Overview of Online Giving Services

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December is the highest volume online giving month, so ensure your donors have a smooth, logical, and efficient donation experience by coordinating your email appeal links, landing pages, and online payment forms.

There are many levels of integration and services in the complex web of online payment services and processors, and it can be difficult to compare benefits, providers, services fee structures, and technology stacks (linked service partners).  Many hosted donor databases offer exclusive integration with a single, all-in-one online payment service, but it might be worth sacrificing “seamless” integration for lower fees, multiple concurrent forms, or time-saving customization. If you are re-keying gift entry from merchant reports, mailing acknowledgement letters for online gifts, or cannot export useful gift field defaults, we recommend researching alternative services or upgrading your service package/account types.

View price and service comparisons for services that are “seamlessly integrated” with five top donor software management products:

Payment Services and Partners

Online Forms Partners and Services

Check out Click and Pledge as a great stand-alone product, or read this excellent guide for selecting stand-alone payment processing tools by NTEN/Idealware. But regardless of what service provider you use for online giving forms, or if you use your own custom form, here are some basic guidelines you can follow to improve the “conversion rate” of visitors to donors:

  • Keep it simple. Always be trying to remove fields from your form, ask for the minimum amount of information you need, and
  • Keep it to a single-click transaction. Save shopping carts and multi-screen payment options for events and sales–your year-end donation form should be a one-page, single-click affair.
  • Stay on mission, on message, and on brand. Some free online giving forms are not brandable, but you are always in charge of the content. Make the online giving form coordinate with your organization’s mission and tone, and with the specific campaign language in the email or webpage that brought your donors to it.
  • Offer an appropriate gift string with the preferred gift amount pre-selected. Also, offer the option of setting up a recurring donation.
  • Assure donors of the security and privacy of their information and include a “trust logo” such as Charity Navigator, or the Better Business Bureau. Confirm your organization and your online form provider are PCI Compliant.


If you would like to better understand the online payment process, here’s a brief tour of the components, from solicitation to deposit.

1. Email Link: The donor receives an email appeal with a link to an appeal-specific landing page. For more information about getting recipients to respond to emails, check out 5 Big Tips for Writing Compelling Year-End Letters & Emails.

2. Landing Page: A stand-alone page, branded like your website but with one single intention or message, these pages feature a prominent, directive headline; very short powerful verbiage; a relevant and memorable image; and a decisive call to action. And that’s all. There’s no detailed content, no links or navigation menus–just a clear message and a clear action! For our Year-End Appeal, that action is to click the donate button…

3. Online Giving Form: Forms feature fields for data collection; when collecting credit card information, these forms have to be PCI compliant, ensuring a firewall configuration to protect cardholder data, to protect stored cardholder data, and to encrypt data when transmitted across public networks. These are three of the 12 PCI requirements an organization must comply with if they are processing credit card data over the internet, some of which fall soundly on staff’s shoulders, such as “maintaining a policy that addresses information security for all personnel,” and others can be managed by your service providers. But at the end of the day, compliance is the organization’s responsibility.

4. Payment Gateways: The service providers that ease the burden of data security for donation payment are called Payment Gateways, and they tell the donor’s credit card company bank to make a payment. If you are using custom web forms, your web designer will work with the Gateway to ensure secure pass-through of sensitive data. Vendors you might have worked with include Authorize.net and First Data Corporation. The term “all-in-one” payment service means the vendor provides both the Payment Gateway service and Merchant Services (PayPal is an example of an all-in-one provider, and payment services that integrate with donor software are always all-in-ones).

5. Merchant Services: The credit card bank passes the payment over to your merchant services provider, a financial institution that might be a bank or a company that specializes in transactional services. Both the credit card bank and your merchant services provider charge a fee for every transaction, hence the typical two-part cost of a percentage of payment and a flat transaction fee.

There are different types of merchant accounts to be aware of. Some nonprofits maintain a Mail Order/Telephone Order account (M.O.T.O) because the application process is simpler and the percentage rates are lower. The defining features of this account type is that your data-entry staff needs to collect credit card information from web forms or emails, and then manually key-enter the transaction through a processing company. E-Commerce accounts are processed online in real-time using a payment gateway that’s built into the online payment form. We typically recommend an E-Commerce account as the most efficient and flexible option, and the option that shifts much of the practical responsibility for PCI security to certified service providers.

5. Deposit and Report: You r Merchant Services provider deposits the donation in your bank account, and creates a report of all transactions. This report is either emailed to your organization as a .csv file, held in a secure website that you can access via FTP, or–if you use a seamlessly integrated donor management software–is queued up for your gift entry approval.


online payment process flow