"Millions, if not billions of dollars are being left on the table" by charities because of poor online donation systems, according to fundraising guru Rick Dunham.
He heads up the fundraising consultancy Dunham and Company, which yesterday released its first "Online Funding Scorecard" study in conjunction with Next After, an advertising agency specialising in online donations.
The study examined practices at 151 organisations that use online giving and gave them an overall percentage score for how well they were doing in attracting online donations.
The process to determine the score involved signing up for each organisation's mailing list and monitoring the contents of the emails that came back in reply. The research team also donated $20 to each charity via links in the promotional emails or the website directly, and analysed the "thank you" responses.
The study found that 127 of the organisations studied scored 75% or below.
The top three scores went to organisations related to:
1. Animal Welfare – 81% score (A)
2. Political Candidates – 78% score (B)
3. Wildlife & Environmental – 77% score (B)
Jewish organisations (68%) and Christian ministries (67%) received some of the lowest scores, together with hospitals (63%) and performing arts organisations and libraries (67%).
The study pointed to a strong correlation between the budget given to a fundraising department and the overall online fundraising score of the organisations.
Organisations that put 15% to 35% of their income into fundraising were seeing overall scores of between 69% and 83%. Those putting in 2% or less were scoring between 56% and 78%.
Practical solutions include making certain donation offers exclusively for mailing list subscribers. This practice was only employed by 16% of the organisations examined, or personalising the "to line", something lacking in 79% of emails sent by the organisations surveyed.
The report recommended keeping in regular contact with supporters and limiting the gaps between requests for donations.
However, there were other points raised by the study. Over a third of organisations did not send a single email within 30 days of someone subscribing to the mailing list and 56% of organisations surveyed did not make any donation requests within 90 days.
While 85% of the emails sent out were formatted in a way that matched the organisation's home page, only 16% of the home pages were optimised for mobile viewing.
And while 99% of organisations understood the vital importance of thanking a donor, 63% did not offer donors a link to a "next steps" page to see the ongoing story of the organisation's work, or to put their donation in context.
"Research has shown that online giving represents only about 6% of total charitable gifts, but this study uncovers the fact that charities put up unnecessary roadblocks to donors giving online," said Dunham.
"This new data, combined with research already showing that more than two-thirds of online transactions are being abandoned.
"Virtually every charity could improve the online giving experience for its donors."