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As more and more charities begin integrate online programs with direct mail, it’s crucial that you make it easy and simple for donors to quickly access your online donation page.

On every piece of printed collateral where donations are solicited, make sure to include your website URL (that’s the website address that you type into your browser, or as it’s called in web speak, the uniform resource locator). Make it easy and simple for donors to access your online donation page.

Let’s use a case study of AWESOME Charity to flush this out. Here are three URLs that AWESEOME Charity might possibly use to promote its online donation option on printed materials –


Speaking specifically to direct mail, I can’t tell you the number of reply coupons I’ve received that don’t provide a website address. And if I’m lucky enough to be given a URL, it just directs me to the general website and requires me to search for a difficult-to-find donation page (option 1), or I’ve been given a URL that under no circumstance I will ever be able to remember or accurately type (option 2).

Which URL option should you use?  I hope that you’re leaning towards option 3, even if you don’t know why yet.

Option 1 –

This option directs donors to your website landing page. Hopefully you have a very large donate button, or have somehow made it very clear at a first glace where a donor needs to click to make their gift to your charity.  Tips for optimizing your landing page deserve an entirely separate blog post, maybe even a workshop, and that’s why I don’t recommend simply providing your charity’s main URL on your donation materials.

Think of your donor’s journey.  They are so inspired to make a donation once they’ve read a moving piece they’ve just received from you that they take action immediately and go to your website.

After logging in to their computer and opening up their browser, they type your URL.  When they arrive at your landing page they begin to look for the donate option, or maybe they become distracted by other content.  In all likelihood, they can’t immediately find where to click so they guess and after a few trial and error clicks, they may finally stumble upon the donation section of your site.

Within a few more clicks, if they’re lucky, they find your online donation form and fill out their information.  But many of your donors likely get so tired of clicking and not finding what they want, that they give up.  If you’re lucky, maybe they’ll come back later or respond to your ask via mail at another time.

In website usability, there is a design tenant called the 3-click rule.  The basic premise is that a user should be able to find what they want within three clicks otherwise they will become frustrated and abandon what they were trying to do.

Most charities do not have programs and services that demand an overly complex website, but the majority are so poorly designed because that’s not been an investment focus.  We’re busy doing social good.  We’re not necessarily focused on communicating how well we’re doing our social good.

That’s why it often takes way MORE than 3 clicks to actually find the donate page.  The 3-click rule is a little arbitrary because a well-designed site can take a user happily upon a journey of many clicks, but if we’re talking about charities and online donations, there’s no reason why I should have to dig or click a million times to make my charitable donation.

Don’t lose donors on the donation journey. If you don’t have control of your website design and architecture, you need to work with what you have and make it as easy as possible for your donor to get to your online donation page.  This is why I don’t recommend putting only your organization’s URL on printed fundraising material.

Option 2 –

In theory, the charity that includes this URL in their printed material has the right idea in mind – let’s take the donor directly to where they can make their online gift on our website.  It’s just the execution that’s sorely lacking.  Will you ever be able to remember this URL?  Will you ever be able to accurately type in this URL?

Depending on how your website functions, as you click deeper and deeper into its inner workings, you may have a longer and longer URL pop up in your browser.

Alternately, many of us do not create, host and manage our own online donation portals.  There’s no shortage of third party solutions available that allow you to have a custom-branded online donation form, hosted on a secure site to automatically issue electronic tax receipts. These usually result in the production of a very long and awkward URL.

Don’t lose your donors before their donation journey begins. If you can’t say the URL aloud in a way that makes sense and in less than 10 seconds, don’t use it. That’s why I recommend that you never put this kind of URL in print.

Option 3 –

In order for your donors to be able to quickly find and complete your online donation form, you should create a URL shortcut (or what is also called URL redirection or URL forwarding).  This is how you work around option 2.

An ideal redirect will consist of your organization’s URL followed by a forward slash and a short action-oriented directive term, such as the word donate.  Hopefully your charity wisely chose its website domain name in the first place so that it’s clear who your organization is and it is aligned with your branding.  The second word you choose should be clear and directive.  I should be able to discern when I see the URL printed on paper who it belongs to and where it is taking me.

Now that you’re convinced that you should create a URL redirect to your online donation place, let’s cover the how.

Talk to the person who manages your website.  It can be very simply created in the back end of your website.  You need to let your website/IT/communications person know what you want the URL to read and where it should be pointed to.  This can be created in the time that it takes to type in the new URL – a generous minute at most?  And, for the grand cost of $0.

What you don’t want to do is create a URL shortcut via a third party site such as owly or bitly.  While these are fantastic options for creating shortcuts for sharing information, they do not allow you to personalize your URL with your reputable charity’s name.

What are you waiting for?  It’s time to review your organization’s fundraising materials, get your URL redirect created, and make sure it’s updated on your next print run.