Saturday, July 18, 2009

Benefits of using PayPal to collect online donations to non-profits

Based on an answer I originally posted at LinkedIn.

As someone with many years' experience in the non-profit sector (as an employee, executive, volunteer, and friend), I'd like to weigh in with some pragmatic thoughts about using PayPal to collect donations to non-profits.

I have noticed some confusion about PayPal, and perhaps even some anti-PayPal sentiment, among non-profit organizations. I am not sure that this reaction comes from a legitimate concern about PayPal's functionality. It could stem, at least in part, from qualms about doing business with a perceived monolith.

Recurring Donations
One misconception I've seen is that Paypal does not allow recurring donations to be set up. In fact, it is extremely easy to set up recurring donations via Paypal. A non-profit could use this feature not only to collect recurring donations, but also to collect recurring contributions such as Board pledges or member dues.

Here is an example of a non-profit site that uses PayPal to process recurring donations for monthly tuition expenses of the Ugandan children it sponsors. And here is PayPal's informational page on recurring donations.

Donor Choice
Some non-profits have expressed concerns about limiting donor choice of how to make a donation. It is fairly simple to offer donors multiple ways to donate cash, but what about the many non-profits that raise funds through the sale of goods, or that solicit sponsors?

If you are transacting anything besides straight cash, it is definitely harder to offer multiple payment gateway options because most shopping cart options logically require the set-up of a single check-out mechanism.

PayPal integrates easily into many open source shopping cart software packages
. That makes it an attractive option when you've got a really small development budget, or you are even looking at doing the whole thing yourself.

I also like Google Checkout, but as with all the wonderful Google products, you can't use it without registering for an account. For donors not already hooked up to Google, it's a barrier to ask them to set up an account just to donate. As much as I love Google, that's a tough sell.

PayPal does not require account-registration to make a payment. For one non-profit client, I integrated PayPal into their shopping cart, but also offered a Google Checkout button for any Googlers wishing to bypass PayPal.

PayPal Aesthetics
Some have also mentioned that PayPal buttons are less than gorgeous.I think that's true. But why not make your own PayPal buttons that match your website, rather than using the default PayPal buttons? If you have enough talent on staff to have any sort of a website, you ought to be able to get some branded or matching PayPal buttons going pretty easily!
The button shown above is a typical PayPal button, created by default. The button shown below is a simple, custom-made button that matches its site look-and-feel, and communicates a much nicer message.

If you need more information about how PayPal can be used to help your non-profit organization, you can check out PayPal for Non-profits. It's PayPal's own informational section.

If you need additional assistance, or think you might require a few paid hours of work to help you with any of the issues discussed here, post a reply, or consider getting in touch with me professionally, at Dartmouth Design.

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