A question that I get asked all the time, is ?what is the average conversion rate on a non-profit website??. I can?t count the number of times I?ve had this discussion. And my view is always the same;?there is no such thing! I get it, the wish for a standard to compare your performance to that of others, I do. But what I?ve found is that such comparison is impossible, and more often that not hurtful rather than helpful. There are too many variables, it?s almost always apples and oranges.

Like ? what are we even calculating conversion rate of and from? You would need some pretty damn similar conditions to even make a number work. I?ll get back to this point.

There are reports, of course, from various service providers and studies done. Some say?industry standard conversion rates are 18%. Some say?the standard is 9%. Just the big discrepancies between studies, should tell us that these are not very useful numbers.

But inaccuracies is not my biggest concern. Wrong conclusions, and wrong investments, are.

Why comparing conversion rates might make you spend money the wrong place

Say you know the industry standard conversion is 18% ? this is calculated from a stand-alone donation page with a form on it, and nothing else. On your form, the conversion rate is 15%. So now, you will want to invest in improving it. Is that necessarily the right investment? Let?s do some math (don?t worry ? I?ve done the math, you can just follow along and sing a happy song while I?m calculating):

Original scenario
You have 10.000 monthly visitors to your home page.
1% of visitors go to your donation page (100 users)
15% convert = 15 donations / signups per month.

Improved conversion rate scenario
You invest to get your conversion rates up to 20% ? above industry standard even!

You still have 10.000 monthly visitors.
1% still go to the form (100 users)
20% convert = 20 donations / signups per month.

Same conversion rate, improved traffic scenario
Now. Say you?ve listened to me and realised that industry standards on conversion rates don?t exist, and you take a look at your whole online donor journey instead. You realise that you could make some changes to your storytelling pages, to get more people on to the donation forms.

You still have 10.000 monthly visitors.
5% of users now go to your form (500 users)
15% (as originally) convert = 75 donations / signups per month.

So an investment in conversion rates would have given you 5 more donors a month, while an investment in other web things would give you 60 more donors a month.

This is a simplified example, of course, and I don?t think people who look for conversion rate comparisons ignore other factors. It?s just to show how useless that number is, unless you can be absolutely sure that all other factors have been accounted for.

Too many different needs and goals on different pages

But, some say, what if we look at conversions as a total of all people visiting a page, surely we could compare them then?

Short answer: No.

Look at these two different mock-ups, one portraying a page for a cause (a fake water charity in this case), where all they do is raise money. And the other one portraying a page for a disease charity, where patients and next of kin would come for information and support in addition to giving.

This is an image caption.