The Anatomy of an Effective Donation Form

March 6, 2024

In recent years, online giving has grown by around 7 percent annually.[1] At first glance, that figure might not seem that high — but compare it with overall charitable giving, which has only grown 1 to 3 percent per year,[2] and it starts to look pretty good.

To capture as many online donations as possible, your nonprofit organization needs to have an effective donation form. You’ll probably also need other forms for your organization to keep track of volunteers, event attendees, and more.

The Best Application for Building Forms

Gone are the days when you needed extensive coding knowledge to build a form for a website. Now, there are many options available that allow nearly anyone to have a functional, customized form on their website. Here are some of the most popular applications[3] for building forms:

The Best Application for Building Forms


Jotform offers 10,000+ form templates. Cost-free forms are available (up to five forms and 100 submissions a month), as are flexible pricing plans — and the company offers a 50% percent discount for nonprofits. Jotform uses a WYSIWYG (“What You See Is What You Get”) interface that allows you to drag and drop fields to create customized forms. Once you’ve created your form, all you have to do is copy and paste a line of code into your website.

Jotform Apps’ latest element, Donation Box, makes it super easy to collect donations and integrate them with other 30 payment gateways. The Donation Box element works just like the rest of Jotform’s elements, so all you have to do to collect donations is drag and drop. Jotform Apps’ Donation Box Element, combined with our nonprofit discount, allows you to collect the most donations with the least amount of overhead. 

For donation forms, Jotform integrates with many popular payment systems (including PayPal, Stripe, and Square) without charging additional fees or sending users to an outside website. Jotform has many forms to suit nonprofits’ needs, including contact forms, donation forms, surveys forms, job application forms, event registration, and RSVP forms, volunteer management, in-kind donations, employment applications, and more.

Other Options

While Jotform arguably provides many robust offerings, you have other options for building forms. One is Google Forms. Google Forms offers free forms for Google account holders as well as Google Apps for Work plans from $5 per month. Google Forms are designed to work with Google Sheets to collect, store and share information. Another option is Wufoo. Part of the SurveyMonkey family, Wufoo offers a variety of drag-and-drop forms. Plans range from free (up to 3 forms and 100 entries per month) to $14.95 per month (up to 10 forms and 500 entries).

Keep It Simple

You want to keep your website visitors engaged and prompt them to take action. You don’t want them closing that browser window before they’ve made a donation or other contribution to your organization. If a form is too long, too confusing, too difficult to use, or simply doesn’t work, your prospects might give up on making donations or attending an event.

Consider these dos and don’ts for keeping a form simple:

  • DO make the form easy to find. For example, for a donation form, ensure a “donate” button is visible all over your organization’s website, as well as featured prominently on the homepage. A “Contact Us” form shouldn’t be difficult to find. It should only take users one click to find a contact form. For more information, see the chapter How to Include a Donate Button on Your Website.
  • DON’T bury the form in the website and force users to click through multiple pages to find it.
  • DO embed the form right into your website.
  • DON’T send users to an outside website or third-party vendor. You want your website visitors to feel confident that their money and personal information are being handled securely.
  • DO keep the form short and easy to read.
  • DON’T use any wacky fonts, garish color schemes or slow-to-load graphics.
  • DO use your organization’s logo and other branding (including colors and fonts) in your forms. Jotform’s Donation Box element is fully customizable, so you can easily adhere to your organization’s branding.
  • DO remember to make sure your form is mobile-friendly. For more information, see the chapter Moving Your Nonprofit’s Website onto a Mobile Platform. Consider using Jotform Apps’ Donation Box element, so your donors can donate right from their phones.
  • DON’T forget to give users confirmation that their form submission was successful.

Minimize the Number of Fields in Forms

Nobody enjoys filling out long forms. Your forms should have enough fields to gather the information you need, but they shouldn’t be so long that people won’t fill them out. There’s no hard and fast rule about the exact number of fields a form should have — after all, types of forms and their purposes all vary. However, a good rule of thumb is to include the minimum number of fields necessary, so the form is easy to understand and quick to complete. Don’t give anyone a reason to close their browser and walk away in frustration over a complicated form.

