Navigating ambiguity is just one skill among many

Many jobs, especially professional jobs, have some rubric in which you are required to be comfortable with ambiguity, skilled in ambiguity, thrive in ambiguity, maybe enjoy it or love it. It makes sense. There’s a lot of unanswered questions out there, it’s not surprising that some jobs want you to answer some of them.

But there’s risk in holding this up as the standard of succeess, the single skill to grow in. I have been trapped, and seen others trapped, in very unhappy situations, either saying to ourselves “this situation is ambiguous, why aren’t I thriving?” or worse, having others say to them “this situation is ambiguous, why aren’t you thriving?”

Not all ambiguous situations are alike, and your expectation that you can navigate ambiguity, or even your experience of successfully doing it in the past, does not mean that you should either seek out or stay in ambiguous situations.

The key thing about navigating ambiguity: it is a useful skill, it is not the only useful skill. A situation being unusually ambiguous, or being more ambiguous than other places you could be, does not mean that it is the right place for you, a place where you need to force yourself to be in order to be the best you can be, or progress in your career, or make the most difference.

After all, what skills are you giving up or not using while you’re spending all this time navigating ambiguity?

Is there a reason for the ambiguity?

There’s an extreme version of wanting people to thrive in ambiguity that amounts to loving ambiguity itself, and creating it where it isn’t needed. Ambiguity can be necessary and good – the single worst mistake of my career was forcing a decision from a set of alternatives when the bad alternatives were a clue that I needed to spend more time exploring – but it’s stressful. Successfully navigating necessary ambiguity is different from “it’s all ambiguity all the time”.

Is resolving this type of ambiguity a skill you have?

Ambiguity can vary widely. Is this a defensible case or should I plead guilty? Is this skill one I should turn into an income or develop as a hobby or volunteer to teach to others? Is the wind going to move before the fire reaches here? Which of the two warring factions should I have tea with?

Your background, interests, training, support system equip you to navigate some types of ambiguity and not others. I can arrange a workable response team structure to an infrastructure software outage pretty quickly. I can design a passable fundraising strategy for your small not-for-profit and I have a bunch of general skills I can put to use in many situations.

But I am not remotely the right person to turn to in a humanitarian disaster to perform either medical or resourcing triage. I also have no experience navigating the changes in children’s fashion to figure out what your line should be 12 months from now. The mere fact that there’s ambiguity there and I have at times succeeded in navigating ambiguity does not make me an effective person in those situations. If you want to be able to navigate ambiguity better, play to your strengths in choosing what ambiguity that is.

Is resolving this type of ambiguity a skill you want to have?

Maybe you’re in a situation a little closer to your experience than children’s fashion futures are to mine, but still you’re not quite at home in this level of ambiguity. There’s more hurt, more money, more people involved that you’re used to.

Since ambiguity is a useful skill, perhaps this is a situation to stick around in, but you’ll want to have support. Do you have access to training, advice, mentoring? What’s the situation for you if you fail, or do a less than perfect job? Is there a way out if you decide it’s beyond you?

If not, again, you have a decision between whether navigating this type of ambiguity, with this level of difficulty, and this amount of risk, is the skill you want to be developing right now, compared to all the other things you could be doing.

Is this ambiguity one you have the power to resolve?

This is the big one. Regardless of how skilled you are in the domain, or how subtle your ability to draw out the opinions of others, if the structures around you don’t let you be part of resolving the ambiguity you’re going to have a very rough time.

For example, if you are in the midst of a humanitarian disaster, and you don’t have a network of local contacts, transport, communications, and, potentially, defence, there is likely a pretty low limit on what you can achieve even if you have coordinated other disaster responses.

A version software companies often run into is expecting new or junior or solo staff to be able to resolve major problems with the product or its infrastructure without access to hierarchical power (ie an inattentive, disempowered, or non-existent management chain) or a structure of intermediaries to work with. Being able to find and navigate the undocumented and hidden decision-making channels in these situations is a very useful skill but it’s not an easy one. Dragging something great out of this situation may not be a great use of your time and skills.

Navigate right on out of there?

There’s plenty of times that navigating ambiguity isn’t the right match for you, right now. Go ahead and navigate ambiguity by navigating yourself right out the door and into a situation with less ambiguity, different ambiguity, better help with ambiguity, or a focus on a skill that isn’t navigating ambiguity.

Grooming: two case studies

Daniel Mallory Ortberg had Anita Sarkeesian as a guest on his Dear Prudence podcast recently and they answered the following question for Slate Plus members:

Subject: Boss too much

I am employed at my until recently all-time favourite job. I like everything about it. But the number one reason was the relationship I had with my boss. I’m an executive assistant and we have the same toe-the-line sense of humour.

Last week though in the parking lot after a charity event he groped me and asked me for sex. He was very drunk which was why I stayed late in the first place, to be his designated driver. I got out of his car and left immediately after this happened. He followed up with a phone call on the way home, not to apologise but to reiterate his attraction to me.

Now I don’t know what to do. He has promised me and delivered to my predecessor a great promotion to a department of our choice after a few years of service. He’s also at the top of the organisation, only the foreign board is above him. He’s gone back to joking with me having never apologised. I also haven’t confronted him. He was so drunk that I’m not even sure he remembers it.

I have one year until I could be promoted out, as he plans to retire, but my new job is not guaranteed. He wasn’t forceful but he was and always has been highly suggestive. I don’t know what I want to do. What are my best options?

Dear Prudence: “Weapons-grade Pettiness” Edition (offset 47:10 for Slate Plus members)

Ortberg and Sarkeesian went on to discuss various options, including whether or not to involve HR (although without fully diving into the distinct possibility that this guy is the boss of the head of HR) or the board. But they didn’t dive into this detail: “we have the same toe-the-line sense of humour”.

There’s no more details, but I’m assuming this means that the letter writer and their boss do a lot of joking about sex. It sounds like the letter writer assumed, and continues to hope, that this means they and their boss have both a close, fun, sexy, relationship, and a shared understanding of remaining boundaries.

However, that’s not what’s going on. Now that we know he assaulted his assistant, we also know that the sexy jokes were him grooming them in advance of his assault.

Grooming is a technique used to prepare a future abuse victim to be accepting of abuse: gradual pushing of the future victim’s boundaries, encouraging the future victim to push boundaries themselves, plus plenty of positive reinforcement that this is good fun, we’re close friends, and so on.

