How to Choose a Fundraising Platform, Part Two


Welcome to part two in our series on how to choose a fundraising platform. As I noted in part one, rather than picking a system based solely on referrals or research, it pays to first think through your organization’s requirements, capabilities and expectations. The right choice of systems can reap benefits for years to come, whereas the wrong one will lead to frustration and lost fundraising opportunities.

Three colored doors signifying options available to you when choosing a fundraising platform.

So, if you’ve done your internal review, you now have what you need to move further along the path to your final selection. And that starts by answering the question:

How much do we want our fundraising platform to do?

Do we want:

– An “all-in-one” tool that does everything?

– A handful of individual tools for specific needs?

– Just the basics, i.e. enough to accept donations online?

Let’s explore each of these paths to help determine which one is right for your team.

All-In-One Fundraising Platforms

The term “all-in-one” is a bit of a misnomer, given that no one fundraising system offers every single function an organization could conceive of through one individual tool. Moreover, there are products that focus on one function (say, peer-to-peer fundraising) that also offer add-ons to qualify themselves as a fundraising “suite.”

So let’s define “all-in-one” to mean a system that integrates the core functions of online fundraising: outreach, donation receipt, reporting and donor management into one product.

What are some examples of “All-in-One” fundraising platforms?

Blackbaud tools (eTapestry, Raiser’s Edge), Network for Good, Classy, and Salsa Labs are all examples.

Is this what we need?

Platforms like these are best suited to organizations that have the time and staff to learn all of their capabilities, as well as implement and manage the systems once they’re live. There is a lot to learn and do here, from how the tools integrate with your website and existing marketing software, to the various outreach functions available and the myriad ways you can collect and interpret data. Many of these providers offer separate consultation and specialized training services to help guide clients along the way and maximize results.

Keep in mind that you can derive value from these systems even if you choose not to go deep into every tool or use everything that comes with the platform. But then I recommend weighing the financial and time costs of embracing a system like this knowing that you’re not going to draw on its full capabilities.

Lastly, one often overlooked consideration when clients choose an all-in-one system is user experience. Remember that the impression your online touchpoints make on your donors can mean the difference between a small donation and a larger one–or even no donation at all:

– Do the system’s tools integrate seamlessly into your website so that donors feel it’s one continuous experience?

– If the system does reside separately from your website, does it have a pleasing, user-friendly appearance? Is it up to contemporary design standards? Does it work across devices and carry through the look and feel of your own branding?

– Does the experience emphasize security, both in its processes and layout?

In our experience, the “newer” all-in-one systems, i.e. those that have come about in the last 5-7 years, seem to place more emphasis on contemporary design standards, integration and overall user experience than the “legacy” products, i.e., those that have been around since the beginning of online fundraising. This is not a hard and fast rule, though, and most of the platforms are continually evolving.

Building Your Own Toolset

Your internal review may have revealed that you simply don’t need it all. You may not be staffed to handle perpetual online fundraising, or you receive most of your funding through grants and/or a handful of major donors. Irrespective, you know you’re not ready to take advantage of the many capabilities that one of the all-in-one systems offers.

In this case, you can choose to build your own set of tools based around your specific online fundraising needs.

What are some examples of “my own toolset?”

It all depends on need. For example, say your online fundraising needs entail:

  • Emailing donors at different points throughout the year, sending them to a donation page, and then capturing that donor data to build on your outreach.
  • Tools needed: An email marketing program, Donation form software, CRM or Donor Management tool
  • Holding one or more peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns throughout the year and accepting donations directly through that platform
  • Tools needed: Peer-to-peer fundraising software with data collection and reporting capabilities
  • Running events and fundraisers directly on your social media channels
  • Tools needed: Social media platforms
  • Maintaining a simple form on your website to accept donations and collect donor information
  • Tools needed: Donation Form software, CRM or Donor Management tool

Some “all-in-one” suites do have different subscription levels, whereby you’ll only pay for a certain set of capabilities, and that’s worth exploring. But if you have a clear picture of what your online fundraising needs will be, it’s more efficient to simply subscribe to those specific tools.

Is this what we need?

Yes, assuming you’ve thought deeply about what your online fundraising needs will be for the foreseeable future.

The benefits of going this route are simplicity–you’re only getting (and paying for) what you know you’ll need, and quality–typically, if a product is designed for a specific function, it’s going to be better at that function than something that was built into a larger system of tools to satisfy the “all-in-one” definition.

Just the Basics

If after all is said and done, you’re just not in a position to formally raise funds on an ongoing basis through online channels, you’ll still of course need to accept donations. And for that, you’re going to need the fundamentals:

  • A landing page that makes a case for a donation to your organization by showcasing impact.
  • A form integrated into your landing page to place the donation
  • A payment processor to accept the donation and transfer it to your bank

This may not seem like a heavy lift, but you’d be surprised how many organizations get it wrong. Although there are products available that can handle all three of these functions at once, this is one area where you may want to consider custom design and development.

An experienced designer can construct a landing page that provides a seamless user experience tied to your brand and visual direction, and work in tandem with you to provide the content that shows, in a compelling way as to why a donor should support your organization.

A good developer can help you build the type of donation form you need, including fields and functionality to accept in-honor-of and recurring donations. In addition, they’ll be able to build any third-party products into the form as well as integrate your payment processor (we recommend Stripe, by the way).

So there you have it. You’ve done your homework as to what your online fundraising needs are, and that has enabled you to decide what types of tools and systems–or none of the above–meet those needs.

Now you’ll just need to go shopping. Here’s a list of sources that can help you review tools in advance. You didn’t think I’d just leave you hanging, did you?

Good luck! And if you need more help, I’m only an email away.

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