Accepting online donations can be an easy and cost-effective way for nonprofits to generate funds. Supporters are more likely to give if there is a quick, convenient, and secure way for them to do this (and don’t forget to optimize for mobile). So, what's the right solution for your organization? Well, it depends on a few different factors: your budget, your expected number of online gifts, your need to integrate the donation form with your database, and of course, your level of technical knowledge and dedicated resources.
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. But there are three main ways that nonprofits receive online donations:
- Through a donation processing service
- Through a charity portal
- Through an in-house portal
In a nutshell, the more external the solution, the more likely new donors are to discover your organization through search and the strength of your online community. However, in-house solutions will give you more control over the experience when supporters are actually ready to donate.
Here are a few questions you should think through to help you figure out where you fall on the spectrum:
- Is this quest a one-time ask? Is this a single campaign?
- Are you looking to establish long-term supporters?
- Is your mission to raise money only? Or do you want supporters to become an active part of your mission or cause?
- Are you prepared to have a portion of the donation go to the third-party site through which the donation is made?
- Are donations the only thing you want your supporters to do online? What about petitions and other advocacy actions? Volunteer sign up? Other activities that may help you turn a one-time donor into a lifetime supporter?
And here is a more in-depth look at what each of these options has to offer.
Charity or Giving Portals
A charity portal is basically a directory of nonprofits with donation processing built right in. You can list your organization in the giving portal listing and pay a fee for donation processing. Giving portals are especially beneficial for single-project donations. If your organization is trying to raise funding for a specific campaign - to create something, to build something, etc. - these portals can be very effective. It is a short-term solution. And has loads of potential for crowdfunding at its best!
With these sites you can add a donation information page to your organization’s website that talks about your mission or cause, which links to your secure giving portal. Or on the flip side, if a supporter starts on your website and you want them to donate to a specific cause using a charity portal, then be sure to have the portal link open in a new window so that the supporter knows they are leaving your site. Then, after they donate, it’s easy for the donor to return to your site. Another approach is to use a payment service, which allows you to accept credit card donations without establishing a merchant account.
The downside of this type of site is that you never really establish a long-term relationship with your donors. Sure, you may raise the money for the project, but there isn’t a place for your organization to receive donations on a continual basis. And with this service, you compete with other organizations appealing for dollars as well.
Donation Processing Services
One option for accepting online donations is to outsource to a company that specializes in processing donations. These companies are also known as application service providers (or ASPs).
Qgiv and DonationForce are great examples of a nonprofit donation processing service. Your organization’s page looks like a custom donation page and is incorporated into your website. But in reality, the page is hosted on the ASP’s site. Your supporters actually leave your site to make the donation, but for the most part, the process appears seamless – like they never left your site. And, of course, the services are not free. If you choose to go this way, understand all the terms and fees (set-up and ongoing) before you sign up. The following are some starter questions to think about when considering a donation processing service:
- How do I receive the donations, and how often?
- Are there set-up fees? Design fees? Monthly fees? Transaction fees? Yearly fees?
- Can the payment processing forms be customized to match my site?
- If I have one, can I use my existing merchant account?
- Can I ask my supporters questions specific to my organization?
- How do my supporters get a receipt, and what will appear on the credit statement - my organization’s name or the service’s name?
- How do I know who has paid what?
- Can my supporters pledge or make a donation in honor of someone?
- How do you use the names and emails of those who use the service?
- What kind, if any, reporting is offered?
Build your own in-house portal
Finally, if you have qualified in-house personnel and dedicated resources, you can build a donation page right into your own website, allowing your supporters to donate directly online. First, you need to establish SSL (secure socket layer) technology for secure commerce, create a donation form, authorize credit card acceptance, and establish a merchant account and a processing method for donations. But that is just a donation page. What other tools do you have to use if you want to measure impact, and foster long-term, personal relationships with your supporters? How does your organization send emails to your supporters? What about getting them to sign a petition? The donation page is really just the beginning.
If inspiring, growing and keeping an online supporter base is your goal, you’ll need a single platform, rather than a one-time giving option or donation processing service. You want to be able to capture giving data and track trends from the moment someone becomes a part of your organization’s community. With an all-in-one engagement platform like Salsa, not only will you be able to maintain securely-stored detailed donor profiles, but you will be able to build unlimited customizable donation pages and personal fundraising pages; enable recurring donations, pledges and provide a one-click email option for continued giving. Easily and effectively launch and promote online fundraising campaigns that are quick to build and see a supporter’s entire engagement with your organization. And, you’ll never be charged a donation fee.
Depending on your fundraising needs, there is solution for your organization. Assess your resources to determine the best most cost-effective way you can get the most out of your fundraising efforts - the best return on your investment. And because I can’t leave it without giving you a little more to think about, here are some more questions to consider:
- Do you want to engage with your donors?
- Do you want them to be a long-term supporter of your organization - an advocate for your mission?
- Do you want to capture data that will help you appeal to your supporters to better interact with them? And really get to know how and maybe even why they give?
I could go on, but I’ll leave you with those…for now!