Because of the positive reinforcement, which is a key part of healthy relationships too, grooming is tricky to identify in the moment: you may only be able to make it out in the rear-view mirror. In this specific case we have a big warning sign: the massive power differential between a (I assume) CEO and his executive assistant. That’s not a line you want to toe: one of the two people has a lot more say in where that line is, and he went on to prove it! But that’s not always so, grooming can occur between people without such an obvious power difference, and it’s often sexy or fun or silly to make sexual jokes! It’s the part where the abuse shows up that turns it into grooming.

This is a big part of the puzzle around “but whyyyy can’t we all have fun sexy joke times at work?” Aside from sexy joke times not being everyone’s idea of fun, there’s a history of exploitation around them. They’ve been used for grooming too many times, to turn the tables on someone who thought of their boss as their sexy-joke-buddy and found out they were actually a sexy-joke-predator. Now everyone who has had that happen, or who knows the dynamic, has to toe two lines: pleasing the sexy-jokes boss types, and constantly watching out for the groomer’s heel turn.

By extension, grooming is also something an abuser can do to other people in a position to report or stop their abuse of others. They set up a narrative of themselves as a good or harmless person. They can, for example, be the office prankster, or collective little sibling, or kind mentor, or hapless single person who is just so lonely. With these narratives in place the abuser has their defences put for them: prankster lonely person just needs to learn some social skills; mentor was just trying to help, little sibling is so cute and harmless!

In another advice column, we even find a description of someone who has managed to play almost all of those cards at once.

I recently got promoted into a HR manager at an office and have been working there for the past 3 years. Couple of months in my friend/mentor of a different department was accused of sexual harassment by an intern. She said that he kept hugging her, holding her hand when saying hello, asking about her dating life, joked about sex, and would invite her to private lunches or talks on the roof. Even to dinner or drinks after work[…]

He has been working here for the past 8 years and has helped countless of women feel comfortable in the office and is close friends with many other managers. I consider him a close friend and he knows about my personal problems. I don’t want to lose him or make him reveal my personal life out of anger [ed: emphasis] […]

I feel like the intern is overreacting since all the other girls are fine with it, and if she just told me, I would have told her to let it go. He is a good, friendly guy who was looking out for her[…]

Ask Dr. NerdLove: Do I Need To Fire My Friend? via Han and Matt Know It All #79 (offset 4:12)

What can you do about grooming? Knowledge is a great start: you can be aware that grooming is a possibility, that in hearing accusations of abuse or experiencing abuse the odd behaviours, relationships, and other puzzle pieces that you read as “not an abuser” may have been constructed for you deliberately.

When you are abused or an accusation of abuse is made, you might look back over someone’s history with their victim or with people in the same environment and watch for one or more of these patterns:

  • apparently consensual boundary pushing, such as sex jokes or heavy drinking together
  • an unusually bumbling approach to social interactions/romantic interactions/office politics/an entire class of people (often women)
  • a history of selecting clear favourites and helping them get ahead after a certain period of service

And it’s very tempting to read these as, in order, “a confusing situation with fault on both sides”, “someone who needs taking care of and would never hurt a fly”, and “a great mentor/boss who pays it forward”. Or even “a confusing situation with fault on both sides involving a great mentor/boss who is really deep down someone who needs taking care of!”

Instead when these stories come to mind consider the possibility that what you have is a practised abuser who has groomed both their victims and bystanders to underestimate them or to think well of their motives. The counterexamples or the odd puzzle pieces are in fact part of an arc of abuse, not a defence against it.

Likewise, someone who is very insistent on a shared narrative of themselves as a good or harmless person is a warning sign. Almost everyone thinks of themselves as a good person, it’s less common and more dangerous when someone says it out loud in so many words (“I’m one of the good guys!”, “I’m mostly harmless!”) or insists on this being the story other people tell about them.

Abusers push boundaries, and the groomer is a type of abuser who likes to push the earlier boundaries with some consent or participation from their future victim. Super-fun happy-times boundary pushing is still boundary-pushing, and you should approach sceptically and watching very carefully for what happens when the other person wants to stop.

Be selfish: if it needs to be done someone else can do it

In 2009, in “Girl stuff” in Free Software, I recounted a conversation with Brianna Laugher:

[Brianna] said — paraphrased — that she didn’t feel that she should have a problem or be criticised for doing what she is good at, or what’s so desperately needed in her communities, and have to be just another coder in order to be fully respected. And I said that while this was certainly true, women also need to have the opportunity, to give themselves the opportunity, to be selfish: if we want to code, or do something else we are currently either bad at or not notably good at, or for that matter which we are good at but in which we’d have competitors, we should consider doing that, rather than automatically looking for and filling the space that is most obviously empty

(See also Brianna’s response.)

Since then, I’ve seen this pattern recur, most recently in some of the discussion around Valerie Aurora’s Advice for women in tech who are tired of talking about women in tech: women who are doing things because, well, the thing needs to be done and no one is doing it, even if what drew them to the job or the project was something else entirely than the chores they’ve ended up with. This is particularly true when the chore has some benefit to others: writing documentation, welcoming newcomers, setting up the translation team, establishing the not for profit and such.

This not only can make women miserable as they find themselves doing a lot of things out of a vague sense of duty, it quite frequently leads to no rewards whatsoever. For others, it’s really nice when the documentation gets written or the notes get taken or the funds get raised without having to figure out how to give someone a promotion or a keynote slot for it, or how to build up a healthy chain of people moving through the task and onto other things! How fortunate for your boss or your project, and how unfortunate for you.

Quite often a good dollop of selfishness is what this situation deserves, and what you deserve too. There is of course a tight limit to which women can or should personally solve the problem of being handed or expected to quietly assume chores and hover around in the background making sure all the wheels are greased, but let’s explore how far you can get, when it’s time to be selfish.

Note throughout this entry that “chores” are very relative. You may not be a natural fit for translating conversations or documents just because you’re fluent in multiple languages! You might want to write some code or do the accounting or answer the phones instead! But this doesn’t mean that documentation or translation are worthless activities that no one should do, just that they’re something that, at this time, and for this project, you want to stop doing.

Figure out what you’re getting out of the chore, and keep doing it.

I’m very often the notetaker in meetings that I’m in. While this is quite gendered (and I’ve occasionally had senior male colleagues notice and call it out, which is appreciated), I do get something out of it. I have trouble paying attention to and understanding conversations I’m present in that I don’t also write up; and, while we’re talking about being selfish, one of the more effective ways to control the agenda is to write it, and one of the ways to control the findings is to write them too.

