Lessons from Raising $250+ Million

Online Fundraising Design Tips from Aki Braun

Aki Braun is amazing.

Dubbed a ‘Dream Developer’, she’s a true online fundraising genius and has been the feminist/activist/technologist behind some of the most successful online fundraising campaigns ever.

And she brings to fundraising a set of hard-won insights from the real world that are both technical and practical.

Because after you help raise a quarter of a billion dollars, well….you learn some things. 

I had the chance to chat with Aki recently and had the chance to pick her brain on the most important things non-technical fundraisers should know about online fundraising. 

Fundraising for Obama, Mozilla, and Fight for the Future

Aki has had a very cool career. In a way I’ve seen very few people do so meaningfully, she has applied her technical chops to a number of meaningful causes. And she’s been part of some of the most powerful technical fundraising teams ever. 

First of all, let’s be clear: Aki helped elect Barack Obama president. 

And her fingerprints are on a number of projects from that campaign, from Spanish-language tools, surrogate recruitment sites, and the famously successful Obama online fundraising campaign pages. Some of it is outlined in one of my favorite articles, “When the Nerds Go Marching In”.

Just as cool, the brilliance and success of the Obama campaign tech team helped lead the White House to create the innovative United States Digital Service (USDS), which brought designers and engineers from tech companies into government. (And that crew has gone on to do lots of amazing things - stay tuned!)

Aki took her experience with the Obama campaign team and used it to raise money to protect the rights of all of us on the internet for the powerful advocacy group Fight for the Future. In the course of that work, she helped build and test a number of different donation page versions, honing in on the designs that raise the most money.

And on top of both of those incredible experiences, she’s helped raise millions of dollars for The Mozilla Foundation, an important organization working to keep the internet an open and amazing world.

(Aki helped them they A/B test their way to a $3.19 million end-of-year campaign, nearly double their goal.)

Oh, and she’s also spent time at some of amazing payments companies, like Venmo and Recurly.

Did I mention Aki Braun is amazing?

Let’s take a look at what she’s learned in the course of this amazing work. And, specifically, what you can do to raise more money online.

Online Fundraising Design Tips

Over the course of our conversation, Aki shared 3 online fundraising tips for non-technical folks should recognize. And they’re a breath of fresh air for the sector:

1. “Sequence is Everything” 

One of the biggest online fundraising design mistakes organizations make is to present a donation form with too many fields at once

Mozilla Foundation Donate Page (before): Aki Braun

Mozilla Foundation Donate Page (before): Aki Braun

It’s easy to see that this donation page example is poorly designed, but how do we know what a good one looks like? How do we know how to simplify an overly complex form? 

The first step is to eliminate unnecessary fields. And don’t be gentle about it. If you want to design an effective online donation form, anything that gets in the way of getting a person to donate needs to go. If that’s hard to come to terms with, think about it like this…

“Get everything out of the way and just let people give you money.” - Aki Braun

Mozilla Foundation Date Page (after): Aki Braun

Mozilla Foundation Date Page (after): Aki Braun

Once you eliminate unnecessary fields, one of the best online donation design tips is to sequence the process. Rather than showing a donor every field at once, break the process up into a series of steps. This keeps the donation process from feeling overly complex or burdensome, as a person only has to do a couple things at a time. 

Even better? This is a proven technique. 

Aki has seen sequencing the online donation process increase donation conversion rates time and time again.

And while a lot of organizations are working on a hunch with a small number of online gifts, Aki has seen this fundraising technique work on a massive scale. It’s data-backed and proven!

2. “Page Load Times are Huge!”

In fundraising especially, you are what you measure.

But since most nonprofit executive directors and directors of development are non-technical, too many organizations are overlooking otherwise critical insights, such as online donation page load times.

From a tech perspective like Aki’s though, this is one of the most important variables determining donor conversion rates. 

One of the easiest ways to improve your site speed is to reduce the clutter on the page.

Cut down on the things your page needs to load, such as additional images, unnecessary web apps, and videos. Your tech team can do even more but these are important things all of us can do initially.

Because, as Aki said, “Even a millisecond matters for conversions.”  

3. “Bigger. Bigger. Bigger.”

Better doesn’t have to be complicated, right? One of the things Aki has seen make the biggest impact in online donations is simply making donation buttons, fonts, and fields bigger.

What might seem like a frivolous design choice actually has a lot of psychology behind it.

Paired with an online donation sequence (see: #1 above), making the elements of the donation page bigger increases donor comfort before giving, and conveys simplicity and ease - all of which are critical for getting them to give and helping you raise money for your nonprofit.

Online Fundraising Tips from the Inside

Aki Braun has a level of fundraising experience you might never have. But that doesn’t mean we can’t take the lessons she’s learned from raising money for amazing causes and apply them to your own fundraising efforts. By getting a special peak inside how fundraising works from the tech side, you can look at your own online giving process with new eyes and make the changes that bring in even more money. 

Because at the end of the day, she literally helped elect Barack Obama president.

Looking for insights from another amazing tech fundraiser? Check out this piece on Griffin Johnson’s #GiveProgress, dubbed ‘The Amazon for Giving’.