What an Online Donation Platform is Doing for You
What an Online Donation Platform is Doing for You

What an Online Donation Platform is Doing for You

07/11/2019 by Amy Bucciferro
There is a lot more to these tools than meets the eye; here is a start to understanding their value.

In my work, I often come across clients wanting to leverage Salesforce to track donations but struggling with the idea (or cost) of a platform to integrate online giving. As consumers, we are so accustomed to online transactions that it would seem that this is a simple, obvious process. The reality, however, is much more complicated. These tools are doing a lot of heavy lifting behind the scenes, and understanding this can help in seeing the value of these solutions. Here are some things that an online donation platform is doing for you:

Front-End Form Creation

Writing code for an online form may not be rocket science, but it is a specialized skill and very important for user experience and security to do correctly. The what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) tools to build and change a donation form democratize this work to pretty much anyone who can use a computer and has a basic understanding of what needs to be captured and what would look nice on a web page. So the question I get here is ‘can’t I just use a simple form tool’? Well, you would still need payment processing, and a way to reconcile data, so more and more these simple form tools do not cut it for what organizations and their donors expect out of the online giving experience.

Web Hosting and Security

Even if you are embedding a form or widget on your organization’s website, the online donation platform is handling the secure transfer of the information that your donors input as it travels through the web. A well-maintained platform helps you protect your donors and your organization. The platform might also be actually hosting pages for your campaigns, and everything you configure around that is information it needs to be able to store and recall properly so your donors have a first-class user experience.

Payment Processor Communication

The actual processor of the payment is rarely the same entity as that which is handling the front end (what your donor interacts with) or the back end (where data is stored and processed). Most online donation platforms allow the option to choose one or more payment processors, which are the entities that actually handle the digital communication with financial institutions to get money from your donor to you. The online donation platform is handling sending the payment processor the information it needs, how it needs it, as well as interpreting what it sends back and displaying that in a meaningful way to the donor, as in a successful versus unsuccessful transaction, as well as organizing the information the payment processor sends back to be useful. 

Data Reconciliation

The response-translation from the payment processor becomes even more critical when you want to manage something like recurring donations, know about things like transaction failures that happen after the initial response, or process refunds. A full-featured online donation platform will be able to not only record information about a gift when it is made, but retrieve that information to intelligently update your data when there is a change such as a refund or transaction failure, keeping accounting accurate. Ideally, it will also give you a simple tool to initiate a refund for a donor. When it comes to recurring gifts, it is the online donation platform that is translating the information from the payment processor that the next charge in the series was successful or not and marrying that with your existing data, so you can see a recurring gift as part of a series and count the money correctly as it continues to come in or identify that it has stopped.

Salesforce Integration

This can take many different forms depending on the platform, anything from simply sending in data on successful transactions to a full-featured application inside Salesforce to interface with the donation tool. In any case, the platform provider is staffing developers and, ideally, support staff to build and maintain the code to appropriately leverage Salesforce’s APIs, handle the ongoing flow of data, and help their nonprofit clients with their specific instance. This requires expertise on both their side and the Salesforce side to keep things working smoothly. When leveraging a tool like this, you are taking advantage of the same multi-tenancy concept that allows Salesforce to deliver a robust set of features to a variety of clients at scale. A lot of work goes into developing, maintaining, and supporting an integration, work most organizations do not have the internal bandwidth or skill set to own alone.

Receipts and Email

This is another area we take much for granted due to the ubiquitousness of personal online purchases with immediately emailed receipts. Most platforms will not only send an auto-response to your donor confirming their transaction with the transaction details (try doing this yourself, manually, not fun!), but also allow you to store the design of your auto-response, perhaps even several designs, and even give you a nice WYSIWYG editor to compose it in. The platform is hosting and maintaining all of this technology for you, including the email delivery, which those of us who dabble in marketing automation know is not nothing.

User Experience

Both your donors and your internal development team have expectations on how interaction with any online tool should work. Platforms offer varying degrees of service on the donor experience side, from those that allow you a great deal of control with embedded forms and widgets, to those that provide an experience for the donor to manage their relationship with your organization alongside others they give to regularly, cultivating a culture of giving. Your organization’s needs and priorities will dictate what you care about in that area, and your team’s bandwidth and technical expertise will dictate your priorities on the internal user experience side. Making sure that the tool is user-friendly is a big job that the giving platform is taking on for you.

Keeping Up With The Times

Technology evolves constantly. A good online donation platform is keeping up with those changes for you. They may come in the form of changing privacy, security, and financial regulations (GDPR, anyone?), changes to the payment processors and their APIs, changes to the Salesforce platform and Nonprofit Success Pack, or just changes to what donors expect out of the giving experience.

And More

There are other details to online donations platforms I’ve only touched upon briefly or not even mentioned above, such as the support they provide your organization, the data storage they are taking on, and the best practices and promotional (think peer-to-peer sign-up encouragement mechanisms) and co-promotional (org spotlights in newsletters, etc.) features many offer. All in all, a platform should align both with your organization's technical needs and values and feel like a partnership for your best shot at success.

What results have you experienced from leveraging an online donation platform? Did this post change your views in any way? Comment on the Salesforce Success Community, on the Power Of Us Hub, or directly at me on Twitter @ifitfloats.