Accepting donations is the most fundamental task of any nonprofit website. The internet is a great way to reach out to new supporters and launch bold, engaging fundraising campaigns. It’s surprising, then, that so many nonprofits fail to do it effectively.
In this overview, we will walk you through the process of accepting donations on your nonprofit website — from how to properly configure your site, to choosing a payment processor and improving the effectiveness of your donate page. We’ll also show you some great new apps and services that can make online fundraising quicker, more engaging, and easier to manage.
It’s a good idea to think about making your site more secure before you start accepting donations. SSL (secure sockets layer) is a technology that encrypts the connection between your server and your visitors. It makes it much more difficult for a malicious hacker to intercept or alter the data that is being exchanged.
While you don’t technically need SSL if you’re just going to be using a PayPal donation button, getting it set up now allows you the option of doing more complex things later. Google is also giving sites that use SSL a slight rankings boost, as well. Making a tiny investment in an SSL certificate gives your nonprofit website room to grow.
The price of an SSL certificate has been steadily declining as the need for security has grown. We use and recommend Namecheap for purchasing SSL certificates. There are three types of certificates you can buy — domain validation, organization validation, and extended validation. You can get a basic domain-validated certificate for between $9 and $39 per year, which is all most nonprofits will need.
Obtaining an SSL certificate is easy, but configuring it to work with your site can sometimes be difficult. If you’re using a content management system like WordPress, it’s a task that is best accomplished with a fresh installation. Working with a reputable web developer will ensure that SSL / HTTPS is set up correctly on your site. If you want to do it yourself, here are links to the instructions from some major hosting providers:
An important — but often overlooked — aspect of online fundraising is whether or not your organization has been granted tax-exempt status by the IRS. PayPal and other payment gateways will require you to provide proof that your organization is a registered nonprofit before they will let you set up an account and qualify for discounted processing fees.
Before you look to solicit donations online, you should have a copy of your IRS determination letter, a Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN or Tax ID #), and a voided check from your nonprofit’s bank account. Payment processors will also require that a real person is connected with these accounts, so designate someone within your organization who has authority to handle financial matters (and someone who plans on being a part of your organization over the long term).
Choosing a Payment Gateway
PayPal is the online payment processor that most nonprofits use, and the one that your donors will be most familiar with. They handle every major credit card, allow you to make instant transfers from your bank accounts, and have over 179 million active users.
PayPal charges nonprofits 2.2% + $0.30 per online transaction. They can also provide you with a credit card swiper that you can plug into any smartphone or tablet. With the PayPal app installed, you can then accept donations in-person at your events for 2.7% per transaction. There are no monthly fees.
What’s great about PayPal is that it is so easy to set up. Even if you are using a bargain basement web host that doesn’t offer you much room for customization, it’s easy to embed a simple “donate” button on your pages. PayPal processes payments on its own secure servers, so it’s a great choice if you’re unable to set up SSL.
PayPal works with Blackbaud software, fundraising platforms like Classy, and event management / ticketing systems like Eventbrite right out of the box. It’s also the preferred payment gateway for eBay, which is important to keep in mind if you plan on using their charity auction programs through the PayPal Giving Fund.
You may have also heard of Stripe. It’s a newer company — founded in 2011 — that has taken a radically different approach. The difference between PayPal and Stripe boils down to who they’re designed to help. PayPal has always been aimed at making it quick and simple for ordinary people to send and receive payments. Stripe is built for web developers; its code is easy to work with, and its expansive list of features allows you to build almost anything you want.
Stripe’s standard charge is 2.9% + $0.30, just slightly higher than PayPal. It’s worth e-mailing their sales department at [email protected] to see if your organization can get a break. Stripe works with a bunch of new, innovative nonprofit services, including txt2give (lets people donate via text message) and donate.ly (a multipurpose fundraising platform). It’s also the preferred payment gateway for most of the WordPress fundraising plugins out there.
If you plan on using Stripe, you will need to have SSL / HTTPS set up (see above) on your site. Unlike with PayPal, your donors will enter their credit card details on your site. This makes for a nicer user experience, as people aren’t being redirected to PayPal’s bland donation page. Your site doesn’t store or process credit cards, however; Stripe handles all of that for you.
There are a host of other payment gateways out there, each with their own advantages and drawbacks. When evaluating them, make sure that they will play nice with the software and web applications that you’re using. (Mobile-only payment processors like Square boast some great features, but are beyond the scope of this article.)
The simplest way to accept contributions is with a donate button. PayPal’s round yellow button is ubiquitous on nonprofit sites of all sizes. You can embed it almost anywhere. It’s instantly-recognizable, and donors know that they are in for a smooth and safe transaction when they click on it.