So, I keep taking notes quite often, but I’m clear on what I’m getting out of it. I don’t take the notes for their own sake, and if I find myself in a situation where I’m losing the ability to participate in or lead a meeting due to being its notetaker, I’m more likely to reconsider whether there need to be notes and if so, whether I need to take them.

But let’s say you’ve thought about it, and you’re not getting something out of the thing, and you want to be done. But the thing is important, it is in some way making the world a better place. If so…

Accept that the project could fail without the chore.

Something to work through is knowing that the chore might be important to the success of the project, and that you’re deciding not to do it anyway.

Maybe the conference will be better with a more diverse lineup and so will the careers of the speakers. If no one sees the notes of the meeting then some important decisions will be missing context. A major security flaw might be hiding in those untriaged bugs.

But if the project’s success seems to depend on you, a single person, quietly stepping in and doing what must be done while everyone else does fun things, the project is either so fragile that it’s at high risk of failure regardless of your exceptional bug triaging and speaker finding skills, or it’s somewhat quietly robust, and will actually carry on just fine.

A related failure mode — “I’m so valuable that my boss won’t let me take vacation” — is something of an Ask a Manager perennial. As she tends to advise: what if you quit? If you quit and your chores are super important, your boss will either find a way to get them done after you leave, or the project will fail, and if it fails in your absence, it probably wasn’t that likely to succeed in your presence either.

So. If you’re the only thing standing between success and failure, you’re not on a great project. It might have great aims or ambitions, but it’s not a great project. So now it’s time to…

Stop doing the thing.

Just don’t do it. Let the bugs go untriaged, the newcomers go unwelcomed, the documentation go untranslated, the meeting go unrecorded, the conference not schedule any unicorn talks, the conference not have any women speakers at all.

While you worked through thoughts about the project failing above, many times, you’ll find that the thing wasn’t that important in the first place. No one much read the notes of that meeting, so maybe there didn’t need to be notes, and in fact, on reflection holding the meeting wasn’t that important either. The conference copped a lot of justified heat on Twitter for their all-male all-white lineup and… probably they deserved it since they were using you to shield them from it before. Speakers of your other fluent language migrated to other software that had a translation team dedicated to their needs, and were better off for it. And so on.

How to just stop:

  • Unsubscribe from the project email list.
  • Block your browser from letting you look at the bug tracker.
  • Delete the request for help finding women for the panel.
  • Read back over your personal notes from the meeting, update your own todo list, but don’t type them up to send to the team.
  • Go on a long holiday.

Give some warning you’re going to stop doing the thing.

If you’re not truly silently labouring away alone, you might want to let people know you’re stopping. That’s fine; but be firm about it, give a date at which you’ll stop, and resist conditioning leaving on another volunteer stepping up. “I’d love someone to take over the server and I’m happy to train you” may work, but it also may not. In embracing selfishness per this post, you need to step down even if no one else is stepping up.

Some scripts:

  • “I’m not available as a volunteer sysadmin after the 1st. I’d love to hand off cleanly to a new sysadmin if possible. However if there’s no volunteers by the 1st, I will shut down the server and provide the data backups to [other person].”
  • “This is the last newsletter from me! If someone else wants to pick it up, here’s a one pager to get you started.”
  • “After some reflection, I’ve decided not to contest the next board election. I’m looking forward to seeing where a new president takes us.”

Ask if you can hand off the thing.

The above two strategies work less well in hierarchical situations like workplaces. If you’ve silently taken on chores or you’re volunteering for things outside your core position you can still use those strategies, but if your boss or another authority figure has told you to do the chore (especially if they told you to recently), probably you shouldn’t just stop and see what happens, let alone send an email unilaterally announcing you’ve decided to stop doing your job from the 1st.

But that doesn’t mean you need to silently do what you’re told at the expense of important work, or do unrewarded tasks while your peers get shiny things. There’s some alternatives you can explore with your workplace:

  • Ask if you can stop: make a case for the chore not being important at all, or not being as important as the other things you need to do
  • Rotate chores: set up a formal rotation of the chore between teams or members of the team
  • Pay someone: pay a bookkeeper for your organisation rather than relying on a series of burned out volunteer treasurers
  • Pay a specialist: hire a project manager or an office admin or a backend dev or a fundraising lead
  • Transition to a more junior staff member: maybe there’s someone who’d learn from writing those docs or triaging those bugs
  • Transition to a team: maybe there’s so many chores that there needs to be a project team addressing the chores and the source of them, and maaaaybe you could lead that team?

That said, in workplaces and other hierarchical organisations, ethical leadership should be avoiding disproportionately handing unrewarding tasks to women, younger people, and members underrepresented minorities, and should be actively considering these solutions themselves. If you’re in a situation where your leadership is happily reaping the rewards of you patiently picking up scutwork unrewarded…

Quit your entire position.

If your current position (paid or volunteer) is full of chores you aren’t rewarded for but that no one can be bothered sharing around or finding someone who’d be a better fit, and you’re fortunate enough to be able to find another position or you don’t need to, quitting is something to seriously consider. Head out the door and selfishly go find somewhere where what they need someone to do is the same thing that you want to be doing.

Book review: The Wife Drought

My quest to be a paid book reviewer remains stalled for two reasons: first, I’ve never once asked anyone for money to do a book review, and second, this book review comes to you express, hot out of the oven, fresh from the year two thousand and fourteen.

Annabel Crabb’s The Wife Drought: Why women need wives, and men need lives is titled and marketed on the old “women need wives” joke, ie, an adult in their home to make meals and soothe fevers and type manuscripts for free.

Crabb is also a well-known Australian political journalist — the ABC’s chief online political writer — who is best-known for hosting a cooking with politicians TV show, and probably next best known for her comic writing style, eg:

Right then. The parliamentary consideration of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act has concluded. The nation has experienced the special thrill of watching its elected representatives fight like ferrets in a bag over a legislative clause even John Howard couldn’t get excited about, and can now dully register the fact that all this fuss has produced exactly zero changes to the clause in question.

Annabel Crabb, There is nothing free about Mark Latham’s speech, April 1 2017.

