Donations solutions for smaller UK charities

How to approach cost effective donation solutions for smaller charities.

John Newton's picture
John Newton
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While large charities may have the digital expertise or budget to deploy effective donation systems, this is not generally the case for small to medium sized charities. This is because the donation landscape is confusing, costs variable and the levels of expertise and technical knowledge required for comprehensive solutions are very often beyond the reach of small busy charities lacking deep pockets. This can lead to the unfortunate situation where larger charities can run more effective campaigns and so consolidate their position, while smaller charities fulfilling vital needs find it ever more difficult to raise funds. 

Of course, larger charities require big campaigns and while they are often criticised in the media for sitting on excessive capital reserves, the picture is more nuanced

But the difficulties faced by small charities to maximise their donations cannot be overstated. Not only can their quiet voices often not be heard but the systems they use to leverage donations may inhibit their maximising their full potential. How can we explain this?

Fees are confusing

It isn’t easy to work out the best donation platform based on fees. To begin with fees may change. Secondly, fee charges are based on a wide range of variables from platform charges per se to bank, merchant or credit card percentages.

Let’s try to sort out some of the confusion. Platforms do not approach fees in the same way. As such, you’ll find one platform with low or even no subscription fees but with a transaction fee rate that is higher than the competition’s. Having looked into this, while savings can be made by choosing your third party donation platform wisely, it’s also fair to say that on the whole, costs tend to even out between the main providers.

Keeping donations on your website is hard

Advanced donations systems where your supporters can give on your site can be hard and complicated to implement. As such, many smaller charities opt for a platform like CAFDonate or JustGiving and so offload the problem. This can be a great solution, especially in the short term, but your ability to brand your page (or campaign) is limited and it’s generally thought [link to my blog] that this inhibits giving, especially sign ups for repeated direct debit.

Payments are getting more (not less) confusing

The number of payment methods is now mind boggling. It’s really hard to know which methods you’ll need to support. Who are your donors? Are they likely to be using more modern payments? Help!

Too many other pressures

Small charities will generally have small Comms teams. Fundraisers will be busy fundraising and need to be experts in all aspects of fundraising. But this is just impossible. Simply keeping on top of the shifting sands of online donations is a full-time task and one person in a small or even medium-sized organisation would be really hard push to achieve expertise in this area.

The tendency towards staying with what you already have

This is what happens when you factor in the points above. The system you have works (after a fashion). Donations are disappointing but the alternative feels like climbing a mountain. People have developed ‘good enough’ internal systems to export and import data into a CRM so they have a handle on their donors.

The problem with this is that donations and campaigns simply don’t work hard enough. What’s more, they force staff into spending more time on cobbled together internal workflows to try and match donors with CRMs and targeted newsletters. There’s too much room for error here, along with missed opportunities for making more of data and being able to communicate with (and thank) loyal supporters.

There is another way

Donations (and online payment processing) is a dynamic area. While there’s certainly no single best solution, spending time with your digital partner should help you identify improvements. It may well be possible now to implement donations and payment processing from within your own website without this becoming a major IT project. There are many new services that make use of modern merchant accounts to help with this. Stripe, Donorbox and Braintree (now part of PayPal) may all enable you to run more cost effective and targeted fundraising campaigns from within your own website, along with the tantalising additional benefit of direct integration into your CRM. 

I would encourage you to think creatively about what solution might suit you best. This means that perhaps fees are less important than improving the donation experience. If you run a number of campaigns each each, setting up a single payment page that can be flexibly themed or redesigned and that uses a merchant account might actually be more cost effective than just using the same old third party service.