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5 Considerations to Make When Collecting Online Donations

Online donations have become a staple of modern fundraising for most nonprofits. Most likely, your organization has already employed some form of fundraising software in order to collect donations through your website as well as other channels.

Even if you’re a pro at using online fundraising tools to accept donations, there are some considerations to keep in mind in order to truly maximize your online fundraising potential.

Here, we’ll walk through some questions you should ask yourself, whether you’re just starting out with software, are looking to make a switch, or are just interested in learning more about the tools you already have.

We’ll answer the following questions:

  1. What features does my online donation software include?
  2. How are donors’ payments processed?
  3. How will I manage my donor information?
  4. Are my online donation tools mobile-friendly?
  5. Can my fundraising software grow with my organization?

If you’re ready to learn, read on!

1. What features does my online donation software include?

Depending on your provider, your online giving platform might include a variety of capabilities. However, your donation software should definitely include a handful of basic features, such as: 

  • Online donation forms.
  • Mobile-optimized donation pages.
  • Customization and branding options.
  • CRM integration.
  • Support and training options, if needed.

Because many online giving tools are built into CRMs, your donation software might be part of a suite of fundraising software solutions. Alternatively, you can purchase standalone online donation tools to use on their own or integrate with other products (such as donor databases). While standalone options can be a good choice for small organizations, this is not the most manageable long-term solution.

If you’re considering purchasing new software, you should ask yourself what tools your organization needs to make your fundraising efforts more efficient and productive overall. 

You’ll also need to consider where your organization will be in the future. Picking an online donation tool with limited features means you’ll have to restart your search for new software once your nonprofit grows or evolves.

While there are several fantastic online donation tools available, each platform will come with its own set of strengths and limitations. Since different products have different functionalities, you should do some research to find out what tools you really need and which you won’t touch.

As you begin your search, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will it fit in our budget?
  • How do we manage and collect data?
  • Does the software integrate with our current fundraising tools?
  • Will we have support or software training?

Since many vendors offer several product packages with different levels of included features, you may also need to do some research on what other offerings your current software provider may have on the market.

For instance, if you’ve been using a basic or middle-tier package but find you want additional, more advanced features (or support), consider upgrading or purchasing add-ons from the provider you’re already using.

A benefit to staying within the same software family is that you won’t have to worry about an intensive data transfer or integration process, since that provider’s tools should all work seamlessly with one another.

Using tools that don’t communicate with one another can be inefficient and error-ridden, so it’s best to find comprehensive software that provides you with all the tools you might need, rather than using a handful of disparate solutions.

Additionally, it’s important to consider your nonprofit’s budget when choosing fundraising software. No matter what size your organization is, you can find tools that fit within your budget. In fact, there are plenty of tools that offer free basic plans so that you can get started with their software right away.

Use these free plans as a starting point to see if you like the software and it’s basic capabilities; that way, you can determine if you want to purchase a higher tier with more features.

The bottom line: Be aware of what fundraising tools your organization needs to most effectively collect online donations. If possible, choose one all-inclusive fundraising solution that can meet your needs in a variety of areas.

2. How are donors’ payments processed?

In order to accept online donations, you’ll need to make sure your organization is properly registered to solicit donations online. Once you’ve met this critical step, you’re ready to enlist the help of a payment processing tool. The fundraising software you choose will already have these tools built in to get donations from your donors’ pockets to your nonprofit’s bank account.

However, you can also purchase dedicated payment processing services directly and use the processor’s tools for your fundraising needs.

If you do choose to work with a dedicated payment processor, look to find one who specializes in nonprofits or is at least familiar with your organization’s specific set of needs.

Don’t forget to prioritize security. It’s crucial that your processor is PCI-compliant, which means they adhere to set of standards put in place to protect you (and your donors) from online fraud.

If you’re not in the market for new software, it’s still important to be familiar with how your donations are processed and to understand what kinds of donations your processor is able to accept.

All payment processors should accept the four major credit cards (Visa, American Express, Discover, and MasterCard), but in order to really maximize your fundraising potential, you’ll want to make sure you’re able to accept ACH payments (also known as eChecks) as well.

Not only does accepting ACH payments give your donors more options, but it also makes it possible to automate recurring gifts. When you include an automated recurring donation option on your donation form, you take away the inconvenience of giving on a regular basis. No longer do you donors have to remember to send a check each month!

As a starting point, talk to your software provider about any payment processors that specialize in nonprofit or fundraising. Here’s a great place to start to learn more about payment processing for nonprofits.

The bottom line: Your online giving provider will employ a payment processor to take your donors’ gifts from Point A to Point B. Make sure you’re working with a secure, reliable processor who understands your needs as a nonprofit and can maximize your fundraising potential.

3. How will I manage my donor information?

In addition to providing you with the tools needed to collect online donations, your online donation software is also responsible for collecting the donor information that comes with each payment.

Think of it this way: when your donor inputs their information on an online donation form—such as name, email address, or phone number—that data has to go somewhere. Most likely, it’s going to be filed in your donor database (also known as your CRM).

If you use fundraising software with built-in online giving tools, you won’t have to worry about manually logging the record of that donation in your donor’s profile (or creating a profile for a new donor).

Even if you aren’t using your fundraising software’s built-in online giving tools, you can still collect donor data. Many CRMs integrate with other donation tools so that your donor information is automatically updated. Of course, you’ll have to check the information to make sure that everything is transferred correctly.

