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If you're not set up for online fundraising, the time to start is now

Jakob Nielsen, a user experience consultant, predicts that most charitable donations will come through digital channels by 2020. Is your organization ready?

Begin with a donor-friendly website

The mechanics of online fundraising are relatively straightforward. The true challenge is dealing with donor psychology.

Research from the Nielsen Norman Group reveals that donors have high expectations of nonprofits. Before parting with their money, people tend to ask specific questions:

  • What does your organization do? Website visitors want to find the answer within 60 seconds of finding your website. Put the answer on your home page and make it simple to understand. State your ultimate outcome and target population in eight words or less — for example, "reducing rates of binge drinking in college undergraduates."
  • How will my donation be used? People don't necessarily expect that all of their donations will go directly to programs and client services. But donors do want a clear statement of how their money is spent. If you fail to provide this information or make it hard to find, people will wonder if you're trying to hide something.
  • Can I trust you? Website visitors also look for social proof of your organization's credibility. You can provide this through testimonials, endorsements and ratings from watchdog groups such as Charity Navigator and GuideStar. Also state the number of years that your organization has been in existence and provide a mailing address for donors who prefer not to donate online.

Set up to receive online donations

You have several options for allowing website visitors to make online payments in a safe and secure way.

One possibility is to add a donation button to your website. You can do this through services such as PayPal and Razoo. These vendors require you to add a few lines of code to your organization's website, so find someone with the necessary know-how. If you already use a donor management system, then check to see if it can create a donation button for you.

You can also accept donations through Facebook. If your organization already has a page on this social network, then consider adding a "Causes" tab for online donations.

Another option is to accept donations through fundraising services. There are dozens of companies that take online donors to a secure third-party site to process credit card payments. Examples include Network for Good, 4aGoodCause, JustGiving and Virgin Money Giving.

Fundraising services offer benefits to small nonprofits that don't have the technology capacity to set up firewalls, encrypt data and install other privacy safeguards. It pays to shop around, though. When choosing a fundraising service, ask these questions:

  • What will the donation page look like? Will it match the rest of your website?
  • What are the fees? Beyond transaction fees, do these include charges for initial set-up and monthly service?
  • Will the provider process payments from all major credit card merchants?
  • Does the provider offer on-screen and email receipts?
  • How does the provider safeguard the privacy of donor data?
  • Can the provider handle premiums and recurring donations?
  • How long will it take to process donations and deposit the funds in your account?
  • Does the provider offer accounting and reporting services, such as the ability to download spreadsheets with donor information? If so, how much do these services cost?
  • Is the provider trusted by others in the sector?

Make sure that online donations are PCI compliant

"PCI" stands for Payment Card Industry. The PCI Data Security Standards Council — which includes American Express, Discover, MasterCard, JCB and Visa International — requires their merchants to meet specific security standards to help prevent credit card fraud. If your organization accepts online donations, understanding PCI compliance is essential — even if your "donate now" button takes supporters to a third party that assumes the responsibility for collecting donor payment information and storing it in a PCI-compliant manner.

Make it easy for people to donate

No matter how you choose to accept donations, provide a direct call to action. Amazingly, nearly one-quarter of the nonprofits in the Nielsen Norman study failed to include this information on their home page.

For best results, make your donation link clearly visible. Also use the words "donate" or "donate now." Avoid indirect language such as "make a contribution" or "become a supporter."

In addition, make the donation process as seamless as possible. Ensure that website visitors move from the donate link to a confirmation page within a few minutes — the less time, the better.

Register for charitable solicitation

In the U.S., many small nonprofits are surprised to learn that soliciting funds for charitable purposes often requires state registration. However, the registration process and required forms differ greatly from state to state. To find out which states require registration, check out this map from Affinity Fundraising Registration. Then, learn when — and how — to register a fundraising campaign.

In the U.K., you must register your charity with the Charity Commission if you have more than £5,000 in annual income — or if you're a charitable incorporated organization (CIO), whatever your income. Check with the Charity Commission for guidance on how to register your charity.



MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.



Writer and editor fascinated by knowledge management, behavior change and technology for nonprofits