Effective Charity Websites

Charities are big business. Recent figures show that $410 billion was donated to charitable causes in 2017. And technology is playing an increasingly important role in those donations.

“Technology improvements suggest that more charities will invest and create websites in the future, as this is a useful, cost-effective tool for fundraising, recruiting volunteers, publicizing new projects, reporting financial information and performance,” said Derek Nazareth, Associate Professor of Information Technology Management.

To be successful, charity websites need to incorporate certain elements, according to research done at UW-Milwaukee’s Lubar School of Business. Collaborators on the research include Nazareth, Professor Emeritus K. Ramamurthy, and Dong-Heon Kwak, a Lubar School doctoral graduate who now teaches at Kent State University..

Their new research, to be published in the Journal of the Association for Information Systems as well as Computers in Human Behavior, examines the effect of charity websites based on how variables in website design are evaluated by site users.

In an extensive study, they created 24 alternative charity websites and gave study participants a chance to “donate” to these websites.

Several findings came out of the study. A charity’s reputation was based mostly on information-based characteristics, such as mission information, financial information and donation assistance information (i.e., a link that indicates, “how to donate”). The website’s perceived quality was based on factors such as navigational speed, visual aesthetics and security.

The research further delved into the underlying psychological mechanisms at play when donating via a charity website.  It demonstrated the presence of a “halo effect”, the role of “helper’s high”, and the relevance of “schema congruity” in the online donation process.

The halo effect occurs when a participant sees several positive aspects of a website and then assumes that other aspects are also positive. For example, a website that is aesthetically appealing and is easy to use may be perceived to be secure, without any evidence to that effect.

“Helper’s high” refers to the positive feeling a participant reported when donating to the website.  For these participants, the usage aspects of the website proved to be more important.

“Schema congruity” covers the situation where the charity’s appeal mirrored the participant’s own values, whether the charity benefitted health care, education, religion, human services, etc. “If the charity’s appeal matched their values, the participant tended to rate the website as being more warm and competent, regardless of what the website’s attributes are,” Nazareth said.

“Charities not only need to ensure that their websites contain both quality information and aspects such as navigational speed and security to be effective,” said Nazareth. “They must also understand that their websites need to be comprehensive; they do different things for different people. They serve many people at different levels of knowledge and interest in the charity. In the future, as the level of online giving grows, it will become even more important for charities to have websites that will enhance their fundraising goals.”