Donation Page Best Practices: Use the 6 Principles of Persuasion

I’m going to start by stating the obvious: running a successful donation campaign is not an easy task. You need to convince people to give their hard earned money for something that doesn’t necessarily benefit them directly. The amount of information people need to deal with on a daily basis is so overwhelming, it might seem impossible to grab their attention. In this post I’m going to show you 6 principles you can use to make your next donation page more persuasive than ever.

I find Robert B. Cialdini’s Influence to be one of the easiest and most fun reads about human behaviour. Don’t let the title deceive you, the book is not about some diabolical plots on how to force people do things they don’t want to. Rather It explains the factors that drive our decision making in life. I think Cialdini’s book aged very well, as you can easily recognise marketing techniques used by our favourite services today.

Before I start talking about using Cialdini’s six principles to build a great fundraising campaign page, I’d like to emphasise that Cialdini never claims that we humans are robots, who respond with automatical behaviour in every situation.

“A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do.”

Please take this into account when creating a donation page. It might go without saying, but you always have to give your audience a good reason to give you their money. You should consider describing what each available donation amount can achieve, as seen on Imago’s website. Also make sure you talk about the impact of your campaign and use a simple chart or graphic to explain how you use the money. Be accountable at all times.

The Protect Our Winters initiative clearly accounts for the donations they received

Having said that, there are certain situations when we face difficult decisions and we look for mental shortcuts. Giving a donation can be like that, as we need to weigh a lot of information. This is when utilising the 6 principles of persuasion can become very effective.

1. Reciprocity

“Simply put, people are obliged to give back to others the form of a behavior, gift, or service that they have received first.”

Provide something free to people and expect that they will commit to make a donation. It’s always a good idea to emphasise the work you do for the cause your audience cares about, but you can also think in terms of things that directly benefit them. Produce a free e-book or other useful material. People will be likely to reciprocate your efforts with actual donations.

You can also give a small gift to your donors or try to think of a way to acknowledge them. You can make a list of your donors on the donation page. Your small offerings will nudge your donors in the right direction: they will be more likely to donate again.

WWF offers a small thank you gift to donors

2. Scarcity

“Simply put, people want more of those things they can have less of.”

I’m sure you have seen this one before: you are trying to book a flight and you see that only 2 seats are available at the price. The seat has become more valuable, you don’t even think anymore just reach for your credit card.

You can utilise this method for donation pages just as well. Think of providing limited offers, such as matching donations for a certain amount of time. Countdown clocks work very well on donation pages as they give a sense of urgency to the user.

The World Jewish Congress website urges donors with a countdown clock

3. Authority

“This is the idea that people follow the lead of credible, knowledgeable experts.”

Use an authority figure. Try to understand your audience and find out who do they respect as an authority figure. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a celebrity, you can think in terms of professions. If you are running a nonprofit for health, you should probably ask a doctor to be the face of your campaign.

It’s also a good idea to reference several experts who can help your cause by endorsing your activities.

Pencils of Promise teamed up with rapper Lil Jon to boost their fundraising campaign

4. Consistency

“People like to be consistent with the things they have previously said or done.”

Try to ask for a smaller commitment first on your donation page. Filling long forms can be a chore, so make sure you don’t start with that. Let people select the donation amount first. That’s a relatively simple task. After they made that first commitment, they will be more likely to follow through and complete the donation funnel.

It can be also beneficial to find people who have already interacted with your social media content in some way. Don’t call them out, but you can gently remind them that a like won’t change anything in the world. The fact that they have already expressed their sympathy for you cause will more likely persuade them to make a donation.

Obama’s famous donation page started with selecting the donation amount first

5. Liking

“People prefer to say yes to those that they like.”

What do people like? They like people who are friendly and similar to them. Make sure you understand your audience and emphasise their belonging to the group you represent. Try to use a friendly, conversational tone and use friendly, likeable imagery.

No matter how serious the topic, water.org is using positive imagery

6. Consensus

“Especially when they are uncertain, people will look to the actions and behaviors of others to determine their own.”

Try to get reviews from former donors. Ask for kind words, a photograph or even a video. Food for the Poor is using video testimonials to build trust. Make sure your donors are OK with you displaying their names on your website. This is when acknowledging people as reciprocation will come handy again. If people see that people like them have donated money, they will be more likely to donate themselves.

Oxfam displays reviews and certifications on their donation page

I hope these suggest will help you make your next donation page even better and raise your conversion rate. I think it’s always a good idea to learn more about people when you want to design for them. If you’re interested in the topic, here’s a few essential books you should read:

In case you don’t have the time, we can help you out. At Evermore we have more than 10 years of experience working for nonprofits and help them work for their cause. We have created several donation pages as well as other digital solutions for organisational governance. If you have a project in mind, don’t hesitate to get in touch.


I used quotes in this post from the website of Robert B. Cialdini’s IAW foundation. For the featured image I used icons by Hea Poh Lin from the Noun Project.