The Tools We Used to Help a Nonprofit Collect Donations of $465,193 in One Day

Last month, we participated in The Community Foundation’s Day of Giving – an historic event which raised $465,193 in just one day. A portion of that money was raised completely online using a few simple tools available to all nonprofits. In this post, we’ll tell you how they did it, and the tools we used to collect such a high level of online donations.

Before we dive into the specifics, I want to call attention to the hard work of the Community Foundation staff and the citizens in Armstrong County and the surrounding counties. Their tireless dedication to the nonprofits serving the heart of Western Pennsylvania helps to make our communities great! Thank you all for letting OrgSpring be a part of that.

Website

The Community Foundation approached OrgSpring more than a year ago to develop its website as part of a major organizational re-branding of ServingTheHeart.org. We relaunched that site, and soon thereafter started working on a sister site that would serve as the backbone for the day of giving – a single day when the foundation raises funds on behalf of its participating nonprofits.

Previously, the day of giving website was purely informational in nature. Nonprofits interested in being part of the day of giving would contact the community foundation and foundation admins would put the nonprofit’s information into the system. This was a tedious task to repeat 60+ times, and then to change the information every time the nonprofit updated. And even though the community foundation had a website it wasn’t used to collect online donations – those all came in offline via hand written checks. That made the foundation’s job of management even harder, because each of those checks would have to be hand tallied, then the website would need to be updated. Needless to say, this was a process which the foundation was hoping to improve.

Community Foundation Website Home Page Image

Newly designed Community Foundation Website by OrgSpring.com

Since the main website is based on the popular WordPress framework, we chose to create custom crowdfunding functionality for the new Day of Giving Website and to integrate that with the existing e-commerce system.

We created a custom theme to match the foundation’s main theme, which is based on the Genesis Framework for WordPress. It is, in my opinion, the most solid theme framework for WordPress, and the place we start with our custom designs.

We then created front-end forms that allow each invited nonprofit to enter their own information (logo, images, contact info, EIN, mission, etc.) months before the event took place. This was handled by using Gravity Forms – a premium form plugin for WordPress. It is a powerhouse that allows you to quickly create forms, surveys, quizzes, polls, and much more. Gravity forms is the ONLY form plugin we trust, and it powers more than 300 sites we’ve designed and developed exclusively for nonprofits. A single site license runs approximately $39 which is an incredible value. The business and developer licenses are slightly more costly, but they’re a great value too. They come with amazing add-ons described above and a fairly good support team.

Register

Participating nonprofits were then able to manage that information, up until the day of giving, by logging into their own account and changing profile information. Essentially, this put the responsibility on the nonprofit to make sure their information was in on time. Doing this relieved the foundation admins from a ton of data entry work, and, more importantly, from the countless phone calls leading up to the event making sure information was correct and confirmed.

Some of the standout organizations that took advantage of the new platform are shown in the images below (click for full-size images).

The nonprofit participants were then displayed on a single page from which the public could view and choose any nonprofit to make a donation with just a few clicks. The donor could even select multiple nonprofits to which he or she could donate, and that process was just as efficient.

 

Bringing In Online Donations with Nonprofit E-Commerce

With the user-entry system in place, our next order of business was to create a system that could take online donations. It was important to bake-into the site functionality that would automatically tally each individual donation to every nonprofit, and to show that tally on the individual nonprofit pages, and to roll up a total across the entire foundation.

We had to make sure that each donation linked to the correct team and reported that number in the site’s backend for the admins to track, and on the site’s front-end page for display to the public. That way, the public could see how much was being raised, which nonprofits were bringing in the most money, and how much the Community Foundation was generating across the board. As the seconds ticked by, it was fun to watch the numbers rise – sometimes the total would jump thousands of dollars every minute!

The e-commerce system we used is called WooCommerce, which is free to use with WordPress. However, we used a premium extension called Name Your Price, which allowed the public to enter their own dollar amount for a donation – rather than picking from a set list of donation amounts. That plugin costs $49 per year to maintain – a small price to pay for the big functionality it delivers. We also used a plugin called Store Exporter Deluxe from Visser Labs. That plugin allows us to export all the online donation data into an excel spreadsheet for further number crunching and analysis.

 

Accepting Credit Cards for Donations

The online credit card donations were handled by Stripe, which integrated beautifully with our base e-commerce system and our custom coding. There are dozens of merchant solutions out there for online donations, but we use and recommend Stripe because they are the best. Period.

Stripe’s rates are low (2.9% of the charge plus $0.30 per transaction), there are no junk fees, no return fees, and their online dashboard tells you exactly where your money is at any minute of the transaction. They transfer funds to your account in fewer than 48 hours too. Their support is second to none, though you’ll rarely need to contact them, if ever, because the product just works. And that’s why we selected it here.

