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How a lack of accessibility is costing you fundraising dollars (and what to do about it).

If you didn’t think fundraising was already hard enough, consider this. Right now, you’re competing with more than 43,000 charities across Australia for every donor dollar.

Some estimates place the figure as high as 60,000, but notes the number includes many registered charities that people don’t consider as ‘traditional’ charitable organisations.

Suffice to say, the landscape is extremely competitive. And for many charities and non-profits, donations and bequests represent the crucial source of income. In fact, donations accounted for 66% of all charity revenue in 2021.

While the pandemic proved financially stifling for many sectors, charities and NFPS on the whole have seen growth. Total sector revenue is at around $174 billion, up from $155 billion in 2018.

The importance of digital channels in fundraising can’t be overlooked here. Over the past few years, when face-to-face fundraising became impossible, online donations offered a way for people to continuously engage in charitable giving.

According to a report by McCrindle research agency—‘Understanding Australian givers to maximise the impact of not-for-profit organisations’—online donations accounted for as much as 45% of people’s charitable contributions throughout this time. The next highest method of engagement? Volunteering, at a much lower 15%.

Important changes in the profile of Australian givers.

There are other changes afoot beyond growth in revenue and increased importance for digital channels. The profile of the Australian giver is evolving.

“Gen Z (78%) and Gen Y (66%) are the most likely to be opportunity givers, significantly more so than their older counterparts. Older Australians are more balanced in their approach, with 57% of Gen X being opportunity givers and 43% being committed givers.”

“The older a giver gets, the more likely they are to be a committed giver.”

We can surmise from this data that while younger givers may respond to one off need-based initiatives—like digital campaigns highlighting specific causes, or eDMs eliciting support for a time-sensitive issue—older givers are much more likely to engage with an ‘always on’ donation mechanism that aligns with their donor behaviour.
This is where the critical importance of accessibility comes into play.

Accessibility is key for everyone, but particularly for older donors.

Put simply, older Australians are a more likely source of committed and ongoing donation revenue. Incidentally, they also account for an increasing share of the Australian population.

If you don’t optimise your site and donation forms to make the experience of giving simple and straightforward for older donors, you’re likely losing out on potential donations.

Here’s how accessibility comes into the picture.

Statistically speaking, older Australians are more likely to develop health conditions that mean they use technology in different ways.

Older Australians may gradually lose motor control. Their vision may lessen over time. They may develop arthritis, making it difficult to use a standard computer mouse. They may suffer a stroke, with impacts on both cognitive and physical ability.

Accessibility means building products to ensure people have an excellent experience of your website, regardless of their need or preference to use different technologies—like screen readers, for example—while engaging with the site.

The question becomes this: what are the indicators of a digital experience that is simple and straightforward for people with all preferences and abilities?

Here are some of the techniques that organisations like Guide Dogs and Animals Australia have used with great success.

1. Provide clear and descriptive labels.

Context is crucial in navigation. If people can’t find their way to—or through—your donation form, it’s likely costing you in fundraising revenue. The same goes for any services or supports you may provide.

Using descriptive labels will ensure that all links accurately reflect the content or function that people will expect when they engage with different aspects of your site.

It’s helpful to think about the content that appears in conjunction with a button or link too. A little snippet of descriptive summary content provides an additional layer of context for what happens once you click a button. This is far more helpful and effective than a nondescript ‘Learn more’.

Screenshot from the Guide Dogs' website, displaying descriptive labels within a navigation module.

In the above screenshot, you can see that each of the buttons to the sections ‘For educators’, ‘For health professionals’, and ‘Make a referral now’ include supporting copy to describe the purpose of, and content you’ll find in, each section.

2. Build for people who navigate the web using keyboards.

Keyboards can be used to navigate the web and various digital experiences. People with conditions that affect motor control will be more inclined to use a keyboard than a traditional mouse.

Again, as in the point above, if people can’t navigate through your site, they cannot support your mission with donations.

Guide Dogs take steps to ensure that all navigation links and menus are easy to access via keyboard navigation by building a ‘focus state’.

This gives people strong, visible feedback when they are about to interact with a button, or a functional element, as opposed to informational content.

3. Use sufficiently contrasting colours.

Using high contrast colours ensures all text and icons used in navigation are easy to identify against the background of your website interface.

This ensures people with certain types of low vision can easily distinguish navigational elements—like menus or buttons—from other content.