PayPal donate buttons couldn’t be easier to work with. Even if you don’t have SSL / HTTPS set up, you can safely embed a donate button anywhere. You can even place a donate button in the e-mails you send to your supporters. Simply type in your organization’s name or the title of your fundraising campaign, choose the suggested donation amount, and click “Create Button.” The resulting HTML code can be copied and pasted into your site. Here’s a tip: If you are using WordPress, shift from “visual” to “text” mode in the editor before you paste it.
There are a couple of downsides to the venerable PayPal button. First, it looks…old. Aside from some minor touch-ups, the button’s basic appearance hasn’t changed for over a decade. That means it’s almost guaranteed to clash with the design of your site. Second, clicking on it takes users to PayPal’s site to complete their transaction. It’s difficult or impossible to do things like offering multiple donation suggestions, or setting up pledges and recurring donations.
If you’re using Stripe, you have a more elegant option: Donorbox. Donorbox lets you build a donation form that you can embed into your site. It looks much better than PayPal’s donate button, allows visitors to select from different giving levels, and lets you gather other types of data (like addresses ad phone numbers) that you can plug into your donor management system.
Donorbox is free for organizations that bring in less than $1,000 a month through their websites, and only 0.89% thereafter (not including Stripe’s fees). There is also an official Donorbox plugin for WordPress sites that makes it easier to embed your form where you want it to go.
Everything we’ve mentioned so far is great for accepting one-off donations on your website. But what if you want to do something more — like planned giving, a crowdfunding campaign, or a time-limited fundraising drive? In those cases, you’re better off using a fundraising platform.
Fundraising platforms give you access to a set of tools that allow you to:
- Create pages for individual fundraising campaigns, complete with a progress bar, donor appreciation wall, social media share buttons, and a comments section.
- Engage teams of people in the fundraising process with peer-to-peer fundraising pages. These allow people to recruit their friends and work towards an individual goal within your larger fundraiser. If your supporters are a competitive bunch, this is a great way to turbocharge your campaigns.
- Generate reports that break down your donations by average size, day-by-day amounts, and contribution history by donor. These reports are useful in helping you figure out how to refine your fundraising approach.
- Automatically send receipts and thank-yous to your donors. No need to manually issue them.
When it comes to donation platforms, two of your best options are Donate.ly (2% + $0.50 per user) and Classy (multiple plans). Both are used by major NGOs across the world, and both offer a similar set of basic features. The biggest distinction between the two is that Donate.ly is designed to be a simple but easy-to-customize service, whereas Classy is an all-in-one solution that includes things like an event ticketing system and integrations with Mailchimp and Constant Contact.
Improving Your Fundraising Performance
Donors find it easy to engage with your nonprofit when you’re telling an impact story. Instead of repeating your mission statement or writing some dull paragraph about how their donations are appreciated, show them what your cause is and how their money will make a difference. Here’s how you do it:
- Rich visual content like photo galleries and videos hold people’s attention longer than large blocks of text.
- Update your blog and social media accounts. Updating frequently shows potential donors that you are an active organization that is doing things.
- Include quotes and testimonials from the community you serve, from your volunteers, and even from other people who have supported you financially. This helps to build trust, and makes your donors feel like they are a part of a movement rather than a contributor to an isolated organization.
- Tailor your language to focus on the relationship between the donor and the population you serve. Instead of talking about the great things that your organization is doing, emphasize the great things that $50 or $25 or even $10 will do in the lives of others.
Time-limited fundraising campaigns work by triggering our all-too-human fear of missing out (FOMO). When paired with a progress bar or “fundraising thermometer” showing how much has been raised versus how much is left to go, it creates a powerful incentive for people to give something immediately. Campaigns should be easy to share on social media, and should include some method of thanking people publicly for their support (like a donor wall).
Make it as simple as possible for people to donate to your organization. Instead of burying a donate button somewhere in a page, allow users to click in a predictable spot on any page they open. Popup donation windows (sometimes called modal windows) can be very effective when used in moderation.
To learn more about how you can improve your site’s fundraising performance, check out our article on the subject: 7 Ways to Make Your Nonprofit Website a Fundraising Machine
Setting it All Up
Accepting donations online doesn’t need to be difficult, but picking the right products and services for your organization — and setting them up in a streamlined way for your fundraising team — can sometimes be hard. Talking to a consultant can help you avoid mistakes and build an online fundraising solution that makes sense for your nonprofit. Contact Glaance today with any questions you have. We look forward to hearing from you!