• WAYMISH Lessons of Year-End Giving Jan 11, 2011

    WAYMISH Lessons of Year-End Giving

    Charitable organizations secretly hate me for this, but I'm one of those people who makes most of his tax-deductible donations at the eleventh hour -- typically around December 29th. Doing so this year reminded me of Ray Considine, an acquaintance I made shortly before he passed away a few years ago.

    Ray, an avid jazz fan like me, could be found hanging around the jazz clubs of Los Angeles and Pasadena, but he also co-authored a little book that influenced a lot of marketers and business owners. Titled "WAYMISH -- Why Are You Making It So Hard (for me to give you my money)?" it details the way that thoughtless customer service policies and practices can actually obstruct a buyer from completing a purchase they have already decided to make!

    The websites of some of the organizations I had placed on my year-end donation list were definitely of the WAYMISH persuasion. You see, it is my contention that the great opportunity afforded by charitable giving online is in capturing donors at the very instant they are in the sway of their beneficent impulses. You have already managed to convince them somehow to give you their money, now all you need to do is get out the way and let them do it! It would not surprise Ray Considine to know how frequently nonprofits unknowingly erect barriers to letting this happen.

    Here are some WAYMISH lessons I took away from my 2010 year-end giving spree:

    1. Don't make me log in, unless I already log into your website regularly. It was surprising to me how many websites insisted that I establish an account and log in to complete my donation. Doing so roughly doubled the time required to complete the process. It also forced me to think about my choice of user name and password -- would I remember them? -- and sullied my sweet altruistic feelings with rumblings of irritation.

    In no case was it clear to me how I stood to benefit from establishing a user account. It would be different, of course, if I regularly logged into a website and doing so called up my personal information, thereby saving me keystrokes. But such was not the case with any of my year-end recipients and it is probably not the case for most casual donors.

    2. Don't make me use a shopping cart, unless you really do treat your donation options as products. I think some organizations use shopping cart systems to collect their donations because they are part of an e-commerce "package." The problem is that shopping carts are designed for shopping -- for purchasing several different items in various quantities. Whereas most charitable giving involves just a single item (the donation) in one of several denominations (levels of giving) plus several related options (premiums, dedications, monthly installments, etc.). Generally speaking, shopping carts are not designed to manage these complex relationships very well and the interfaces they provide tend to be confusing to users.

    In the one case I found where a shopping cart was being used effectively, the organization succeeded by packaging and presenting each of its donation options as a unique product. For instance, with the "travel package" you received a 1-year membership at a certain level, plus a travel mug, plus a world music compilation -- you get the idea. This organization used these product package designations everywhere on the website where they referred to their donation options.

    3. Trap errors clearly and precisely. Error trapping in an online donation form is essential for ensuring that the information you collect will result in a successfully completed payment transaction and a useful new record in your donor database. Required information fields should not be skipped and data types should be validated. (For example, phone numbers must include a minimum of 10 digits and email addresses must include the "@" symbol.)

    But I find it surprising the number of times I encountered forms that did not clearly indicate what was required, or, if I skipped a field, displayed a generic warning such as "All Required Fields Must Be Completed," without pointing out specifically which field I had missed. And I found it absolutely maddening when, because I had skipped a single field, I found that the entire form -- all 2 dozen fields -- had been blanked and I had to go back and start again. E-commerce has been around for more than 15 years --- surely we can do better than that!

    4. Make sure that your website is PCI compliant. If your website offers e-commerce and you are not yet familiar with the term "PCI compliance," then it won't be long before you will be. PCI guidelines are created by the payment card industry (PCI) and enforced my banks that provide online merchant accounts.

    The guidelines are designed to reduce the risk that buyers' sensitive information (primarily credit card and social security numbers) are stolen. They require database encryption, isolation of database servers from web applications and periodic review by independent auditing firms. If your website "collects, transmits or stores" sensitive information, then you fall under some provisions of the PCI compliance regulations. Many people think that as long as they don't store sensitive information, their website is exempt from PCI, but that just isn't true. If a page on your web server simply asks for a social security number, then your website falls under some aspects of PCI -- even if the social is stored on someone else's server.

    Maintaining a PCI-compliant server gives you almost unlimited flexibility in designing your e-commerce processes. But maintaining a PCI-compliant server is relatively expensive and is likely to become more so as PCI guidelines will inevitably become more stringent. Unless your website is all about e-commerce or you do a huge volume of business, you will probably opt for a "gateway-hosted payment form." That is, you collect everything except the sensitive information on your own website, then you hand off the transaction to a page that is hosted by your gateway provider (PayPal, Nova or, for example) where the sensitive information is collected and the transaction is completed.

    Using a gateway-hosted form is inherently inelegant because it divides your e-commerce transaction into 2 parts that are not thoroughly integrated. A skilled developer can work within these limitations to create an almost seamless user experience. In my year-end survey, some sites accomplished this much better than others.

    5. Finally, if you must use a 3rd-party donation website, choose one that reliably and consistently presents and maintains your organization's identity. The reality is that for some very small organizations, there is simply no budget for developing their own e-commerce solutions. For these organizations, there are many websites that provide nonprofits with an easy-to-setup donation interface that can be customized to display their own logos and possibly their own colors. The first problem I found was that some of these sites did not provide a very credible means of integrating my organization's identity -- the organization's logo just seemed to be "pasted onto the page."

    In one case, a more serious problem occurred. Somewhere in the donation process, the host site "lost" the identity of my preferred organization, then required that I select my organization from a seemingly-endless dropdown list. This did not inspire confidence, and it also raised the unfortunate question: Are you sure you wouldn't prefer to give your money to one of these other organizations?

    So here's a good New Year's resolution: Let's take this opportunity to reexamine how we go about taking our donors money and (before December 2011 rolls around) banish the WAYMISH from our midst!