By the time the day was done and we’d had literally hundreds of online donations pour in ranging from a few dollars each to more than $5,000 in a single donation. At some times we had dozens of online donations happening simultaneously and there was not one single hitch in the Stripe system. It was flawless. Can you say that about most other online donation systems? Absolutely NOT! And believe me when I say this – we manage a Google Spreadsheet that tracks more than 50 online donation platforms and shopping carts, and we tell you the real fees when the provider tries to hide them in the fine print. You can find that Google doc here – called the OrgSpring Nonprofit Online Donation Tracker.

Because we used a custom third-party processor, we needed an SSL (Secure Socket Layer) on the website, which encrypts data sent between the server and the customer. This is important whenever people are transmitting sensitive information back and forth – like credit cards, addresses, etc. That SSL cost approximately $100 per year and insures the organization against fraud up to $1 million. SSL’s are becoming increasingly important on the web, both for e-commerce and for site search.

 

Offline Planning and Marketing

Offline, the Community Foundation put in alot of planning. They created fliers and mailers to go to nonprofits to share with their supporters. They also reached out to their own base of supporters and past donors. In all, they made very good use of their lists.

This is a key point that cannot be overstated. Because of the offline planning, the participating nonprofits were able to talk to their supporters and some nonprofits were able to drop off multiple checks to the Community Foundation. It also helped to spread the word about the online portal so those who wanted to pay with a credit card could do so easily and efficiently.

As a bonus, the Community Foundation was able to line up matching donations on amounts submitted between $20 and $5,000. These match partners were promoted heavily throughout the site and in offline material.

To explain the process of making an offline donation we put instructions on the website and made sure all participating nonprofits had the link to share with its supporters. We also fielded calls and pushed people to the site to make their donations.

For those who did make offline donations – we entered that information into the back-end of the website and that information was automatically married with the online totals. Except this time, the administrators didn’t really need to keep track of the numbers online – the system we put in place handled all that for them. Those numbers were then automatically added to the nonprofit’s total and displayed on the front-end of the site so the total donations per nonprofit were accurate to the minute!

 

Social Media Spurs Online and Offline Donations

I was stationed at the nonprofit’s office on the day of giving to make sure the technology went smoothly – and it did. There were not hitches at all – which is testament to our thorough planning during the site development stage and during the run up to the event itself.

At the event, I was live tweeting and posting on OrgSpring’s Facebook page and on the nonprofit’s social media accounts. This got the word out to a bunch of locals who made their way into the office or made online donations.

We made a point to highlight each of the 60+ participating nonprofits in a tweet and Facebook post that explained why the nonprofit was participating and what the donated money would be used for.

It would not be practical to sit in front of all the social media streams and monitor them all day long. Since we knew who’d be participating before the event, we were able to craft a spreadsheet with the posts we wanted to share on all our streams. We used Bulk Buffer to upload all the posts to an application called Buffer and we scheduled the posts to go live every 5 to 15 minutes. That allowed us to tweet and post all our nonprofit messages on multiple social media streams without wasting time with copy and paste.

The buffer account ran us $5 (50% off the normal $10 per month rate – for nonprofit status) and the Bulk Buffer app is free to use. Then, during the event, we could sit back and just respond to fans and followers – which we did. We monitored everything from our Hootsuite Dashboard We received hundreds of likes and comments from across the county and further out. Hootsuite pro is only $10 per month, and we needed it just for one day.  Altogether, the social sharing cost us only $15. Not bad for the level of functionality we received.

It’s hard to pin the exact ROI of the social experiment, but we did receive comments about tweets and Facebook posts by a few donors who visited offline. That was enough to justify the effort, and next year we’ll expand our social media reach as well.

 

The Final Tally

By the end of the day the online and offline top-level donations totaled nearly $395,193; and with the matching funds the total was pushed to $465,193.

Overall, contributions of $100 or less made up 84% of the donations.  This was truly a social event with regular people making up the bulk of the support. The highest dollar amount contributed was $5,000 to max-out the matching funds, and there were several online donations made over the $1,000 amount.

Donations poured in from 17 different states, from the East Coast to the West. It’s amazing to think this simple website solicited engagement from so many people around the country.

While the overwhelming majority of donors gave to a single cause, some donors did contribute to multiple nonprofits. The checkout system made this easy to do. One donor made 11 donations to different organizations. Among the multiple instance donors, the average was 3.26 donations made – an amazing feat that would not have been as likely to happen were the event held completely offline.

In the end, it was the Community Foundation’s most successful Day of Giving ever, and the funds received will ensure that nonprofits in the Armstrong County and surrounding areas will continue to provide quality services to the local community.

If you’d like to find out how OrgSpring can help your organization with the technology for a similar event please get in touch.

 

Resources Mentioned in this Post

The following resources were mentioned in this post. The links will take you to those 3rd party sites. Some of the premium plugin links are affiliate links.

The following two tabs change content below.

Craig Grella

Founder and Executive Director at OrgSpring
Craig is the founder and executive director or OrgSpring, a nonprofit dedicated to helping other nonprofits achieve their missions online. Through tips and tutorials, Craig's goal is show nonprofits how to use technology to become more efficient, grow their list of supporters, and increase online donations.