Distracted by the Donate Button

A standard in the design of many non-profit organizations’ websites is the big, noticeable “Donate” button in the upper right hand corner of the navigation. Non-profits typically need funding, and by placing this call-to-action boldly on the top of every page, their need is made obvious.

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Are these donate buttons always the best idea? I see them so often, it seems that many nonprofits include them reflexively. They may not be thinking about the larger purpose of their websites. I’m curious: Do casual visitors who happen up the website often click on the button and donate ten or twenty bucks just because they see a big “Donate”  button? Or are these buttons just meant for people who already are familiar with the organization? (I mean it. I really am curious. If any of my readers can tell me about the effectiveness of these buttons and who uses them, I welcome any info in the comments below or privately.)

To be sure, the sole purpose of some non-profit websites is to collect money. An easy example would be a website that pops-up after a natural disaster. People know their funds are needed and want to help. Their main reason for seeking out a disaster-relief website will be to give. In such a case, it makes sense for a donate call-to-action to be loud and up front.

But not all non-profit websites exist to collect donations as their primary purpose. A website’s reason for being could be to get the word out to the beneficiaries of their services (such as a community health clinic), to encourage the public to visit their events or facilities (such as an arts organization or a museum), to spur political action, or to educate a community about a cause.

Larger non-profits employ directors of development whose job it is to solicit significant funding from philanthropists and corporations. Large donors are unlikely to use the donate button on a website. For such donors, the button might just be clutter or maybe even something more negative.

I’m not arguing that nonprofits shouldn’t attempt to solicit funding through their websites. But perhaps, the donate call-to-action should be made less obtrusive in certain cases. Sometimes people are turned off by insistent solicitations, even if it’s for a good cause.

The deeper issue is that a website often must serve a number of purposes. If the “Donate” call-to-action is too brash and loud, it might overshadow the other purposes of the website and make it harder for the organization to fulfill its mission. And when a nonprofit is successful at fulfilling its mission, it creates a strong foundation for soliciting more funding.