One or the other of the title’s reliance on the hackneyed complaint about women needing wives, or Crabb’s journalist persona, caused a lot of people I know to write off this book unread. The marketing runs with this too:

Written in Annabel Crabb’s inimitable style, it’s full of candid and funny stories from the author’s work in and around politics and the media, historical nuggets about the role of ‘The Wife’ in Australia, and intriguing research about the attitudes that pulse beneath the surface of egalitarian Australia.
Penguin Books Australia

I suggest you don’t write it off, at least not for those reasons. It’s quite a serious book, and Penguin has buried the lede: intriguing research about the attitudes that pulse beneath the surface of egalitarian Australia. The research is central to the book: Crabb did a lot of one-on-one work with demographers to extract answers to questions that no one had answers to about gender, work, money, and career progressions in Australia. Some of the findings the book contains are in fact new findings prompted by Crabb’s questioning of demographic collaborators (who are acknowledged by name, although not as co-authors).

I found two discussions especially interesting: the way in which Australia makes part-time work fairly readily available to women with young children and the many limits of that as a solution to pay and career progression disparities between men and women; and the evidence suggesting that, contrary to the widespread perception that men are hailed as heroes by men and women alike for participating in the care of their young children, they are actually discriminated against by their workplaces when they do so.

After that Crabb’s writing style is just an added bonus to keep you going through the book. If you’re going to read a demographic exploration of gender and labour in Australia in the 2010s, it’s certainly a nice bonus that it happens to be written by Annabel Crabb of all people. Instead, the major caution I would give is that it’s very middle-class in both point of view and content, without much discussion of that limitation; and is largely focussed on women partnered with men. Assuming that the work lives of middle-class women partnered with men in Australia is of interest to you, recommended.

Your first fundraiser: a timeline

In 2011, I co-founded the Ada Initiative, a charitable organisation promoting and supporting women in open technology and culture. Between 2011 and 2014, we ran five fundraising drives, four successfully. This article is the conclusion of a series sharing what I learned in the hope that new women in technology groups and other activist groups can skip to advanced level fundraising much sooner and spend the least time and the most joy on fundraising that they possibly can.


Below is a possible timeline for a fundraising drive, emphasising quick launch rather than the kind of preparation you will need to do as your organisation grows. Many large organisations will have longer timelines and probably have dedicated staff planning the next fundraiser as the previous one winds up, but this timeline is designed to be do-able for an organisation aiming for their first fundraiser, which won’t have the ability to go for many months without funds while putting together the perfect fundraiser.

Two to three months before launch: form your core fundraising team or committee and begin meeting at least weekly. Make a budget for your funding needs if you haven’t already. Choose your organisation’s name and get your website and social media set up. Decide to pursue individual fundraising, Search for and engage a fundraising consultant, accountant, or lawyer, if needed. Establish bookkeeping if you haven’t already.

Begin researching and testing fundraising platforms and, if they require applications to use their platform as some crowdfunding sites do, prepare and submit them. Start planning thank you gifts.

One month before launch: decide on your fundraising platform. If you have existing donors or major supporters, have a consultant or other outsider conduct a few exploratory interviews with them. Are they happy with you? If you have existing work or projects, find any that have outcomes or major milestones that can be released during the drive. Develop a timeline for releasing them and tying them into your drive. Order thank you gifts.

Two weeks before launch: contact potential major donors and ask them to pledge a specific sum of money, or to act as a matching donor. Track the pledges that they commit to, and review your fundraising goal in light of the pledges. Test your fundraising platform beginning to end with real payment methods. Based on your pledge results and your ability to take donations, have an explicit “abort/delay campaign?” discussion with your decisionmakers.

One week before launch: soft launch your donation page if possible (crowdfunding software may not allow it). Ask key volunteers or staff to test donations for you with, eg, international credit cards and similar. (Important: do refund their test donations!) Do a test package and shipment of thank you gifts. Continue reviewing whether you should abort or delay.

Hours before launch: soft launch your banner, counter, and any explicit “we’re having a fundraising drive!” text you’re placing on your website. Make any donations you have direct control over (eg, you or your board are making them!). Email your pledged donors and let them know the campaign has kicked off with “help us off to a great start!” information.

Launch: announce your fundraising campaign in blog posts, tweets, to your email lists.

Throughout the campaign: As each donation comes in, send a brief thank you email, which will normally be a form letter although for donations from your personal friends or the very largest donations you will want to write something personal. Ask each donor why they donated and track their answers. Reshare people’s endorsements and calls to donate selectively, and like/favourite the remainder.

Ship thank you gifts at least weekly, if possible, so that early donors can share them while the drive is still running.

Every Tuesday during the drive: (and more often if you can) release some news or updates (“we signed a lease on a community space!”), an interview with a donor, a limited time thank you gift, or a matching campaign. Explicitly call for donations in any news items.

Every Tuesday and Wednesday during the drive: (and more often if you can) update your social media with information about how you’re doing, where to donate, and how to share information.

Three days before close (Monday): launch your largest matching campaign if any.

Last three days of campaign: Promote your matching campaign, and stay in touch with the matching donor. Assign fundraising team members to be paying attention to the fundraiser all day, if possible, and updating social media three times a day during your major donation periods.

Close: send out “we did it!” blog posts, emails and tweets and then stop your publicity promptly. Send thank you cards and emails to the largest donors and everyone who volunteered for the drive. Ship your last thank you gift batch. While you’re no longer actively soliciting donations, do not turn off the ability to accept donations and keep an eye on social media for people wondering if they can still donate; be sure to tell them “yes”.

Since you’re small, you almost certainly are seriously risking burnout and need a break now. Take it, but remember to check in with your donors after no more than 2 months and ideally sooner with your first news about what you’ve done with their donations.

Next time: once you’ve had your needed break, review what worked and didn’t work about your fundraising drive. If you’re going to rely on donations long-term, figure out when your next drive will be, at least approximately, and begin planning for it now.


Thanks to Lana Baldwin, Selena Deckelmann, Kellie Brownell, and Katina Bishop for their valuble advice to the Ada Initiative between 2011 and 2015. Thanks to the Ada Initiative’s board of directors, advisory board, matching donors, and other volunteer fundraisers during this time, as well as our 1400+ individual donors.

Finally, thanks to my co-founder and the Ada Initiative’s Executive Director, Valerie Aurora, who did the lion’s share of the work and worry on each fundraising drive we did.

Creative Commons License
Your first fundraiser: a timeline by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Gender and religious discrimination in resettling refugees… in Australia

As folks from the US in particular know, on January 27 Donald Trump signed Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States. It includes this text:

Upon the resumption of USRAP admissions, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, is further directed to make changes, to the extent permitted by law, to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.

Trump has explicitly clarified that this is intended to prioritise Christians:

In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network earlier Friday, Trump was asked whether he would prioritize persecuted Christians in the Middle East for admission as refugees, and he replied, “Yes.”

