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7 Best Practices for Buying Online Donation Software

FREE BONUS: Download our FREE Text-to-Give Starter Guide! Learn everything you need to know about text-to-give with this helpful, insightful guide!

As technology evolves and donors become increasingly comfortable with making payments online, accepting online donations is becoming a standard practice for all types of nonprofits.

If you haven’t yet gotten on board with online giving (or if you’re looking to switch software), there are certainly some best practices to be aware of before you buy. Online donation software is a major purchase for your organization, especially if you’re searching for a comprehensive, multi-use product (or set of products!).

We’ve put together a list of the 7 best practices for buying online donation software. As you’re shopping around, keep these considerations in mind:

  1. Find features that fit your needs.
  2. Shop with your budget in mind.
  3. Ensure your donation forms can match your brand.
  4. Consider mobile and event-based giving.
  5. Know how you will manage donor data.
  6. Anticipate the software’s learning curve.
  7. See the product in action with a demo.

When you’re done reading, you’ll be more than ready to make the move toward new online giving software—and one step closer to meeting your fundraising goals!

Find online donation software that has features that fit your needs.

1. Find features that fit your needs.

If you’re unfamiliar with the scope of online giving software, you might be amazed at everything that these products can do. But, just because you can buy an all-encompassing product suite, doesn’t mean you should.

Like nonprofits themselves, online donation tools have different specialties, strengths, and shortcomings. Where one tool succeeds, another might fall short, and vice versa. Therefore, you should assess your own organization’s needs before and while you research product features to find software that will fit your goals.

Fundraising software can come with a lot of features, including:

  • Donation forms.
  • Event planning and execution tools.
  • Donor management.
  • Mobile giving capabilities.
  • Grant management.
  • Email marketing.

Of course, these features will vary based on the scale of the software as well as the type of organization it targets.

For instance, a large multi-chapter organization will need much more robust functionality than a small nonprofit just getting started accepting online gifts. Moreover, a community organization sustained only by donations will need a different giving interface than a nonprofit camp looking to accept contributions on top of registration fees.

Keeping these core software differences in mind is a good first step, but you also need to consider what more nuanced features your organization may need in the future. While your software may meet your general needs now, can it grow with your organization as your goals evolve?

Many online donation providers offer plans with basic features as well as packages that include more fundraising tools. That way, as your nonprofit grows, you can continue to use the same software.

As a result, you won’t have to worry about migrating your information to a different software every time you need a new tool. Plus, many providers partner with other nonprofit tools (think: matching gift, prospect research, and marketing tools) so you can integrate everything with your donation software.

Additionally, keep in mind your organization’s goals as you plan your purchase. If you don’t know what you’d like to accomplish, there’s no way to know what tools will help get you there!

Takeaway: No two donation platforms are alike! Consider what features would make your fundraising easier and more effective, and look for software that meets those needs specifically.

Shop for online donation software that's within your budget.

2. Shop with your budget in mind.

There are a number of factors that contribute to an online giving tool’s price tag.

Depending on the features the software offers to factors like the number of constituents it supports, the potential price tag of your fundraising software can vary greatly.

It goes without saying that your organization’s budget should play a determining role in the software you purchase.

However, even if you’re limited by your nonprofit’s funding, that doesn’t mean you need to settle for a bare-bones free fundraising software.

Having a tight budget might constrain your options, but that’s no reason to choose lightweight nonprofit software. In fact, there are lots of affordable options out there that are designed to grow with your cause.

Your organization should consider purchasing multiple modules from your existing nonprofit software.

Generally, software providers will offer affordable upgrades or fundraising packages if you’re already using some of their tools.

Using multiple tools from the same provider will make it easier to paint a full picture of your donors and understand the effectiveness of your online fundraising software.  

Think about it this way: when your CRM integrates with your fundraising software, information on each donor’s giving history, average gift size, and so much more will be at your fingertips.

Alternatively, if you’re using Salesforce CRM, for instance, there are plenty of nonprofit-specific applications that will integrate with your software. Many of these applications are free to use if you purchase the software.

OneCause offers Salesforce users a free application called OneCause Connect that allows organizations to transfer donor data between the two tools. As such, purchasing a tool that comes with a Salesforce app will be a better investment for your nonprofit.

As you’re analyzing your budget, it may also be a good time to check in with your board. Online giving software is a major purchase, so make sure that your board is involved in the buying process, too.

Takeaway: Equipping your organization with the right online donation tools can be a big investment. Take some time to go over your nonprofit’s budget before you begin your search to ensure you can afford the software you need.

