Monday, October 12, 2009

1 Online Charity Fundraising Tools: An Overview


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I recently ran into an interesting situation: I wanted to run my very first marathon for charity but the marathon that I'd registered for didn't seem to offer any charity fundraising tools officially affiliated with the event.

This is very odd, because usually, on previous occasions when I've raised money for charity for other races, there would be an official page where people could donate, plus the site also typically offered graphical tools (donation widgets, etc., to aid in the fundraising process. [There were, in fact, official charity fund-raising partners listed on the site, but since I wasn't running as an official charity race entrant, wanted to select particular charities of my own choice (most of which, with the exception of one, weren't on the list!), & was also getting involved in charity fundraising relatively late in the game, this made things considerably more challenging. ]

Also, the other factor is that I'd decided to donate to four different charities of my own choosing, and there doesn't currently seem to be a widget that can handle the disbursement of funds into four separate donations. However, this didn't deter me in my search for the right charity fundraising tool.

So, I scoured the web for resources. And what I found was very interesting, and highly illuminating. I'd like to share my discoveries here, so that those of you who are or might be doing the same activity in the future, can avoid having to 'reinvent the wheel':

The first resource I thought of was PayPal. I'd seen PayPal donation buttons on other websites, and that was pretty standard. However, I wanted something that would display a little bit more information -- ideally, the event name, charity names, donors, fundraising goal, and a graphical rendering of my fundraising progress.

Next, I came across some tools that did some of what I wanted, but not everything: For example, there were several sites offering free fundraising thermometers; IMHO, two of the best are from Kidica & JoomlaTabs, but both have be updated manually. Yes, they are free, & sure, these thermometer tools look great, but as a former IT professional cognizant of software engineering's key purpose -- software is chiefly designed to reduce one's workload & eliminate repetitive manual functions :), I bristled at the idea of having to do repeated manual updates. That is frankly inefficient & impractical. I wanted something that could be tied directly into PayPal, and would track donations & donors.

There were also sites which allowed you to create badges for promoting particular causes -- i.e., SixDegrees.org, Network For Good, and YourCause.com, but didn't seem to meet the other criterion. After all, I was looking for something that was event-specific, and could be directly associated with my marathon event. So the search continued......

In my quest to find the perfect fundraising tool, I also found a cool site called RoadTrip!!! that helps you track daily mileage & fundraise for virtual charity runs. It displays the amount of cumulative mileage you run in terms of their equivalent nationwide distances -- i.e., tour through Virginia and Washington, DC (68 mi.), Florida coastline from Daytona to Miami (267 mi.), US Route 101 from LA to SF (481 mi.), or US Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica (2,381 mi.), etc. Very cool concept, but again, not specifically geared to a single charity event. The 26.2 miles is a wee bit short of any of the preset routes, and there's currently not an option to create your own distance categories.

There's also JustGiving, which is based in the UK. At first glance, it appeared to be closer to what I was looking for in a fundraising tool So, just for the heck of it, I registered, & set up a fundraising page. Hmmmm, although the registration page accepted international addresses, the site only offered to calculate donations into British pounds, & not into other currencies. OK, so that's not ideal, but not exactly a deal-breaker either.

I had some basic questions about this site: To which charity or charities could people donate? Can I select a charity, either from a preset list or one of my own choice?! Whoops, not an option. During the charity page creation process, the site randomly autoselects predefined charities from its group of member charities. OK, so giving to charity in general is good, so I can let that one slide. Of course, t'd be even nicer if the site gave us the option to select a particular charity or group of charities, especially in cases where a race is being run in honor of someone who has or had a particularly meaningful association with a specific organization.

In my own case, I'm running my first marathon in honor of my maternal grandfather, who was himself very involved in charity causes and on also helped individuals in need in his local community, on a personal level. I know that he'd have been pleased to see that I was running to raise money for charities that help those less fortunate than the rest of us. In fact, the reason I chose these four particular charities -- Back On My Feet, Make It Right, GlobalGreen, & FeedingAmerica -- is that they address basic needs -- specifically, shelter and food -- and in the process, also help people to become self-sufficient. These are charities which address the present and also the future -- on local, national, and global levels.

So anyhow, I was just about to set up a widget for my charity event, when I realized that I needed to modify some of the event information. Now, wait just a minute, why can't I modify or delete the event or the event link?! Ack! That's not cool. Now to be fair, while it let me modify some general information, it didn't let me modify other information such as the event date, etc. Nor did it let me delete the event link altogether & start anew. The link is now stuck there permanently, or until it expires in 2010. Oh well.

