Disclaimer: I worked for Convio as a front-end web developer on the client services team for 3 years which was acquired by Blackbaud during my time with them. They have great web solutions for non-profits of all sizes who have at least a little bit of a budget carved out for IT. Whenever I told people that I worked there they immediately mentioned they had a friend they knew that had a small nonprofit who needed assistance with setting up email campaigns, donation forms, or even just a simple website. They would ask what offerings we had for non-profits that had almost $0 to spare, and I always came up with simple solutions using free or almost free tools that could get them started since Convio didn’t have a free solution. I would recommend they try and find a developer looking to volunteer or add experience to their resume to implement the simple solutions. This is an updated guide on how a small non-profit could bootstrap their own web solution, and then eventually graduate and move on to a paid solution when they are ready and have grown enough where they can spend more of their precious budget on technology and related services instead of just worrying about keeping the lights on for their cause.
Website – WordPress
First things first when people google your organization they need to find your website online and hopefully after that in the search results all the positive things that have been said about your work. SEO is a more advanced topic that can take more or your time or cost more, so focus on the website for now. There are many cheap or affordable web site builders advertised, but you can have a cheap CMS (content management system) in WordPress which is completely free. If you are familiar with WordPress you may think that it is just a blog, but it can actually be made to look like a website with pages instead of just a blog with posts. There are many CMS-esque WordPress templates out there, and they all can be completely customized which would require web development skills. The default out of the box template with WordPress would suffice, and it features a responsive design meaning it will change appearance automatically based on the device being used to view your website which is valuable as many will be accessing your site from their smartphone. You can even purchase a custom domain if you would rather have yournonprofit.org instead of yournonprofit.wordpress.com which looks more professional and is easier for your supporters to remember. Custom domain names will currently cost you $18.00 a year if you want to go that route.
Donation Form – Razoo
Now that you have a web presence you need to be sure that those who are interested enough in supporting your cause can easily make a donation online. Don’t put up a shoddy payment form that isn’t specialized for a non-profit. When someone donates to your cause they want it to look like other non-profit donation forms, and to receive a receipt with your non-profit’s tax identification number included so they can easily deduct their gift come tax season. Lucky for you, there are several free options geared towards non-profits, and the easiest to use and to integrate into your WordPress site is from Razoo. To set up an account you just have to claim your non-profit on their website, and then set up your first donation form which they have pretty much done for you. You then just need to either link to that donation page or even better – just embed one of their easy to use widgets into your new WordPress site. This involves just copying and pasting some code into one of the WordPress template files, so find that web developer volunteer or put an ad on Craigslist for 1 hour of work if you can’t find anyone to do it for free. Razoo does take a small percentage of each donation, but you won’t find a merchant account out there that doesn’t take a percentage so don’t be turned off by that fact. If you are at an event and want to accept donations from multiple people you might run into security issues using one computer with your donation form on it, so I would recommend getting a Square reader to hookup to your iOS or Android phone to accept credit card donations when you are on-site. Donors can select to receive a receipt through the mobile app, and you can customize that email receipt through Square’s website to include your non-profit’s tax id so that they can again save that receipt for tax season. Square also takes a small percentage, less than 3% currently. Don’t be the non-profit that sends volunteers out to stand on a street corner trying to get email addresses and credit card numbers written down on paper. No one wants to give you that information on the street, and it is bad for your brand/cause’s impression.
Email Campaigns – MailChimp
Now you have a website that is hopefully getting a bit of traffic, and accepting donations on your websites and in person with your Square reader it’s time to keep visitors and donors engaged with emails. Again, there is a free solution provided by MailChimp which will not cost you a penny as long as your subscriber list is less than 1,000 people which it should be if you are a small non-profit. Now, I’ve worked on many data cleanup issues for enterprise level non-profits who want to hang on to every single email address even if they have opted out of everything and haven’t visited the website in years. Don’t do that – it’s expensive to market to people and send emails, so keep a clean email list with only active donors and prospects and it will be awhile before you exceed that 1,000 subscriber limit. Not to mention, your emails will land in more inboxes and actually be seen instead of marked as spam or otherwise filtered. Start with a monthly email as you don’t want to overdo it and focus on big news surrounding your cause and have clear calls to action like volunteering, linking to your donation form, and inviting people to upcoming events. From there you can start a welcome series when you get a new supporter (3 part email series to get them involved with your cause and non-profit), and targeting emails that you send to certain segments of your email list to make the messaging more specific to different types. This is much easier to do with a system like what Blackbaud offers, but you can still do it with good list management in Excel or Access as you are growing.
Event Management – Eventbrite
As you grow you will most likely have volunteer events, galas to honor your top supporters and seek more donations, and other fundraising events like walks for your cause. You need to be able to easily manage registrations and accept payments from attendees. Start with Eventbrite. It is not non-profit specific, but will fit your needs for setting up a landing page to link to from your website to easily have different registration types, limit the number of tickets for each type, and accept payments. Again, they will take a small percentage, but like the other services it is very small and comparable to other merchant account service providers out there.
Peer To Peer Fundraising – Crowdrise
Your last piece that may or may not be necessary depending on how small or known your cause and non-profit are is a peer to peer fundraising app where your supporters set up campaigns for your non-profit that raise money for your cause. This is similar to the Personal Fundraising and Teamraiser offerings that Blackbaud has but on a smaller scale with less features. Crowdrise has more than enough for your supporters to set up campaigns to support your cause, and allows them to tell their story about why they want to raise money to support the cause. It’s usually the more personal nature of these campaigns, and the fact that they will reach out to their personal network of family and friends that you may not have access to in order to get donations and support. Be sure to lead them with tips and guidance on how to have a successful campaign when linking to your Crowdrise page, and the best way to come up with tips is to use Crowdrise yourself to see what works and doesn’t.
So, you can have a website, donation form, Square reader for accepting in person donations, email app, event management software, and P2P Fundraising all for free – well, almost if you take into account the fees several of these apps take off of donations. The one big piece missing that you will get from a professional non-profit web solution is the database or CRM (customer relationship management) tool to manage the list of all your supporters, what email campaigns they are subscribed to, when they last donated, what state they live in, what volunteering opportunities interest them, etc. When you step up to paying for a non-profit web solution you will get that along with the ability to conditionalize content in emails and on your website, and to better manage how often you reach out to supporters and how much you ask for in donations. It’s something to keep in mind and to start creating filtered lists in Excel and Access as you grow as doing the extra work to make the relationship more personal with your supporters giving them the information that matters to them and is likely to convert into volunteer hours, advocacy, and donations.