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Online Fundraising: A Toolkit for Novices

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You don't have to be a tech whiz to raise money online for your cause. Jon Ann Lindsey, author of The PayPal Official Insider Guide to Online Fundraising, shares some simple resources for accepting donations and sprucing up your website.
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Many nonprofit organizations and individual fundraisers (under)use their websites merely to provide information about themselves, like an electronic brochure—static and probably not very engaging. But those that take the next step—actively using the Web to fundraise and build relationships with their supporters—are tapping into the fastest growing platform for bringing in money.

When you ask supporters for donations, you want to make it as easy as possible for them to say yes. And let’s face it, sometimes even the hassle of finding the checkbook (remember those?) and a stamp (remember those?) can spell the death of a donation.

But for individual fundraisers and small nonprofits, going digital can feel intimidating too. Sure, you want donating to be effortless for givers, but what about the effort on your part? Nonprofits are well known for running lean operations and relying on volunteers. You may not have a lot of time or skill to set up and maintain a regular website, much less one that involves financial transactions.

Luckily, the effort isn’t exhaustive. PayPal and other companies provide a range of offerings that can have you polishing up your website and collecting donations almost as quickly as you can cut and paste.

Here are a few sites and tools to help organizations that are new to online fundraising and marketing:

The PayPal Donate Button

Probably the easiest and fastest way to accept donations through PayPal on a website is to add a Donate button. You don’t have to worry about code. PayPal provides the HTML, which you can copy and paste to create a button or a link to put in an email. Donors click the button or link and donate with a credit card, debit card, or PayPal account. All donations go directly into your group’s PayPal account for easy tracking.

Facebook App by FundRazr

PayPal and FundRazr have worked together on a crowdfunding app to raise money and awareness for your causes, and convert your donors into advocates.

You can share your FundRazr campaign through Facebook, Twitter, email, your blog, and your website. Causes you can fund include:

  • Personal causes: Medical, travel, or education costs, personal losses, family tragedies, support for a friend, memorials,  and pet healthcare
  • Group causes: Sports teams, school groups, community groups, churches, arts groups, animal shelters, and school reunions
  • Political campaigns: Campaigns at the local, state, or federal level
  • Nonprofits and charities: Registered charities at the local, state, federal, or international level

Go to for more information.

eBay Giving Works

eBay Giving Works offers several convenient fundraising methods:

Nonprofits can sell their own goods on eBay for free to raise funds.

eBay sellers can donate a percentage of their items' final sale prices to nonprofits that are registered with the program. Buyers can purchase these items, identified by a distinctive blue and yellow ribbon, or add a minimum $1 donation at checkout to eBay purchases paid through PayPal.

Any eBay member can make a direct cash donation through PayPal at any time, with no obligation to buy or sell.

Open Source Content Management

If you haven’t built your website yet and don’t know where to start, check out some of the top open-source content management systems such as WordPress, Joomla, Plone, and Drupal, which are used by many nonprofits.

For comparisons of these systems, go to Idealware at

Email Services

Groundwire, an online communications and technology consulting shop, evaluates email services to provide a baseline for its clients. In its Comparison of Email Service Providers 2012 report, Groundwire classified services by technical expertise required. These services were found to be best for nontechnical users:

  • MailChimp
  • Campaign Monitor
  • iContact
  • Constant Contact
  • VerticalResponse
  • Network for Good
  • Emma

If you’re really on a shoestring budget or you’re just starting out, you could set yourself up on Google Groups or Yahoo Groups for free, ask your supporters to subscribe to your group, and send your emails from there.

Several websites offer free boilerplate email templates that are designed to display properly in Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Outlook, and other major email clients. Two to try:

Mobile Site Emulators

Wondering how your website looks on various mobile phones or other devices? It’s easy to find out. Do a Web search on “mobile device emulators,” and you can preview your site on a variety of devices and browsers.

Survey Tools

Online surveys are a quick and easy way to gather information about your supporters’ habits and preferences. Even better, there are many online tools that are available for free or at low cost for simple questionnaires. Here are a few that nonprofits typically use:

  • SurveyMonkey, Free version offers ten questions and one hundred responses per survey. You can collect data via weblink, email, or Facebook, or embed questions on your site or blog.
  • Google Forms, Questions can be shared from links, emails, or embedded in a website. Responses are organized in a Google spreadsheet.
  • Polldaddy, Free version permits ten questions per survey and 200 responses per month. Basic reports for polls, surveys, and quizzes.
  • FluidSurveys, Free plan features unlimited surveys, with up to twenty questions and 150 responses per survey.

Mobile App Builders

Most smaller nonprofits aren't likely to need their own app for mobile phones or e-readers, but some like to build them anyway because they're fun and kind of cool.

If that's you, you'll find a good selection of free or low cost app creators online if you have a modest budget and some technical ability (or better yet, an intern with technical ability).

  • AppMakr, at, lets you compile text, audio, images, and video from around the Internet.
  • Appafolio, at, is for creating portfolios and videos for iPad, iPhone, and Kindle Fire.

Group Text Services

If you want your message to be seen, then the best way to send it is by text. Most people read their texts within minutes of receiving them, while emails are often ignored for all eternity.

Texting is tricky, though, because many people—Gen Y'ers in particular—only want to be contacted by text by friends and family. If you have supporters' cell phone numbers and a healthy sense of restraint, it's probably safe to send group texts now and then. You can select a vendor to set your lists up and manage the service, or you can look into a number of free options such as GroupMe, Kik Messenger, and textPlus.

Tax Information

Organizations with annual gross receipts of $50,000 or less are required to file IRSForm  990-N, an electronic e-postcard that asks for eight pieces of basic information. The IRS has an online workshop about the Form 990 that covers recordkeeping, filing, and what happens during an audit. It's available at

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