6 Tips to Select the Right Online Fundraising Platform


by Michael Stein

Selecting an online fundraising platform is an exciting opportunity to increase your organization’s capacity to engage with supporters and raise money.

Whether you’re selecting a platform for the first time or migrating to a new platform, there are several hundred options available in the marketplace today. Your nonprofit has a wide range of choices in features, service, and price.

But the selection process for an online fundraising platform can be a daunting undertaking, requiring a substantial commitment of staff time. To help you succeed with this selection process, here are six tips to guide your efforts.

  1. Assemble Your Selection Team

The best place to start is to assemble a team of people who will steer the selection process to its successful conclusion. At a minimum, you’ll need to bring together staff who work on communications and fundraising for your organization. It can also be helpful to have a finance person who deals with accounting issues and an information technology person who can address any technical issues. Finally, designate one person as the project manager to keep things moving along.

If you’re concerned about the capacity of your staff to manage the selection process, you may decide to bring in an external expert to help. You may have someone in mind already, or you can search for a contractor in TechSoup’s Consultant Connection. Whether it’s advice or actual implementation support, Consultant Connection makes it easy to find the help you need from consultants specializing in, and referred by, organizations like yours.

  1. Arm Yourself with the Best Reviews

The next step is to get your hands on two documents that will be invaluable in your selection efforts and which I highly recommend to any organization going through this process.

A Consumers Guide to Low-Cost Donor Management Systems. Published by NTEN and Idealware, February 2017

This is a comprehensive guide to donor management systems that is targeted at small-to-medium-sized nonprofits for whom fundraising is a priority. The systems it covers can be suited to a wide range of organizations, from the smallest just getting started to those with a staff of as many as five fundraisers. This is a 156-page guide that reviews hundreds of systems and discusses numerous case scenarios. The report is free.

The Nonprofit Guide to Online Engagement Tools. Published by Firefly Partners, Fall 2017.

This report is a 27-page guide to seven donor management systems. Firefly Partners has deemed these to be the best options for midsize and large organizations that want an integrated suite of tools for fundraising, email marketing, advocacy, grassroots organizing, and peer-to-peer fundraising.

  1. Do a Comprehensive Internal Needs Assessment

Once you’ve assembled your team and done your reading homework, it’s time to define what you need in an online fundraising platform. You should do this whether you’re selecting your first platform or migrating to a new platform. The needs assessment will help you identify your communications and fundraising priorities and how they translate into digital marketing and engagement. Your ultimate goal is to create an inventory of the functionality that you might need from an online fundraising platform.

Be sure to review the first section of A Consumers Guide to Low-Cost Donor Management Systems referenced above for a detailed guide to conducting a needs assessment. Build a document that collects and organizes all your needs into different categories. Here’s a checklist of elements you should cover.

  • Create a map to visualize how your organization interacts with its constituents and donors. With this map you can describe data flows and user experience.
  • Describe the size of your constituent data file, such as number of records. Identify which fields you’re using to capture information. How much will that file size grow in the next few years?
  • What needs do you have for fundraising, email marketing, advocacy and grassroots organizing, and crowdfunding, either currently or in the near future?
  • What data storage systems do you currently use to hold constituent data?
  • Other than digital needs, what nondigital needs do you have that can be addressed with an online platform? These might include storing mailing addresses, generating labels for mailings, or tracking telephone or personal interactions with donors.
  1. Determine Your Budget Capacity

Consider your budget for a new online fundraising platform and what you’re prepared to pay, both in upfront fees and in monthly fees. Fee structures for different platforms can vary widely, so be prepared to dig into the details and create cost scenarios to model your costs over several years of use.

  1. Assess the Vendor Landscape

Use the two reports referenced above to help you identify a handful of vendors that you’d like to contact to get proposals. Be sure to share a document that describes your needs in as much detail as possible. A business development person will contact you to schedule a demo and then prepare a cost proposal. When you’re reviewing proposals, be sure to contact reference clients and also do your own research on companies to determine their reputation.

  1. Think Carefully About Your Migration Timeline and Capacity

As you’re discussing working with specific online fundraising vendors, be sure to carefully assess the capacity of your internal staff to manage a migration. Create a project plan that describes the steps that will be needed to get up and running with a new platform and identifies the staff members who will be responsible for each step. Also consider the best time of the year for your migration so you can avoid the busiest times.

This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License