January 31, 2017

Lessons from Kiva’s most successful donation appeal

Each year, there’s a small window when the holiday season combines with a rush to make end-of-year tax deductions. It’s precisely this time of year that most nonprofits rely on to generate a significant portion of their annual revenue. While at Kiva we’re not as reliant on the month of December as some nonprofits, due to optional donations people make throughout the year, we still raise a significant portion of our annual operating revenue over a short one week period. This year we raised over $1 million (our goal was $800k) dollars from 43,560 individual donors making it our most successful fundraising campaign ever. The results were a whopping 36% improvement on the previous year’s results.

Comparison of before/after mockups for Kiva donation form

So, how’d we do it? A redesigned donation page, combined with one-click donations from within highly targeted emails made up the key elements. Essential to the execution of the design and communication strategies, was the in-depth user research we conducted before placing a pixel or writing a single line of copy or code.

User research helped us understand what motivated people to contribute, what questions they ask before donating, and what barriers stop them from donating. While some of these lessons are specific to Kiva, many are universal to any nonprofit fundraising strategy.

    Kiva promise seal - Kiva never takes a cut of loans, optional donations fund our operations.

  • Reinforce the organization’s value proposition.
    Lenders see a lot of value in Kiva’s model of 100% of funds lent going directly to a borrower. Reminding them reinforces Kiva’s value and the need to separately support the organization with donations on top of the loans they make.

  • People understand nonprofits have operations costs, but…
    Kiva’s lenders recognize there are operational costs to running a nonprofit, but are often unaware how much Kiva relies on individuals to fund these operations (mistakenly thinking Kiva has large corporate backers).

  • Donors want specifics about what contributions fund
    Kiva’s donors highly value transparency and like specifics. While it’s valuable to call out typical expenses (salaries, rent, marketing, etc.) it’s more effective to go a layer deeper (i.e.: “Sending expert staff to over 80 countries to cultivate new partnerships, and perform due diligence and monitoring.”)

  • Thermometer and the number of people who have donated during the campaign.

  • People enjoy feeling like they’re part of a community
    Specifically, donors like to know that others are contributing (see social proof). The redesigned donation form highlights the number of individual donors who had contributed during the campaign.

  • Simple and uncluttered design is appreciated
    During user testing we tested a grid of six buttons with pre-set donation amounts and an input box. While people understood how to use both methods, the buttons were universally preferred, as potential donors liked and expected to have multiple suggested amounts. Additionally, adding beautiful images to the page negatively impacted the experience as it distracted from the input.

  • Consider the impressions of international donors
    Kiva only has nonprofit status in the United States but 40% of lenders live internationally. When donors outside the US saw benefits promoted that only applied to US donors (i.e. eligible for a tax deduction in the US) they were insulted they were not eligible for similar benefits. If possible, target these types of messages to visitors by location.

  • FAQs are a great way to answers common questions
    After talking with potential donors we heard similar questions over and over again such as – “How does Kiva use donations?” and “Why should I donate to Kiva?” We were able to effectively answer these questions, and more, with a list of FAQs directly below our donation form. During user testing nearly every visitor clicked on at least one question which more often than not provided a satisfactory answer, making it more comfortable to contribute.

  • Charity Navigator Four star charity

  • Build trust with external validation
    Potential donors (even those who have contributed in the past) want to know your organization is trustworthy. External validators, like awards from Charity Navigator, or articles from respected media outlets like the Wall Street Journal, New York Times can go a long way in building trust with new donors.

Hopefully you find these lessons valuable. If you work at a nonprofit I’d love to hear if you use similar techniques or have found other ways to effectively drive donations during a campaign.