Encouraging Planned Gifts Through Targeted Websites | Sharpe Group
Posted August 1st, 2013

Encouraging Planned Gifts Through Targeted Websites

As donors become increasingly comfortable with a variety of new communication technologies, it has never been more important for an organization to maintain an efficient and readily accessible online presence.

Online services designed to facilitate more effective planning of charitable gifts are one of the many tools that development professionals now have at their disposal to provide donors with resources that they can easily access along with their advisors, family members and other participants in the gift planning process.

Both current and potential donors can use an organization’s online gift planning resources in a multitude of ways. They can learn about more effective ways to make immediate and future gifts while initiating contact with development professionals when desired. Those considering a gift can learn how others have created lasting legacies as they consider how they might create their own. Ultimately, the ability to implement a full communication advisors and development staff is key to a successful online gift planning presence.

Targeting the right audience

The primary audience for online communication surrounding gifts as part of a donor’s estate plan is the 65+ age group. A study of thousands of estates in the Sharpe KnowledgeBase reveals that the vast majority of estate plans that actually result in gifts are completed by those in this age group.

It is important to note that the majority of Americans over 65 have just recently joined the online community. For those over 75, high-speed Internet usage is only in the 20 percent range, so a mix of communications is still vitally important. This maturing demographic should benefit from all channels of a development team’s communication plan—regular mail and other communications, telephone contact, personal visits and group gatherings.

Presenting effective content

As baby boomers age, the 65+ demographic will continue to increase its online presence. Nonprofit organizations and institutions should thus understand both the importance of offering online content that is targeted to a more mature reader, and also be aware of the most effective ways to do so.

A recent study by Nielsen Norman Group (www.nngroup.com) of the online habits of senior Internet users reveals these important observations:

  • Tasks related to personal finance and retirement are among the top online activities of the 65+ age group.
  •  Internet users age 65 and older take 43 percent longer to navigate websites than younger users.
  • This user group is also quick to become discouraged when confronted with confusing navigation tools.
  •  Seniors score significantly lower than others on vision, dexterity and memory tests. Given these findings, special steps should be taken when designing websites for users over age 65.

How much “flash” is too much?

There are many increasingly sophisticated ways to present online content that appeals to the savviest users, but it is important to be ever mindful of the average skill level of an older target audience. Website designers can understandably be tempted to create innovative, “flashy” ways for users to navigate gift planning content. But instead of resulting in increased appeal, the website can quickly become too daunting for the older demographic. As eye-hand coordination slows, using a cursor to “thread navigational needles” or fingers to touch a screen in just the right way can become a negative and cause a frustrated user to leave the site.

An organization’s gift planning website should instead be simple, clear and easy for older individuals to use. When considering a site’s design, the physical challenges this demographic regularly faces, such as a decline in acute vision, arthritic joints, hearing loss, reduced short-term memory and poor eye-hand coordination, should be taken into account.

  • It is important for the site to be easily accessible from your main website. Don’t expect seniors to understand the need for or the sequence of multiple clicks to find your information.
  • Use simple font styles and basic colors so that the targeted demographic can clearly read the message no matter how “dated” the approach may seem.
  • Avoid bright backgrounds with reversed text.
  • Use a minimum font size of 12 point, but know that studies show that 14 point is ideal.
  •  Avoid multi-level menus and complicated navigation.
  • Scrolling through a longer single page of text is better for seniors than clicking through layers of truncated text. Information that is easy to scroll and read is much more appropriate and effective for seniors than information that has to be found through multiple clicks.

Measuring success

Feedback from users is important. Analytics are important. Research is important. But no single metric can exclusively determine a planned giving site’s success. Planned gifts ultimately come from donors who are committed to and emotionally invested in an organization to the extent they actually decide to include it as part of their estate and financial plans. While analytics are useful in understanding some aspects of a site’s performance, analysts must ask the right questions to best define a website’s success.

Determining your best course

When choosing how to deliver gift planning content through a website, the latest technology may not always be the best choice. Using a simple, clear approach that easily communicates your message to the senior user can avoid creating unnecessary barriers to achieving your desired results.


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The publisher of Sharpe Insights is not engaged in rendering legal or tax advisory service. For advice and assistance in specific cases, the services of your own counsel should be obtained. Articles in Sharpe Insights may generally be reprinted for distribution to board members and staff of nonprofit institutions and other non-donor groups. Proper credit must be given. Call for details.

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