Online fundraising holds unlimited potential for nonprofits. Armed with a strategic email campaign or timely social media appeal, a nonprofit can raise thousands—or even millions—online in a matter of days. As online giving grows by millions of dollars every year, access to online fundraising is crucial for nonprofits. There are so many tools and strategies out there to help nonprofits, but most come with a hefty price tag. According to NTEN, the average nonprofit spends almost $100,000 on technology per year. Seems high, right? But after you take a look at the costs that go into online fundraising, which is just one slice of the pie, you’ll start to see how things add up.
Here’s a breakdown of the costs nonprofits should be aware of when fundraising online, plus important considerations and strategies they should keep in mind to save critical funds in the process.
Costs to Be Aware Of
Platform Fees and Contracts
Getting started raising money online requires online fundraising technology—or a fundraising platform. However, these platforms can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars, usually in the form of annual or monthly fees, sometimes both. The most popular platforms cost as much a $400 per month, plus, some will take an additional 3 percent to 8 percent per donation in fees. Many platforms also require that nonprofits sign lengthy contracts, locking them in for a year or more.
Nonprofits usually need additional help setting up online fundraising—it’s rarely as easy as “sign up & start fundraising.” From initial setup to ongoing issues, hidden costs add up quickly. When nonprofit customers run out of the allotted support time included in many platform packages, they’re charged at an unpublicized per-hour rate. Additionally, adding features and integrations costs extra so it’s important for nonprofits to anticipate any future needs when evaluating the cost of a platform.
Along with implementation costs, one of the sneakiest hidden costs of online fundraising is time spent by your staff trying to figure out how to use the technology. Whether you’re working on integrating systems that don’t speak to each other, trying to figure out an archaic platform, or managing manual processes, these activities can be a time suck and cost burden on you and your staff.
Limited Feature Offerings
There are a few bare-bones options nonprofits can use to save, but those come with indirect costs too. For example, a platform that offers limited features may save money on the front end but will result in money lost due to untapped opportunity. It’s important to fundraise online with a variety of different strategies like customizable campaign pages and peer-to-peer functionality to maximize your efforts. From a quality perspective, unbranded or clunky donation pages don’t appeal to donors the same way customized pages do. Plus, a barebones platform may be limited in providing access to donor data and transferring funds to your account. Quality and functionality matter.
How Nonprofits Can Save
So, how can nonprofits that are spending tens of thousands of dollars per year on technology cut costs?
Look for High-Quality, Cost-Effective Alternatives
Nonprofits that are sick of paying too much for online fundraising should look for a cost-effective or free alternative that won’t jeopardize the quality of their appeal. For example, some platforms charge little to no fees per donation, and no setup fees or monthly fees either. If you go with a platform that charges fees only per donation, make sure it gives donors the option to cover those fees.
Keep Your Options Open
Organizations should avoid signing exclusive multi-year contracts that bar them from using another company’s platform. Nonprofits should be able to take advantage of new tech offerings that could even be free and help them hit their fundraising goals.
Focus on easy-to-use tech
Nonprofits are busy tackling the world’s most pressing issues and already overworked. It’s crucial to go with a platform that’s user friendly and doesn’t require a computer science degree to operate.
Ask your peers.
Online reviews are full of insights on the different platforms out there. Look to blogs, message boards, and social media groups (e.g., Facebook groups like Nonprofit Happy Hour and The Thriving Nonprofit with Joan Garry) focused on helping nonprofits understand all their options, ask specific questions, and get a breakdown of the real costs that are often hidden.
So whatever your level of online fundraising prowess, it’s crucial to take a step back, audit your current fundraising costs, and assess where you can save. Keep your eyes peeled for new technology that will help you maximize your online fundraising potential, and keep up the good work.
David DeParolesa is the CEO at Give Lively, a startup that builds better fundraising tech and gives it away to nonprofits for free. Much like a foundation, Give Lively was founded by philanthropists for the sole purpose of providing free and valuable technology resources to nonprofits. Give Lively's platform offers a full suite of fundraising features designed to improve the online giving experience for nonprofits and their donors—and it’s always free.