One of the easiest and most overlooked ways to improve your website and your donation process is by putting it through some basic testing. People hear "testing" and often get scared off, afraid they will have to hire some expensive firm to perform weeks of scrutiny. The opposite is true for usability testing; all you need is somebody who isn't already familiar with your website. Your mother-in-law, your neighbor, or even in some instances a coworker from a different department are all acceptable testers. Gather up a handful of people and perform the following three tests, all of which will give you great insight.
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The Friend Test
For this test you don't want to use a coworker so find someone a little farther removed from your organization. Watch how quickly could that person figure out what site they are on, what page they are on, what the major sections of the site are, what the navigation options are and how to get home. Simply watch a person on your site or even a printout of your site and have them answer those questions.
Have your tester go through the process of making a donation on your website. Have them talk about where they are going and what they are doing, where they are having problems or are confused and what they are clicking on and why. This can expose any difficulties a potential donor may have or show you what the overly complex portions of your donation process are.
Give your subjects a hypothetical situation - they have heard of your organization and are considering donating to it, but first they need to get on the website and do some research to see if everything's on the level. Again have them talk through the process, what they like and what they don't, what caught their eye or drew them in, could they find everything easily and what if any information is missing that they were expecting.
In one afternoon of usability testing you can effectively gather all of the information you need to drastically improve your website and gain more donations, for free!
Source: Adapted by Jake Emen from Mark Rovner's Nonprofit 911 Presentation "Website 101 for Fundraisers."
Editor's note: This article was originally published on October 18, 2012 and has been updated.