Trump signs order temporarily halting admission of refugees, promises priority for Christians, The Washington Post, January 27 2017

Australia has done this too

As my readers may not know, but Australian refugee activists will, this is not novel policy among the US’s friends and allies. It’s policy in Australia, and has been at least mooted in Canada as well. In September 2015, Australia made a commitment to resettle 12,000 Iraqi and Syrian refugees in addition to the existing resettlement quota. (The Sydney Morning Herald, September 2015).

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection says:

Priority for 12,000 Humanitarian Programme places will be given to people displaced by the conflict in Syria and Iraq who are… assessed as being most vulnerable – persecuted minorities, women, children and families with the least prospect of ever returning safely to their homes…

Australia’s response to the Syrian and Iraqi humanitarian crisis, accessed January 29 2017

This discriminates against men, especially single or unaccompanied men, and Muslims. Here’s a (News Corp) press description: Australia will minimise its intake of single Sunni men as it vets the 12,000 Syrian refugees the government has pledged to take from Syria, prioritising instead Christian family groups who can never return home… [t]he government has said it would prioritise persecuted min­orities in choosing the 12,000, widely understood to be code for non-­Islamic migrants [my emphasis]. (The Australian, March 2016)

I haven’t found 2016 or 2017 statements, but discrimination against Muslims has also been floated by Canada (CBC News, December 2014) and as of 2015 Canada also prioritised other refugees before unaccompanied men. (The Guardian, November 2015.)

Action for Australians

In general you can support refugees and asylum seekers (and recall, seeking asylum in Australia rather than being granted a visa through UNHCR processes makes you subject to internment here, in some cases in offshore torture camps) by supporting activists and advocates. A thoroughly non-exhaustive list includes RISE: Refugees, Survivors and Ex-detainees (run and governed by refugees, asylum seekers and ex-detainees), the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and Refugee Legal.

Contacting politicians in support of Muslim and single male refugees: the Refugee Council of Australia suggests contacting your representatives, relevant Ministers, and the Prime Minister and other party leaders. They suggest contact by postal mail, asking questions that require a response. I am writing to Peter Dutton, the Minister for Border Protection and Immigration; Shayne Neumann, the Shadow* Minister for Border Protection and Immigration, and my local member Anthony Albanese (who is also a member of the opposition).

The Refugee Action Coalition (Twitter, Facebook) is one place to find out about rallies and protests in Sydney.

Incidentally, Australians, if Australia was ever to start turning back residency visa holders at the border, would we end up rallying on the streets outside Kingsford-Smith and Tullamarine?

* For readers outside Australia/the Westminster system, the opposition appoints a Shadow Minister to each portfolio, who speaks about how the opposition would approach that ministry, if it were the government, and pay special attention to the actions of that Minister and department. Since the opposition isn’t the government, the Shadow Ministers do not actually have a department reporting to them.

Your first fundraiser: getting the word out

In 2011, I co-founded the Ada Initiative, a charitable organisation promoting and supporting women in open technology and culture. Between 2011 and 2014, we ran five fundraising drives, four successfully. This article is part of a series sharing what I learned in the hope that new women in technology groups and other activist groups can skip to advanced level fundraising much sooner and spend the least time and the most joy on fundraising that they possibly can.

Publicity planning

Once again: don’t be original. The publicity other fundraising drives have done is by definition public, so you can study it and use it for your planning.

It’s also not the time to be coy. People will not give you money if you aren’t invested enough in your mission to straightforwardly and clearly ask for money to work on it. Write scripts for yourself in which you ask for money directly, clearly, and non-defensively. Edit them down into “elevator pitch” or tweetable lengths. Some good phrases are “support us” and “help us”. Look for other short verbs that speak to your particular mission: “teach”, “defend”, “grow”, “build”, “reach”, “begin”, “lead”, “support”, “save”.

Don’t forget about your other audiences aside from potential donors! Earlier in this series, I wrote:

[A] good fundraising drive has a complementary goal: raising awareness of your organisation, and getting people involved. There’s at least two possibilities here. If you’re raising funds from the same community you’re going to benefit, your launch donors are likely to be among your key volunteers or members shortly thereafter. If you’re raising money from a different community from the one you’re going to benefit, your launch donors will be key in reaching other donors, and developing your fundraising strategy in future.

Make sure that it’s really clear where people can sign up for news and memberships etc, even if they aren’t donating. Otherwise you lose the recruiting part of the drive. As the drive goes on, remember also that you’re speaking to an increasing number of people who’ve already donated; they will also need suggestions on how to support you that aren’t giving money. For both people who can’t donate and people who already have, calls to action are key. Encouraging others to donate is one possible call to action, but you should help them incorporate your mission into their daily lives by encouraging them to join your organisation, advocate for your target community, take classes, contact political representatives, go to meetups or protests, or change their consumption habits among many other actions.

Your website

I’ve written about the basics you should have on your website before your fundraising drive, including answers to the questions “Who we are”, “What we do”, and “How you can help”.

During your drive, you also want to have every page of your website linking extremely prominently to your fundraising drive. Prominent promotion is a page-wide coloured banner at the top of each page of your site. Anything less (eg placing info in your sidebar) will fall prey to people’s ad-filtering neurons. The banner should have an extremely short (25 words or less) call to donate, along the lines of “Donate today to support [our target community]!”, linking to your donation page. If you have a donation amount counter, include it in the banner.

If your organisation already has projects underway, your fundraiser is a great time to release milestones, reports, calls to action, and so on on your website or blog. When you release them, add a call to donate to the end of the page discussing them.

If you want additional website content, interviews with supporters and people in your community are useful during fundraising, because you’re looking for social proof to potential donors that other people already trust and support you. You can also prepare this kind of content in advance of your fundraising drive rather than doing it as needed as you will need to do for social media.

All that said, the conversion rate from “person who landed on your website looking for information about Ada Lovelace” to “person donating” is unsurprisingly pretty low. The reason your website should point to your fundraiser is not to convert casual visitors into donors, it’s to help people who were searching for your fundraiser to find it, to help people who were researching you before donating find their way back to it, and to make sure your regular visitors know about it.


People want to support something that is already successful. The key to your launch day is to get a number of donations very early, to lift your total raised well up off zero. This means having your most committed donors agree to give on the first day: reach out to your pledged donors at launch time and explain that an early donation will encourage others to donate, particularly if they’re willing to share with their communities. If possible, do this during a short “soft launch” phase, prior to ramping up your drive.