Choose online donation software that has enough customization capabilities to match your brand.

3. Ensure your donation forms can match your brand.

Online donation pages are the most fundamental component of online donation software. As such, it’s essential that you’re able to customize your pages in terms of both content and style.

While most online giving software will set you up with the basics of a functional online donation page, you should also look for a platform that enables you to integrate your donation page with your nonprofit’s website and tailor your forms to meet your specific needs.

Having online donation forms that integrate seamlessly with your nonprofit’s website helps to establish trust and eliminate any confusion on who is receiving your supporter’s donations. 

While some platforms have user-friendly donation tools that let you customize your page, some will require HTML and CSS knowledge to create a completely customized donation page.

If that’s the case, you should consider hiring a nonprofit web design company to handle the technical and visual aspects. Even if your platform has an easy-to-use builder, you can still benefit from a professional. Since web designers have knowledge of current trends and best practices, they can not only design a beautiful looking page but also optimize it so that you can maximize your form’s fundraising potential. 

In addition, hiring a web design firm means that you’ll have a team that can implement custom solutions for your website and online donation forms. In other words, a professional can help you create a giving experience that’s unique to your nonprofit.

Does hiring a professional sound good to you?

If so, you should look for design firms that have experience or specialize in designing websites for nonprofits. That way, they’ll understand your main goals and how to design the best form that’s unique to your nonprofit. Double the Donation has an excellent list of top design companies to help you get started.

Whether you decide to hire a web designer or not, one of the most important ways to personalize your form is to include your organization’s branding. Make sure that your form’s color scheme, logo, fonts, and other design elements are cohesive to reinforce your organization’s professionalism and trustworthiness.

When supporters know they’re still interacting with your nonprofit, they’ll be more likely to trust that their payments will be securely processed and less likely to walk away from the donation process.

In addition to considering the style of your donation pages, you should determine the content you’d like to include. Many donation tools allow you to add or delete required fields so that you can collect donor information that you actually need.

If your donation pages integrate with your CRM, the information you collect here can be automatically filed in your database, so it’s a great way to deepen your understanding of your donors.

Takeaway: You can use your donation software to create donation pages that fit with your organization’s existing website. Consider the level of branding you’d like to incorporate, as well as how customized you’d like your content to be.

When choosing online donation software consider mobile and event-based giving.

4. Consider mobile and event-based giving.

Obviously, online giving tools make it possible for supporters to make donations online, but did you know they can also make it easier and more engaging to give on the go?

When you think of online donations, you might immediately picture a laptop or desktop computer. However, with some dedicated mobile and event-based giving tools, your donors’ giving options can be extended to smartphones, tablets, and other portable devices that they can take with them anywhere, including to your fundraising events.

Let’s take a look at two specific ways you can implement mobile giving:

  • Mobile bidding.
  • Text-to-give.

Both are valuable ways for your organization to expand giving opportunities, so let’s go over both options in greater detail.

Mobile Bidding

If your organization hosts silent auctions, consider finding a provider who offers mobile bidding technology. Not only do these tools add a fun twist to the classic silent auction, but they actually help you raise more funds along the way! In fact, mobile-friendly auctions tend to be three times more profitable than their traditional counterparts. 

Why do these modern auctions raise so much? Mobile bidding is packed full of benefits for nonprofits and donors, including:

  • Convenient bidding process. Bidders browse and place bids on items directly from their smartphones. Donors can even automate their bids on items they’re determined to take home, so there’s no more running to and from the display tables!
  • Added engagement. You’ll be able to communicate with donors through these tools as well, providing them timely updates throughout the night or sending other important messages instantly.
  • Streamlined checkout. Donors’ payment methods are pre-authorized, which means they won’t have to re-enter their credit card information all night long. And even more importantly, you won’t have to deal with the intensive check-out process that comes along with paper bid sheets.

Since donors will already likely have their phones in tow at your next auction, mobile bidding is a no-brainer. This process is designed to be user-friendly, so even the least tech-savvy supporters can get on board.

Text-to-Give

As simple as it sounds, once you’ve partnered with a text-to-give provider, your donors will be able to give using just their texting app and a mobile web browser.

Text campaigns have become extremely popular in the past decade. Since an overwhelming majority of American adults own a cell phone, it’s no surprise that nonprofits have begun modernizing their fundraising strategies to fit into the digital age.

Text giving works great as part of any campaign, but it works especially well during fundraising events! Consider making a live appeal during your fundraiser and invite attendees to use their smartphones to instantly give to your cause.

Like mobile bidding, text giving couldn’t be easier for anyone to use. Even so, make sure you have staff or volunteers to walk your donors through the steps should they hit any snags.