Contrast is also important for people with colour blindness. In this context, colour hue and saturation have minimal or no effect on legibility. Minimum contrast ratios are calculated and assessed in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) so that colour is not a key factor, ensuring people with colour blindness have a legible distinction between texts and backgrounds. WCAG offers guidelines to help make web content more accessible to people with disabilities, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language, learning, and neurological disabilities.

Throughout their site, Animals Australia use a colour scheme of light cream, orange, and black. Considered guidelines for the use and application of these colours—which the team outline in a design system—ensure there is always an appropriate contrast.

Screenshots from the Animals Australia website, demonstrating the effectiveness of their contrasting colour palette.

Whether the colour palette is predominantly light or dark, Animals Australia always ensure there’s a high level of contrast for people with low vision or colour blindness.

4. Provide titles and alternative text.

Screen readers, like JAWS and NVDA, are a common form of assistive technology. People with low vision may use screen readers to navigate your site.

Providing titles and alternative text, again, removes barriers to navigation.

The more seamless you can make the process of finding and processing a payment through the donation form—for everyone—the more likely your chance of conversion.

Screen readers pick up signals in the code of your website to provide audio descriptions of certain elements, which help the person using the device to orient themselves in relation to what is on the web page. For example, the screen reader will articulate what is a button and what is normal text.

A title attribute provides a signal to a screen reader, so the device only reads the title you set for a link, rather than the full URL. This makes for more concise and palatable reading, and therefore simpler, more effective navigation.

Guide Dogs also take special care to make all images throughout their website more informative for people with low vision. They do this by configuring alternative text (often referred to simply as alt text), so that people with low vision or blindness understand the intent of imagery used in navigation.

Screenshot from the Guide Dogs' website, featuring a standard text and image module, showcasing an image of two women preparing a cup of coffee.

Images play a vital role in supporting people to understand and navigate through the material on your website. The image of the person making a cup of coffee gives you immediate context around the type of skills you can learn through the Occupational Therapy Service. Titles and alt text provide the same context for people who aren’t able to view the image. Here, it might say something like “Two people stand in the kitchen of a modern home. A smiling Guide Dogs Occupational Therapist supports a Client in learning kitchen skills: specifically, boiling the kettle and making a pot of coffee.”

5. Use ARIA attributes.

Accessible Rich Internet Application (ARIA) attributes give screen readers more context about the purpose and functional state of menus, tabs, and other navigational elements.

This ensures that people using screen readers have the same level of context as a person navigating the website visually.

The Guide Dogs sites feature website navigation and search functionality that is accessed from a ‘menu’ button.

This button has a function to show and hide a large menu, which relies on visual cues. By including a tag—labelled ‘aria-expanded’—we can provide a signal to the screen reader to highlight whether the menu is open or closed.

Guide Dogs also use a descriptive label that provides more context for people using screen readers: an ‘aria-label’ tag replaces the word ‘Menu’ with ‘Primary navigation and search menu’, so people understand the functionality of this element without visual cues.

6. Test with accessibility tools.

There are ways you can learn what it’s like to use a screen reader while navigating your own website. By recreating a person’s experience, you can better adjust different elements of your site, or donation form, in order to make it easier for people to support your mission.

If you have a development team in house, there’s also a range of tools you can use to ensure you’re constantly mindful of—and working in alignment with—the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Tools like Lighthouse, Wave, and axe can be especially valuable in testing and validating accessibility considerations.

Remember though, no program or development tool can perfectly recreate the experience of what a real person needs or wants from your website. You should always strive to conduct facilitated user testing with all people of all abilities.

Guide Dogs has an excellent process, whereby nothing is pushed live to the public without a thorough program of in-person accessibility testing.

This is an excellent way to ensure your website aligns closely with the needs of the people who’ll use it. Beyond that, it also provides a valuable opportunity to learn about additional feature requests or website updates your supporters may be eager to see in the future.

Ask yourself: can you afford to neglect accessibility?

In reality, improving your emphasis on accessible design and development likely won’t change your fundraising fortunes overnight.

It’s more of an accumulative proposition: the more you factor for accessibility, the more likely you are to capitalise on donations you may be missing now.

For an organisation like Guide Dogs—a vision support services provider—accessibility is paramount. So too, likely, for those charities who have any involvement with the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

For everyone else, you really have to ask: when you compete with 43,000+ other organisations for every single donor dollar, can you afford to exclude a potentially valuable market segment?