While you’ll be focussing matching campaigns on the second half of the drive, it can be good to have some very limited edition thank you gifts at this point too, to reward your committed donors for supporting you early.

Once you go live, own it! Share your fundraising goal publicly in your blog/website, to your email list, and to your social media. You’ve done individual asks by this point, make your first broadcast asks to the world.

Social media

Plan to make social media central to your fundraising drive. The Ada Initiative found that Twitter and to a lesser extent Facebook sharing drove most of our general public donations and Zeynep Tufekci recently ran a Twitter-only campaign for Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders that raised $230,000. Social media could easily drive 75% or more of your total funding.

Get your social media set up and active in advance of your fundraising drive. Make it easy for multiple fundraising staff or volunteers to post to your social media; the Ada Initiative used Hootsuite but we didn’t do a lot of comparison shopping of social media tools.

Aim for a sustainable social media style; you’ll probably post a lot more during fundraising, but it should be in a recognisable voice. If you’re not doing hashtags or emoji or memes the rest of the time, fundraising isn’t a great time to start. On the other hand, it also isn’t a time to stop if that’s been your style so far. Aside from the pretty high risk that you’ll sound stilted in any new social media genre, you’re also hoping to gain followers to stick with you for the long term; this won’t happen if your social media style is totally different when fundraising.

Messages along the lines of “[Organisation] is raising funds to [accomplish mission]. Support us today! [donation url]” are a good default. The Ada Initiative surprised ourselves in having much better re-share results with straightforward progress reports on our drive than inspirational quotes: our followers responded well to “we’re ⅔ of the way there!” and “our donation total is currently prime!” (yes, really, but tech workers were our target audience) and less well to “I loved AdaCamp!” or “As Grace Hopper once said…”

Unlike project releases and interviews with donors or supporters and some other long form content, it’s difficult to draft your social media in advance. Social media moves fast and you’ll want to have your posts move with it. Your fundraising drive can also go any number of ways, and drafting a lot of contingency social media is plain impossible: “it’s week 3 and we now have the largest capitalisation in the world/have reached our total early/are relying on your help to make it this week!” But at the very least, there needs to be a timetable of communications and a person or people who understand that they are going to be writing the week 3 announcement and in charge of scheduling 4 tweets about it. As with announcements, focus on weekdays, especially Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday and especially mornings through to early afternoon in your donors’ timezones.

Ada Initiative donors were very attentive to our graphic counters showing our total raised and the amount still needed. Quite a few used it as part of their calls to donate. I tended to over-engineer our counters, so that they had these features:

  • they could be embedded in other websites
  • they updated in close to real time
  • new signups for recurring donations showed up as a year’s worth of their donations

That was fun, but while you can certainly include graphic counter functionality as something you evaluate when choosing a donation platform, Zeynep Tufecki’s experience suggests that simply regularly stating the figures will get you most of the way there.

Other than counters, the Ada Initiative, always a thoroughly textual organisation, only ventured into visuals a few times. Our biggest successes were related to our pretty thank you gifts and their packaging.

Aside from your own social media, you need to encourage your supporters to publicly share their support. In my article in how long your fundraiser should be, I wrote:

The Ada Initiative donors told us that they often donated after seeing around three calls to donate from different sources

Social media is where they were seeing those three calls to donate. There are several things to try:

  1. If your donation software supports it, suggest a tweet or post to your donors once they’ve donated. Again, something straightforward along the lines of “I donated to [organisation] to support [mission]. Join me! [donation url]” is great.
  2. Ask your volunteers and enthusiastic supporters to re-share your social media posts.
  3. Make your social media interesting enough that people reshare without being asked.

Maintaining contact

The Ada Initiative, after our first drive, assumed that our generous donors would follow our activities on our blog or social media if they wanted to. A year later we heard from our fundraising consultant that many of them wondered where the hell we’d been!

Plan to stay in contact with your donors; they deserve it. Offer them all the ability to opt-in to your email newsletter, and keep your largest and most enthusiastic donors up to date with the occasional one to one email, phone call, or meeting.

Always remember the key principle of fundraising when doing publicity: no one will commit if you won’t. Your confidence in deciding that you need money and asking for it is a major proof your donors need that you will use their money well.

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Your first fundraiser: getting the word out by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Your first fundraiser: stickers beat t-shirts

In 2011, I co-founded the Ada Initiative, a charitable organisation promoting and supporting women in open technology and culture. Between 2011 and 2014, we ran five fundraising drives, four successfully. This article is part of a series sharing what I learned in the hope that new women in technology groups and other activist groups can skip to advanced level fundraising much sooner and spend the least time and the most joy on fundraising that they possibly can.

Thank you gifts: ideally beautiful, always time-consuming

Thank you gifts, rewards, and similar are a standard part of crowdfunding campaigns, and useful in other fundraising campaigns. Good thank you gifts:

  • let people feel and show their alignment with your organisation and its mission
  • help newcomers learn about your organisation and its mission
  • (if you’re producing something) let people experience the work they helped you create

Displaying the rewards is a key part of showing alignment with you, which usually leads you to things that can be worn or can be used as decorations. This will also help your donor teach their friends about your organisation and its mission. So thank you gifts, like fundraising drives themselves, can help achieve your mission.

On the other hand, thank you gifts cost a lot. They literally cost a lot in design, manufacture, and shipping, and they take a lot of time. It can be tempting to write labour costs down to zero if it’s going to be volunteer labour, but remember opportunity cost: the time, energy, and goodwill you spend on an all-weekend T-shirt mailathon is not getting spent on other things.

Like fundraising overall, the best way to cut down the opportunity cost is to line your rewards up with your mission, and, where possible, have less time-consuming rewards.

If possible, pay for design and artistic expertise when designing your rewards, both for ethical reasons and because it’s more effective. Consider how to stand out from other laptop stickers and hats and decals and pens and so on. The Ada Initiative had great luck with rewards that were pretty and striking. Consider the portrait of Ada Lovelace or the Not Afraid to Say the F-Word sticker: both were designed by artists, both in a visual style not easily found on your laptop or t-shirts already.

At the Ada Initiative, we often gave rewards at 10× or more the cost price of the rewards. Eg, our sticker rewards were for a donation of around $100 and t-shirts for $200.

