Sean Brokenshire

Sean Brokenshire

Digital Fundraising & Marketing Specialist

Sean has been working professionally in the fields of digital marketing and multimedia production since 2004. For the past ten years, until recently, he worked for Médecins Sans Frontières Australia playing a key role in their digital marketing and communications.

Stock photo of a person using a computer.

Online Giving Platforms: How to choose the right one for YOUR non-profit

There are many online giving platforms available to choose from. Having many choices is a wonderful problem, but a problem nonetheless.

How do you choose the right one for your non-profit organisation, and using what criteria?

Choosing off-the-shelf

There are several problems with jumping straight in to looking at off-the-shelf solutions.

  • It’s nearly impossible to compare ‘apples to apples’.
  • Some platforms were built to solve very different problems, but they sound similar on the surface.
  • Some have different pricing structures.  i.e. Annual/Monthly fees, transaction fees, a combination of the two, or none at all.
  • Many claim to have ‘integration’ with your other platforms, but what does that mean exactly? Manual export and imports, or fully automated?

Technical Solutions

Human Solutions

Many platforms could meet your technical and legal requirements, and fit within your budget, however it will only work if it balances the human needs across your organisation and supporters as well. 

So the most helpful thing you can do as a solution-architect is to stop thinking about the problem in technical terms, and start thinking about it in human terms.

The good news is that there’s a simple framework you can use to guide you.

Human-Centred Design Principles

‘The main tenet of Design Thinking is empathy for the people you are trying to design for.’
David M. Kelley
David M. Kelley
Venn diagram illustrating Human Design Principles

Signs that a solution is unbalanced

  • Staff are frustrated.
  • Morale drops.
  • Productivity drops.
  • Deadlines are missed.
  • Revenue drops.
  • More staff are needed.
  • Outsourcing increases.
  • Leave requests increase.

Design-thinking consultation process

‘There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.’
Margaret J. Wheatley
Margaret J. Wheatley

There is a widely-accepted methodology that many organisations use to solve a great variety of problems. You may have heard of it already – it’s called Design-Thinking. It fits very neatly within the framework of Human-Centred Design and can help you to either create a custom solution, or find an off-the-shelf solution that is most in-balance with your organisation’s needs.

A chart that visualised the Design Thinking Process.

Design thinking starts with listening and empathising with the human stakeholders that will be affected by the new online giving platform. Everyone in an organisation has their own unique cares, desires, and requirements. They will also approach problems with their own unique biases. It is important that everyone is consulted and listened to, ensuring that they feel a sense of shared ownership of the outcome. When you’ve collectively defined what you care about, you may end up with a range of stakeholder ‘personas’. Let’s make up a hypothetical scenario:

Donor / Prospect

Cares about their own privacy – not being asked for unnecessary personal info.

Wants a simple donation process that doesn’t take much time or effort.

Wants an immediate tax receipt.

Solution must be secure and trustworthy.

Fundraising / Marketing

Cares about providing the best User Experience for donors and prospects to optimise Conversion Rates.

Wants flexibility to experiment with layouts, the user interface, donation forms, run A/B tests and analyse results.

Solution must be mobile-first and innovative to keep up with industry trends.

IT / Digital

Cares about ensuring the best possible technical solution.

Wants integration with your CRM system, payment gateway, and CMS for efficiency.

Solution must be secure, have good support, and be easy to train staff on how to use.

Finance / Admin

Cares about ensuring solution is within budget, and has competitive fees.

Wants integration with your finance software and CRM, and ease of reconciling transactions.

Solution must be compliant with Australian privacy laws, PCI-DSS (credit card security principles), and have an audit trail.

What does our Human-Centred solution look like?

  • Great user experience for donors
  • Flexibility to experiment and optimise
  • Track and analyse conversion data
  • Innovative and progressive mobile-first platform.
  • Integration with CRM, CMS, and Finance software
  • Easy reconciliation
  • Within budget with competitive fees
  • Secure and trustworthy platform
  • Compliant with Australian privacy laws and respects donors privacy
  • Compliant with PCI-DSS
    Audit trail
Venn diagram illustrating Human Design Principles

What's out there in the market?

Here’s just a handful of Online Giving Platforms currently available. Highlighting these ones at the exclusion of others should not be interpreted as any type of endorsement – there’s simply just too many to include them all. I encourage you to click through to their websites for in-depth information.

What about the fees?

Keep in mind that although there are clear differences in pricing structures, that as revenue scales up the relative difference between the platforms diminishes. You should keep this in mind and consider how much revenue your non-profit expects to raise through this platform. A platform with higher fees may (or may not) meet your requirements more completely, so should not necessarily be discounted without looking at the bigger picture.

Comparison matrix

Back to our hypothetical scenario. Using the Design-Thinking methodology, we now have empathised with our stakeholders, defined the problem, ideated the solution that will be in balance with our Human-centred Design principles, and can now go out to market and find 3-5 off-the-shelf solutions that on the surface seem to be strong candidates.

You get your project team to try each of these platform out, and subjectively rate them against your ideal solution criteria. You can average their values to create a comparison matrix. See an example below:

What if it’s not immediately obvious from the comparison matrix which solution is the winner? Some solutions will be stronger in certain areas than others. The ideal solution may not be a stand-out winner in any single area, but will cater to the broadest needs of your organisation. So let’s calculate the average value for each Human-centred Design category (desirability, feasibility and viability) and compare them in a radar chart. 

It’s clearer in this chart that the most in-balance solution is Platform D. The closer together each category is, the higher the probability that this solution will not sacrifice the needs of some stakeholders over others, and the greater acceptance it will receive.

If you have two platforms that are relatively in-balance, then you would favour the one with the highest values (on the 1-10 scale).

Empathise > Define > Ideate > Prototype > Test > Repeat

If you get to the end of this process and haven’t found a clear winner, then you can repeat the methodology. Go back to the market and test some more off-the-shelf solutions. You can compare them to the platforms you’ve already analysed. If it becomes clear that nothing will meet your needs, then it’s time to repeat the Design-Thinking methodology, but this time with the intention of creating a custom-built solution.

Sean Brokenshire is not affiliated with any online giving platform and has not received payment from any party to conduct this research and presentation.

Any information or analysis in this presentation was accurate at the time of writing and research, but may no longer be accurate and should not be used to make business decisions. Do your own research.

Any inclusion, or exclusion, of an online giving platform in this presentation should not be viewed as endorsement or disendorsement.