Check with your donation software and your CRM to see what software providers they integrate with or look at this list of top CRMs.

In the rare case that your CRM doesn’t integrate with your donation form, you can always input the information in manually.

Additionally, your software should be able to automate other data management features by giving you the ability to:

  • Generate reports and analytics.
  • Examine donor giving history.
  • Send donor acknowledgements and gift receipts.
  • Track donor involvement in other areas, such as volunteerism.
  • View donor relationships.

When your fundraising tools all work together to streamline many facets of your organization in a holistic way, you’ll be able to spend less time managing data and more time engaging donors!

The bottom line: The most powerful fundraising tools will automate many aspects of your fundraising, making your efforts more streamlined overall.

4. Are my online donation tools mobile-friendly?

In today’s world, people use their phones for just about everything, so why should donating to a worthy cause be any exception? While your donation pages and other fundraising platforms should all work on laptop and desktop screens, they should work just as well on smartphone and tablet screens.

The simplest way to collect mobile donations is to create mobile-optimized donation pages. Most providers automatically create pages that can fit any screen, but it doesn’t hurt to check for yourself.

If you’re customizing your donation form, make sure that you’re using large font and buttons, writing in short paragraphs, and using a vertical layout. In general, it’s a good idea to de-clutter your online donation page, but simplicity is especially important for mobile devices. A busy page can be even more overwhelming and hard to navigate on a miniature screen, so keep your page as straightforward as possible.

Mobile donation pages are a great start, but if you want to truly make the most of mobile donation software, you might want to look into more specialized fundraising tools.

For example, if you’re an organization who loves the excitement of a silent auction, consider adding a mobile component to your next event. Mobile bidding is a fun (and very profitable) way to infuse tech into your classic auction.

Not only do donors love the convenience of browsing and bidding on auction items directly through their smartphones, but you’ll appreciate the super-streamlined checkout process and easy engagement features.

Did we mention that auctions with mobile bidding components make an average of 3x more than traditional paper bidding auctions? It’s no surprise that tech-friendly auctions are taking the fundraising world by storm!

Mobile bidding is only one of many mobile fundraising options. If you know your donors would respond well to the convenience of mobile giving, consider checking out other options too, including:

  • Text-to-give.
  • Mobile giving kiosks.
  • Email donations.
  • Mobile-optimized peer-to-peer or crowdfunding pages.

Depending on your provider, you may have access to all kinds of mobile giving options!

The bottom line: If you’re only able to accept online gifts on laptops and desktops, you might miss out on a huge number of online donations. Find a platform that can help make your fundraising approach mobile-ready.

5. Can my fundraising software grow with my organization?

Your nonprofit has goals, and those goals likely don’t include changing software every time you hit a new milestone!

If you anticipate that your organization will see some growth in the near future, make sure your software can support you throughout any changes you experience. (And, make sure your provider can support your long-term campaigns!)

Many fundraising tools are segmented by how many constituents they’re able to serve (as well as, in some cases, by how many staff members can access the software). You don’t want to be surprised to discover you’ve outgrown your product, so find out how much room this software gives you to grow.

You should check to see the different packages your current provider may have on the market, since many vendors vary their offerings by organization size and expansiveness of the feature set. In many cases, it’s much easier to upgrade while staying within the same product family, since you won’t have to learn a new system or transfer all your data.

If your vendor doesn’t offer the upgrades you desire, it may be time to shop for new software.

While you may be able to manage additional fundraising needs by purchasing standalone tools to integrate with your current software, that’s likely not the most sustainable solution. Instead, consider moving to a comprehensive solution with built-in fundraising tools that take away the need for integration across multiple (potentially incompatible) platforms.

When it’s time to look for new online fundraising software, consider how much these upgrades will cost. Usually, fundraising websites will charge a platform or set-up fee in addition to payment processing fees. The fee could be a monthly, yearly, or one-time expense, so get all the details before you make a decision.

Compare the features and costs of multiple fundraising sites to determine what addition provides the most potential at the best price.

As you add upgrades and new tools to accommodate your growing needs, make sure that your provider offers the right level of support.

New features can take time to learn, so consider looking into software training. Some vendors offer educational workshops and personalized training sessions (often at an additional fee), or you could find a consultant who specializes in software and technology.

The bottom line: Growth should always play some part in your organizational plan, and it’s important that your online donation tools can move with you as you find new donors and hire additional staff. Know the limits of your software so you can know when it’s time to upgrade.

By accepting online donations, you’re opening up a world of donation opportunities for your donors. Convenient, secure, and engaging, online donations make giving easy for on-the-go donors.

With the right online donation tools and a software that fits your organization’s needs, you can make the most of online giving immediately.

For more fundraising resources, check out these additional articles: 

  • Hiring a Fundraising Consultant. With the help of an expert consulting firm, you can improve your nonprofit’s fundraising strategies. Consultants can help you find more ways to accept donations online and offer their expertise on taking full advantage of your existing fundraising tools. Learn more about how to find the right consultant.
  • 5 Fundraising Event Tips. If you’re looking for ideas to raise money during your capital campaign, this resource offers 5 essential tips for hosting a successful event.
  • Mobile Giving. Similar to online donations, mobile giving allows supporters to contribute on their phones. Learn how to optimize your online donations for smaller screens and make the giving process more convenient.


Learn more about fundraising consultant fees for your nonprofit feasibility study.

Aly Sterling Philanthropy