Which brings me to: don’t do t-shirts. Why? There’s a very limited number of suppliers who will do enough sizes for you, especially in curvier (“women’s”) styles. Once you’ve found the supplier, you have to distribute a size chart, correspond with donors about their size, and find a printer who will work with, say 10 sizes each with 5 shirts. Once printed they’re just bulky enough that shipping is pricey. It’s a big big pain. (Yes, we did do t-shirts. Twice. We’re experts on how much doing t-shirts is a bad idea. I don’t think you should.)

Stickers proved to be a great reward for the Ada Initiative: they’re cheap to produce, they have few design constraints (if it’s 2D, you can get someone to print it as a sticker), it’s easy to do them in high quality, they’re one-size-fits-all and can be shared with friends, and they can be paired with your donor’s identity easily (we had people use them on laptops, motorcycles, and, as a joke, fedoras). We also, in our final campaign, paid attention to our shipping design, making sure the experience of receiving and opening the envelope was itself fun, and including encouragement to share photos of the stickers on social media. Donors also liked scarves and pendants, which are one-size, and which are not as commonly given as rewards as t-shirts are.

Stretch goals

If you hit your fundraising goals, you might choose to set “stretch goals”. These aren’t usually thank you gifts to donors, but rather additional things your organisation will do if you reach the new, higher, funding goal. But they share the problems of thank you gifts: it’s very tempting to pledge things that will cost more than the stretch will earn. Don’t get stuck promising to send a woman to the moon for another $5000 raised.

Planning reasonable stretch goals before your drive is thus important; they’re often things that are on your roadmap anyway, or adjustments to things on your roadmap. Once again, don’t be original: study other organisations’s stretch goals.


For more on crowdfunding rewards, particularly for raising funds for creative projects where delivery of the project is a key reward, see Marian Call’s Kickstarter Math is Weird.

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Your first fundraiser: stickers beat t-shirts by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Your first fundraiser: making donations easy

In 2011, I co-founded the Ada Initiative, a charitable organisation promoting and supporting women in open technology and culture. Between 2011 and 2014, we ran five fundraising drives, four successfully. This article is part of a series sharing what I learned in the hope that new women in technology groups and other activist groups can skip to advanced level fundraising much sooner and spend the least time and the most joy on fundraising that they possibly can.

You need a donation website

Before you launch an online fundraiser, you need a tested, reliable, way to accept donations online by credit card, or by your location’s primary online payment mechanism. You might accept donations through an existing product such as a crowdfunding platform, or through a more customised donation website that you developed yourself.

This article goes through the considerations that go into whether to use a turn-key solution, and if not, how to design a custom donation website.

Get the basics set up

Before you get into the nitty gritty of a specific donation website, make sure you have the following:

  • a name for your organisation
  • a registered domain name
  • a website at that domain name that prominently answer the questions “Who we are”, “What we do”, and “How you can help”
  • all the social media accounts you plan to use registered and at least ready to go, ideally already active and beginning to attract followers
  • a way to send announcement emails, and a way for people to sign up for the emails
  • a way to contact the organisation’s leaders or spokespeople directly (usually an email address)

Remember that your drive is a major publicity event for you, and will attract not only donors, but potential staff, volunteers, members, allies, and journalists, not to mention donors to future drives. Be ready for these people, both to help them find what they need, and to keep them up to date as you grow.

“How you can help” can list your donation website, any membership signup you have, and any job or volunteer opportunities. “How you can help” took a few revisions for the Ada Initiative, which was a non-membership service organisation relying mostly on the labour of salaried staff rather than volunteers. But if you have, as we did, programs that individuals can reuse in their own communities, or actions that people can take to advance your cause without formally joining, this is where you can describe those too. Think of it as “how you can help our cause” as well as “how you can help our organisation”.

Paypal button?

One of the simplest donation options is the Paypal donate button. The Ada Initiative ran our first successful campaign and raised over $80,000 with a Paypal button supported by blog posts and social media. These are worth considering because they’re so easy; here’s some tradeoffs.

You’ll need to work with Paypal.

Aside from the ease of setting up the donate button, in the US it also tends to be the case that you can set up a Paypal account fairly easily, at some risk of them holding funds if they later find you aren’t a customer they’re willing to work with. (In other countries, this varies. Setting up a Paypal account may be no less difficult than any other payments processor.)

But there are potential disadvantages:

  • While it’s possible to whitelabel Paypal to various extents if you do more development, the simple donate button option will send your donors through Paypal’s branded payment flow, which will encourage donors to do things that benefit Paypal (signing up for or logging into a Paypal account) rather than you (finishing their donation as quickly as possible).
  • Some donors resist using Paypal for user interface, ethical, or business practices reasons. The Ada Initiative, which targeted tech industry workers, had a lot of complaints when we only accepted Paypal from people who could use Paypal technically, but refused to.
  • Paypal accounts aren’t as widespread as other payment mechanisms in some markets. (I’ve found it difficult to find country-by-country statistics, but in Australia industry reports guesstimate that about 25% of Australians have an active Paypal account, and about 70% have a credit card.)
  • For your international donors, their exchange rates are pretty awful compared to card networks.

You’ll need to suggest donation amounts elsewhere. There’s advantages in suggesting donation amounts to your donors; you can influence their donation amount considerably. But Paypal will have them enter it themselves. You’ll want to give them some guide to donation amounts before sending them on the Paypal workflow.

You’ll need to keep your donors informed of your success elsewhere. The Paypal donate button won’t track your donation amounts or provide any guide to donors that they’re donating to a new campaign, or one that’s finishing up, or one that needs more support or one where they’re joining an already successful campaign. You’ll need to give them this information elsewhere.

Custom development or a fundraising website?

It’s not 2011 any more and there are a growing number of ways to build a donation website beyond a Paypal donate button. There’s several factors that will go into the decision about whether to use an existing fundraising platform or whether you develop your own donation website.

Fees. Payment processors and payment infrastructure often charge a fee that is a percentage of funds that flow through their systems. Small changes in this fee can result in large changes in the amount of money you receive at the end of the drive.

Let’s say, for example, that your payment processor charges 3% for their services, and your donation website host another 4%. (Neither are unrealistic figures.) If your campaign raises $100,000, you will pay $3,000 to the payments processor and $4,000 to the donation website host, and $93,000 will be deposited in your bank account from which you must fund your activities as well as any fundraiser rewards and followup.

If those numbers were 2% and 3%, you’d get $2,000 more right there. Payment processing fees are an inevitable part of taking online donations, although you should certainly see how much you can reduce them. Fees paid to donation software companies aren’t inevitable, and can be reduced or avoided with a custom donation website.