Need more information on how text-to-give can revolutionize your mobile giving strategy? Check out our ultimate guide right here!

Takeaway: Mobile and event-based giving is perhaps the most convenient form of online giving. Consider implementing mobile bidding or text-to-give to meet your donors where they already are—on their smartphones!

Before you buy online donation software know how you'll manage your donor data.

5. Know how you will manage donor data.

When your donors give through online donation forms (or other means), they’ll be submitting more than just their donations. As you collect online payments, you’ll receive a lot of donor data, so be sure that you have a plan for managing data once you have your new software in place.

If you’re using standalone giving tools, make sure you can integrate them with your existing software. That means that no matter how your donors make their donations, their information will find its way to a centralized location (your database).

If your fundraising tools can’t communicate with one another, you may be left with disconnected data across multiple platforms, which just isn’t very useful.

An even better solution? Look for a comprehensive software that offers all the fundraising and donor management tools you need in one place! 

Many CRMs have built-in online giving tools alongside a variety of other features, including:

  • Donor management – Create donor profiles to track information on individual supporters. The information that you track can be anything from giving habits, past engagements, and interests and hobbies.
  • Event planning – Part of event planning is tracking the number of guests that are going to participate and the details of the event. CRMs usually have built-in tools that allow you to manage these aspects and build event registration pages.
  • Analytics reporting – Tracking your donors habits can give you deeper insights into their preferred giving channels, as well as email open and click through rates and social media interactions. Having a centralized location to track the information will make it easier for you to analyze the data and initiate improvements.

Because these tools are all extensions of one software, you’ll never have to worry about incompatibly or manual data entry.

In the long run, investing in powerful fundraising software will save your organization from a lot of inefficiency and error, so it’s certainly worth looking into!

Takeaway: Data management is an integral part of software use. Look for software that can work with the platforms you already rely on, or consider purchasing a CRM with built-in donation tools.

Anticipate the online donation software's learning curve.

6. Anticipate the software’s learning curve.

No matter how many giving tools your organization has used, adopting new software can take time and, in some cases, training, before you get used to navigating new features.

A little research (and a demo) can give you some idea of how much effort it will require to learn the ins and outs of your new product, but you should plan to spend extra time setting up, trying out, and troubleshooting your new software nonetheless. 

Simple online giving tools (such as online donation forms) likely won’t require much time to understand, but if you’re using more complex software, you might need to take some time to get familiar with the different features.

Consider how user-friendly your new tools are before you commit to them. If the learning curve is especially steep, you might want to consider how it will affect your organization’s resources. Do you have the time to learn a complex new system? Do you have the funds to hire training consultants?

Most fundraising software vendors offer educational resources and basic support for their products, but if you need more hands-on assistance, ask your provider about training options. Your vendor may offer classes or personalized training sessions for your team designed to answer all your questions.

Some vendors will take care of training free of charge, but in other cases, training may come at an additional fee. You’ll want to consider this as you’re budgeting for your new purchase.

Takeaway: Consider how much training you’ll need from your provider before you buy so that you don’t get stuck with a product you don’t know how to use!

Request a demo before you buy online donation software.

7. See the product in action with a demo.

Once you’ve found a product that seems perfect for your nonprofit, you’ll want to get a firsthand look at its functionality. Luckily, most providers offer in-person, online, or over-the-phone demonstrations of their software so that you can get a realistic feel for what it’s like to use the tools.

Check with your vendor to see what their demo process is like. If possible, make a list of any questions or concerns you have before your demo date so that you can have your representative walk you through specific features.

No matter how much research you’ve done on the product, you won’t know if it’s truly the choice for you until you’ve seen it in real-time. Have staff sit in on the demo so that everyone on your team has a clear picture of the product’s user-friendliness.

If the demo still leaves you with questions, or if you’re between a few different product options, see if you can request a personal trial from your vendor.

Even better than a demonstration, a trial will allow you to navigate the product yourself. If you’re able to secure a trial run, have a few different staff members play around with the software to see if it’s a good match for those who’ll be using it.

Takeaway: Even if you’re sold on a product from the beginning, a demo can clear up any confusion and allow you to see the software in action. Request a demo (or a trial) from your vendor before you purchase a product.


Investing in new fundraising software can be a big move. From features to user-friendliness, you should be as familiar as possible with your prospective products before you sign the contract.

By following these best practices, you can find software that will supercharge your fundraising from start to finish!

To learn even more about online giving software, check out these additional resources:

Request a demo of charity auction software by OneCause!

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