Also, I saw that the JustGiving organization is able to reclaim reclaim Gift Aid from the government, adding £2.82 to each collected donation. Now that's pretty cool. They charge a 5% fee, which typically comes out of the Gift Aid, & is used to cover administrative costs of running the website & other the technology used to handle high-volume donations on behalf of member charities -- OK, that's pretty standard stuff. They only charge this fee after they receive the Gift Aid, along with credit/debit card/PayPal charges, and send the rest to the charity. However, the catch is this: If you are not a UK taxpayer & JustGiving can’t reclaim Gift Aid, then their fee comes out of the donations. OK, so in my particuar situation, that's not so ideal after all.

Upon further investigation of their website, I then discovered that JustGiving took their idea to the US in 2003 & started FirstGiving. This site had a tool which allowed you to search for charities & other nonprofits, & select them for your fundraising. You can even register charities if you aren't able to find them in the database. OK, that's a big improvement over its original sister site! Actually, this site seems pretty cool in general. Much more user-friendly too. (It looks like the developers for this site actually put a lot more thought into its construction than the UK site.)

I registered and set up a page, but the one catch is that it looks like I'll have to set up a page for each charity. That means four large widgets (of a fixed size!). Now where the heck will I be able to fit them on this blog?! Er, maybe not. However, I could add them to the body of this post & also put related badges for them on my Facebook page. Now THAT'S an idea. :-D

However, this site still gets a big thumbs-up from me, because it meets almost all other criterion, and let's face it, how many other people are there who are marathoning to raise money for four different charities?! I know, it's unusual, but hey, that's what I want to do. However, this site is perfect for most people who want to set up racing event-related pages for individual charities.

As it so happens, I did find a tool which was 95% perfect in terms of meeting my specifications, and it was the one I chose to go with in the end. Ironically, it was the very last site I came across, ChipIn. It allowed me to accept donations securely via PayPal (√), to configure donations for a specific event (√), to set fundraising goals & display them graphically within a widget (√), to show the total amount collected for charity (√), & to accept donations for multiple charities (√). (And that last one was an extremely difficult requirement to meet!) While this tool didn't allow give donors the option to display their names & contributions, I will, however, receive an automatic email notification of their donation & thereby be able to thank them in a personally-written email reply. I believe PayPal might actually generate an automatic message, but hey, if a person is willing to take the time to contribute to charity, the least I can do is thank them in a personally-composed email!

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For the record, I was able to find some commercial software/scripts that offered most of the features I wanted, but at a hefty price tag. In fact, some of which was absurdly expensive, and seem to have been designed for large nonprofits and corporations that can stomach paying anywhere from $99-$300 for this kind of software. Now since I am an individual raising money for charity, I honestly am not inclined to pay ridiculously unreasonable amounts of money for a simple widget to help me do good deeds! Somehow this concept strikes me as innately wrong.

Also, I wasn't about to fork over money to unverifiable website entities, that could potentially be scams. I make of point of thoroughly researching online retailers; a site's legitimacy must be verifiable by trusted sources (Verisign, etc.), before any financial transactions are going to happen. Maybe it's all those years I spent in the IT field -- Some might call it "IT security" paranoia, but I call it being smart. :)

Anyhow, I found a commercial site offering various fundraising scripts called WareSeeker.com, which appears to be legitimate. First, I used Norton Safe Web to assess any potential threats. (Here's the threat report & related user reviews/comments, if you're interested.) Then I checked out sites like Web of Trust (WOT), TrustPilot, Alexa, & KillerStartups -- to read ratings & reviews, for further verification. (I couldn't find their listing on the Better Business Bureau website, or sites like CNET or ZDNET, etc., but that doesn't necessarily mean anything one way or the other.)

Anyhow, on with the details about the software tool: The best, most reasonably-priced script I could find was called Simple PayPal Donation 1.0. For a $6 commercial widget, you really seem to get a lot of bang for the buck. (And in this economy, that's saying something. :) ) Yes, it's a simple & straight-forward interface, but it also has a lot of "whistles & bells." It displays a list of the most recent donors & their contribution amount, total amount collected, and the donation goal. OK, that works for me!

See below for a detailed view:



This software looks like a nice low-cost alternate for the individual charity fundraiser; you get a few extra customizable features without getting gouged, which is especially noble of the developer, considering we're individuals trying to raise $$$ for charity!

So, there you have it. Hope you've enjoyed this review of online charity fundraising tools, and have found it useful. Let me know if you've discovered any other cool software tools; I'm up for hearing suggestions, and would be interested in hearing about your experience with online charity fundraising tools.

-C

1 comment:

Connect To Charity said...

2011 presents many challenges for nonprofits. Today, nonprofits face a reduction in grants; an economy that is stretching their nonprofit dollars to the max; an increase in demand for their services; all while trying to reach new donors in a very competitive industry. Nonprofits are trying very hard to "get the word out about what they do for others", while growing their organization for long-term success.

At Connect To Charity, our objective is to help nonprofits overcome these challenges and position your organization for long-term success.

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