The Components of a Form

A typical form contains the following elements[4]:

  • Structure – this includes the order of the form’s fields, its appearance on the website and the connections between fields.
  • Input Fields – these include text fields, checkboxes or radio buttons and any other fields where users input their information.
  • Labels – users need to know what fields they’re filling out, so be sure to clearly label each field.
  • Action Buttons – an action button is a form field a user clicks on to perform an action, such as a “submit” button.
  • Feedback – this includes any messages the user receives as the result of an action, such as “Thank you! Your donation was received” or “Please provide a valid phone number.”
The Components of a Form

Make sure your form follows a logical flow or structure. Also, ensure the fields are clearly and consistently labeled (for example, to the left of all fields) and easy to read and understand. Try to avoid having optional form fields, but if you do include both required and optional fields, standard practice is to mark required fields with an asterisk (*).

You should avoid having a default value in a field if it won’t be relevant to most people filling out your form. An exception is “smart defaults,” such as the country field defaulting to the United States if most of your website visitors are U.S. residents.

Provide Suggested Donation Levels

Many donation forms offer several suggested donation levels, followed by an “Other” field. Suggested giving levels have been shown to increase average donation amounts by 12 percent.[5] People tend to make decisions based in part on the actions of others, and that includes philanthropic giving. If you log on to a nonprofit’s website and see a suggested giving level of $25, it increases the odds that you’ll give $25 rather than the $5 you were intending.

While you should offer a variety of donation levels, don’t offer too many — between four and eight options is a good number.  If you use Jotform’s Donation Box element, you can add buttons with specific dollar amounts.(Plus, you should always include the “Other” option where users can designate their amount.) Of course, you’ll need to carefully select the right suggested giving levels. Look at the history of online (and offline) gifts to your organization to help guide you. Overall, the median online gift in 2016 was $178. Take a look at the median online gifts by nonprofit sector:

SectorMedian Online Gift
Arts and Culture$156
Environment/Animal Welfare$102
Higher Education$232
Human Services$170
Internation Affairs$141
K-12 Education$276
Medical Research$89
Public & Society Benefit$185
Source: Blackbaud

Your donation form should also offer donors the option of making recurring payment options. If you can turn a one-time donor into a recurring donor immediately, you’ll save your organization time, money, and resources: The cost of acquiring a recurring donor versus a first-time donor is lower, and recurring donors are more likely than first-time donors to give another gift. A monthly donation option can be as simple as having buttons next to the donation field where the user selects “One-time “ or “Monthly.”

Appearance Matters

Although you want to keep your form simple and streamlined, having a few attention-grabbing images can keep your website visitors interested and engaged. This is another way to demonstrate the impact your organization has on its stated mission. Keep the images positive — display the happy results rather than the need for the services your organization provides: Think of a well-groomed animal, happy child, thriving patient or happy senior citizen rather than an abused animal, starving child, sick patient, or neglected senior citizen.

Appearance Matters

Keep in mind your organization’s branding guidelines when customizing your form’s appearance. A consistent color scheme and logo across all your emails, websites, forms, and social media can increase recognition and build trust in your organization, which is important in attracting donations and inspiring loyalty.

Perform Proper Testing

Before you send your form out in an email blast or post the link to a form on social media, make sure your form is working properly. Test the form among staff, being sure to use different computer systems and browsers, as well as mobile devices (tablets and smartphones). Even if the form is working well initially, you should continue to test it regularly to make sure it’s still properly functioning.

If you have a form that’s simple and easy to edit, it should be a quick process to tweak the questions and format as necessary for optimal performance. Again, make sure you choose a platform for form creation that allows you to easily edit the form’s fields even after you’ve created and launched the form.

Follow Up

Make sure to ask for an email address in your forms, so you can follow up with those who have filled out your forms. You can send thanks, newsletters (don’t forget to include that “Donate” button!), notices about events, and more. You can also send a reminder to anyone who didn’t finish filling out a form.

Remember, people who are engaged with your organization want to hear from you. Donor retention and engagement are important. Donors want to feel thanked, asked, and informed. They like to learn about the impact of their donations and to feel like they’re truly making a difference by supporting your nonprofit.

  1. ^ Blackbaud Institute, 5th Annual Charitable Giving Report, How Nonprofit Fundraising Performed in 2016,
  2. ^ Blackbaud Institute, “Online Giving Trends?”
  3. ^ UX Planet, “Designing More Efficient Forms: Structure, Inputs, Labels, and Actions,”
  4. ^ Frontstream, “Why ‘giving levels’ actually increase average donation amounts (and how to use them to successfully fundraise),”
  5. ^ npENGAGE, “5 Facts About Online Average Gift Size”
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