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How to Manage Online Donations

9.3.15 By: Stacey Tester

A consistent revenue stream and strong business process are key to driving your mission, and nonprofits of all shapes and sizes rely on donations to generate revenue. We often talk to nonprofits who want to provide potential donors with the option of making online contributions, but don’t know how to navigate their options. It can be confusing and overwhelming, so we’ve set out to send you in the right direction.

Let’s start from the beginning. How do you know if your organization actually needs an integrated online donation solution?

Even if you accept donations as a source of revenue, you don’t necessarily need to implement an online integrated solution. Many nonprofits assume this is a “must have” with a Salesforce deployment, but in some cases it may make more sense to put your Salesforce budget to use in other areas.  

When might this be the case? If your organization receives most of it’s funding from grants and have low donation volume (with no immediate goals to increase this volume), you might be a good candidate for utilizing manual entry or setting up an export/import process to manage your online donations. While this probably wouldn’t be manageable for organizations with larger volumes of donations, this option could be considered for donation-light nonprofits. This would allow project-related funds to be channeled into higher priority business needs and have more direct impact.

While there’s no cutoff number for which organizations need an online donation solution and which ones don’t, if you rely heavily on online gifts you can probably move forward with a solution, because this is where the fun starts. You’ll likely want to utilize an established Salesforce integration package that includes an online donation page. Thankfully, there are many options that are discounted for nonprofits. The challenge is to determine which one would best suit your organization, and it’s important to do your research. Earlier this year, we pulled in payment processing experts at iATS to offer their guidance on how to choose a payment processor, which will provide some helpful guidelines to consider while perusing your options.

To give some context on which solutions might be right for your organization, we’ve pulled together a few snapshots of nonprofits we work with and the solutions that often make sense for them. Our hope is that one of the profiles will resonate with your needs so you can gain insight into best practices and next steps.

Nonprofit 1: Small Nonprofit Making it Work
You receive enough online donations to warrant integrating a solution with Salesforce, but need to keep the costs low. You aren’t as concerned with the appearance of your online donation page as much as cost and dependable functionality. Your online donation needs are straightforward and don’t require much customization or flexibility.

Solution Suggestions: iATS Brickwork is a great choice. We often recommend this solution as a “work horse” within the online donation world because the interface is user-friendly, and the integration with Salesforce is dependable, and it’s simple to deploy. It’s a no-fuss option for those who have simple online donation needs and are cost-conscious. Brickwork does allow for some customization to the donation page, but has little flexibility regarding fields you can map into your Salesforce database.

Nonprofit 2: Nonprofit with an Eye for Design and Peer-to-Peer Fundraising
Your NPO has a strong online marketing presence and needs consistent branding across the board. Most online donation solutions don’t provide you with enough flexibility to achieve the look and feel you desire, and you're willing to invest financially to get it right.

Solution Suggestions: You may consider a custom-built integration that allows you to configure your online donations portal according to your specific functional and aesthetic needs. Be aware, however, that a custom online donation integration can be costly and complex. If you don’t want to go that route, another good option may be Classy, which has a visually appealing and user friendly interface that also offers features such as peer-to-peer fundraising and event registration.

Nonprofit 3: Somewhere in the Middle Nonprofit: Cost-conscious but some customization needed
Your website warrants that your online donations portal has a great look and feel, but you also need to keep costs down. You may need some flexibility around donations to specific programs, or want donors to make contributions in honor or memory of another individual.

Solution Suggestions: Needs in this range can vary quite a bit, so you will want to talk with your consulting partner about exactly what you’re looking to accomplish in order to gauge which solution makes the most sense. Depending on the type of flexibility you require, iATS Brickwork could work, or a more customizable payment processing solution such as Click & Pledge, which has quite a bit of flexibility built-in. Click & Pledge also offers additional Salesforce integrations such as Event Management, but can be clunky and complex to deploy. Another option may be FormAssembly, which is a highly customizable interface that will allow organizations to capture a wide variety of data and can be paired with payment processors. While these profiles are just meant to provide you with directions, if you find yourself in this gray area, definitely consider scheduling a call with an expert to chat about your options.

10/15 update: we neglected to mention another favorite in this category that deserves a shoutout: Soapbox Engage. Soapbox Engage provides a suite of apps to help organizations to do online engagement with Salesforce, including their Donations app that allows you to choose from multiple payment gateways and has an integration built specifically for the Nonprofit Starter Pack.  Their platform also includes other related apps for event registrations and advocacy, in case you're looking for an all-in-one solution, and unlike the other solutions mentioned in this post they don't charge a transaction fee to use the app.

Nonprofit 4: Nonprofit with an Existing Online Donation Page
Your website already includes an online donation portal and you’re unsure how to proceed with Salesforce integration. Or, you’re currently in the process of building a website and plan to include online donations in the CMS design.

Solution Suggestions: You have the option of keeping your existing donation page or building it with your CMS as planned. However, we often try to steer clients away from this option in our consulting sessions. Connecting Salesforce to an existing donation page requires custom integration that tends to be very costly (at least 5x more expensive than an out-of-the-box solution) and can be very challenging to build. It can be much more difficult than it seems to connect a donation page built upon an existing website platform to a Salesforce database. Custom integrations will also require utilizing a payment processor like Chargent to translate data being captured on your website into Salesforce, which adds an additional layers of cost and complexity. Therefore, we recommend you consider migrating to one of the solutions mentioned above.  

It’s likely that your organization doesn’t fit perfectly into the above profiles, but we hope you’ll be able to identify similarities that can provide context for navigating your options. If you’ve done your research and feel like you’re ready to take the plunge, we’re here to help you pick a path that will lead you to success and take your priorities into consideration, whether they be cost, design, or flexibility.

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