On the flipside, the fees to maintain a highly available donation website may also be non-trivial. The Ada Initiative used $100 a month managed VPS hosting during our last fundraising drive, so there’s $1,200 for a yearly fundraiser right there.

Time and labour. This is where custom websites fall down. If you need to pay a programming consultant $200 an hour to develop and maintain your donation website, and they take 10 hours in total to do so, you’ve just spent $2,000. Spending your own time on this (as the Ada Initiative did in spades) will cost in both staff salaries if you pay them, and even if you don’t, will cost in opportunity (the things you didn’t do with that time).

Custom donation websites will also have an ongoing maintenance burden that needs to be budgeted for.

Downtime. Availability of your donation website is very important, particularly in the closing week of the campaign where downtime for a couple of hours could have cost the Ada Initiative tens of thousands at times.

Every link in your chain is a little vulnerable to downtime: payment processors have downtime, fundraising platforms have downtime, your paid host will have downtime, your social media will have downtime.

Generally speaking a larger and more established platform will be the most on top of this; see if you can find their status page and some information about their most recent downtime. With a custom donation solution, you could cut-over to at least a barebones page that still allows donations. Can you, say, switch over from WordPress to a static HTML page on a different host quickly? Can you swap in a different payments processor promptly? (The Ada Initiative had a Paypal button standing by even when our default donation page was much more customised.)

Flexibility. A custom developed website will have much more flexibility. If you have thank you gift structures that don’t match the platform you want to use, or you want to lay out your text just so, or you want to display photos of donors only on even numbered dates, you will tend to lean towards a custom website.

If you’re leaning towards an existing platform, accept that you may have to design your drive around their features rather than the other way around. Build time for comparing platform features into your fundraising timeline.

Recurring donations. If your activities are ongoing and you’re going to be donor-funded indefinitely, taking recurring donations is nearly essential. Many donors will not be able to give as a lump sum what they could give over the course of a year. In addition, recurring donations provide a predictable cashflow which over time reduces your reliance on running constant fundraising drives, improves your ability to budget accurately, and allows you to spend energy elsewhere.

Many crowdfunding websites are designed entirely for one-shot donations for a particular purpose, not for signing up recurring donors. Think very carefully before choosing a platform that locks you out of accepting recurring donations.

Continued availability. If you are going to continue to be donor-funded, don’t ever take your donation form down and thus don’t choose a donation platform that will shut off donations when you reach a given total or a given date. At the end of your drive, you will turn the publicity pointing people to the donation form way down, but it should still be there for people who donate out of season, or who saw the drive but weren’t ready to donate at the time.

Direct donor relationships. You should consider the portability of data from the donation website or system that you use. Can you extract payment information for your bookkeeping and receipts? Can you transfer credit card numbers to a new processor? Can you extract donor emails or other contact details so that you can keep in touch with your donors even if you switch donation systems?

Being unable to migrate payment information or donor contact details is very expensive. You can end up losing half your recurring donation income if you need to ask your donors to manually reenter their payment details into a new system. If you cannot contact previous donors you could lose most of the one-off donations for your next fundraising drive.

Payment processing gotchas

Sign up for your fundraising platform well in advance of your drive’s launch. Most Ada Initiative fundraisers were delayed by discovering that we couldn’t accept payments in the way we wanted to, or couldn’t accept them in a way that was safe and convenient for our donors.

Some examples of issues you may run into:

  • many platforms and processors require that you are incorporated as a not-for-profit in some form before using them to raise funds and quite a lot of platforms are only available for recognised charities (and it’s likely that you can’t afford to apply for charity status without the funds from your first fundraiser!)
  • some platforms require that you apply to use their platform (eg, Kickstarter, which isn’t a charity fundraising platform in any case) and your campaign may not be a fit

What we chose

The Ada Initiative usually found the fee and flexibility arguments persuasive in rejecting turnkey donation websites. During our final, most successful, fundraisers, we were using Gravity Forms on self-hosted WordPress software, with payments processed by the donor’s choice of Stripe (white-labelled, ie, we termed it “credit card”) or Paypal to process payments. (We consistently found that, while our form defaulted to recommending credit card payment, about a third of our donors actively preferred to donate from their Paypal accounts.)

Stripe and similar products that have come onto the payments market in recent years make taking credit card payments through your own website fairly unburdensome and there are lots of cheap and free software such as WordPress plugins with increasingly good support for payments processing.

Designing a donation website

If you have some degree of control over your donation website design, whether because it’s a custom solution or because your host gives you design tools, you should spend a great deal of time and attention making it clear and easy to understand, with as few decisions as possible.

Your audience is people who have already decided to donate. You don’t want someone who has made that decision to have to scroll down to even find the payment form, or to feel they need to review your ten paragraph mission statement one last time. So: have a short statement of your mission, less than 50 words, which has one link (eg to your About or What We Do page) to follow for further information, a supporting image, and a donation form to fill out. End the page with a very short statement about tax deductibility if any and in which countries it applies (since this will be a truly frequently asked question otherwise). Otherwise remove all sidebars, links, headers, banners, menus, and other prominent navigation elements from the page.

Your donors will be strongly influenced both by your suggested donation amounts, ie, if you ask them to choose between $10, $20, and $50, they will donate less than if you ask them to choose between $100, $200, and $500. However, the number of donors at the latter levels will be lower. Tailor the suggested amounts to your expected donors. In addition, consider the “default” donation amount (the one that is pre-selected when people arrive at the page) carefully. Many people will leave it at the default, so if you have $10 visibly selected when they reach the page, $10 you will get.

Throughout the donation form, limit decisions your donors need to make. Collect the minimum information necessary, which unfortunately may still be a lot (between email, credit card fields and shipping addresses).

Streamline your thank you gift structure: filling out web forms is boring, it’s tiring to make decisions, and sometimes when people are deciding whether they want to be listed as a C class supporter of the website or a Q class supporter of the cake sale, they close the tab and go and have some food instead of donating and never come back.

Where possible, have several people make test donations through the website and ask all of them “what should we remove from it?”

Key takeaway: Make your donation page easy to find and easy to fill out. Doing so can easily increase income from your fundraising drive by three or more times.

Disclosure: I had an employment relationship in the past with a payments processor discussed in this article: I was employed at Stripe in 2016. The Ada Initiative used Stripe’s payments product prior to my employment at Stripe, but not concurrently with it.

At the time of writing, I have no financial interest in and receive no compensation from Stripe. I’m currently employed by Google; but not in relation to their payments products.

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Your first fundraiser: making donations easy by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.