestion is. It’s probably more than you think. Remember that people online for some reason seem to give higher average amounts than offline.

Test it. Monitor the result. And raise more money for doing good in the world 🙂

P.S.: I want to say again that amazing web agency Netlife Research are the ones responsible for our new website They are truly the best at what they do, and I love working with them. Their design expertise combined with our fundraising knowledge is a great combination!

* This is part two of a series of posts chronicling this case study.
Read part one: How we doubled our website fundraising
Read part three: Eliminating the paradox of choice in online fundraising


2 thoughts on “How adjusting the default really impacts online fundraising

  1. Pingback: Eliminating the paradox of choice in online fundraising | Beate thinks out loud

  2. Pingback: How we doubled our website fundraising | Beate thinks out loud

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