Charity Website Donation Options: how to choose the right donation platform

How to choose the right donation platform

The first section of this guide introduces you to three options for processing online donations. The second part goes on to evaluate the available donation/sponsorship platforms to help you choose the best for you.

The three main options compared 

Option 1: Sponsorship Platforms


JustGiving, Virgin Money Giving and various similar platforms generally started life with a focus on helping individuals to raise money online for charities. They have become the web-based equivalent of the paper sponsorship form, saving the admin and hassle of chasing people for their pledged cash.

As they have developed, these platforms are now also good options for processing direct donations to your charity. JustGiving, for example, now supports DirectDebit and is one of the most accessible ways for small charities to access the benefits of regular giving by DirectDebit. See below for a full breakdown of the different platforms available in this category. 

With most of these systems, any data collected from the donor and their donation is stored on the platform itself and you will be at their whim as to the export options they provide. These platforms are usually the simplest option and therefore popular with small charities wanting to build a strong fundraising strategy. 

The main disadvantage of external fundraising platforms is that you have no control over the user’s experience as they donate, only limited ability to place your branding on the process and you do not hold any data provided by donors.

Option 2: CMS Donation Forms


The increasing popularity of open-source content management systems like Wordpress, Drupal and Joomla has led to the development within these systems of various donation processing options.

These systems vary from simple web forms that pass details to a payment gateway to more fully functional systems that can store the users' data and keep track of gift aid.

CMS donation systems are sometimes also integrated with e-commerce systems (for example, we sometimes use a Drupal module that allows shoppers to add a donation to their basket as they check out with other purchases).

Any data collected about the donor and their donation is stored on the website CMS.

The advantage of this approach is that full control is available over the donor’s journey through the website and your branding can be applied consistently throughout. The disadvantage is that a content management system is designed for managing website content and is not the best place to track information about who have given money to you and when. Donor management is important (saying thank you, etc) and this is best done through a CRM system (see below).

Option 3: CRM Donation Forms

As charities grow they inevitably start to wrestle with the challenges associated with managing multiple constituents - volunteers, staff, donors, supporters. There is a wide range of software available to help charities face these challenges, known as Constituent Relationship Manager (or variously Client or Contact Relationship Manager). CRMs for short (for more info read our post about the top fundraising databases).

From a fundraising perspective, a well configured CRM can help charities get a deeper understanding of their supporters and can empower charities to make the most of these individual contacts. Reports can be run on high-value donors, regular donors, lapsed donors, etc. However, this is only the case if the CRM contains up-to-date information about who is giving money to the charity and how much.

The best way to get this up-to-date information into your CRM is to use a donation form that immediately passes information about the donation into your CRM and associates it with the person making the donation. This avoids the need for time-consuming data entry and the associated risks of data duplication and loss. Most modern cloud-based CRMs will support this in some way, even if their solution is not fully branded and integrated.

Some CRMs will allow you to add branding to their donation forms and in some cases it is possible to host the form entirely on your own website, giving all the benefits of brand control while still automatically passing the info to your CRM. This is much easier with some systems than others. If you have any specific questions give us a shout!

Summary Table




Sponsorship Platforms

Simple, easy and quick to set up

Hard to control user experience and branding
Difficult to manage donation data

CMS Donation Forms

Easy to control user journeys
Easy to brand

Difficult to manage donation data

CRM Donation Forms

Easy to store, manage and manipulate donor information
Often easy to brand and control

Complex to set-up and requires integration between website and CRM


Assessing costs between all of these options is more complicated because there are multiple options, payment providers, etc available. Selecting the best option is also heavily dependent on the volume of donations you typically process and how central individual donations are in your funding strategy.

Choosing the right donation/sponsorship platform for your charity

What we measured

Our method for compiling this guide was simple. We thought of all the questions that we’d want to know the answer to if we were a charity - and then we found the answers. We divided our analysis into four sections.

  1. Cost: the bottom line of what you receive
  2. Design: impact of user interface
  3. Social: sharing to increase donations
  4. Functionality: services to aid fundraising

The platforms we reviewed

For most charities, the primary function of an online fundraising platform is to collect donations, both one-off and monthly, from individuals wanting to contribute to their work. We chose these nine platforms on their ability to do this. The majority also offer a secondary feature - the ability to host a fundraising page for individuals organising sponsored events.

Finally, you’ll discover at the end of this guide some other online fundraising options which offer additional features, but are not designed to be a charity’s primary fundraising page. You might want to consider using one of those in addition.

Thanks to the social web, we all have the new ability to reach out to our online networks to support a cause, and we can tap into others’ networks too – never has online fundraising had so much potential.

1. Cost: the bottom line on what you receive

We’ve worked out the costs for you

We’ve worked out all the associated costs for each platform, taking into consideration card processing fees, monthly or yearly subscription fees, set up costs, transactional fees, and the additional gift aid received on each gift. The figures therefore represent the total yearly cost per platform based on donation amounts totaling £1000, £5000, and £20,000.

With all of these platforms, the cost to the charity differs depending on the amount of donations received per year. In order to compare the cost to the charity of receiving different total donations over a period of a year, we’ve assumed the following:

An average donation is £25 (£32 with gift aid), suggested by research by Just Giving in 2010.

We’ve calculated these payments based on the debit card to credit card ratio of 69:31 given by the UK Card Association (PDF).

If you know how much your charity normally receives a year through online donations then this will allow you to place yourself in the column that is most appropriate for you to work out which option is the cheapest. 

Cost: our analysis and ratings


It’s interesting to see that some of the larger and more established platforms are taking a larger chunk of the donations than the smaller platforms. However, this needs to be balanced against the fact that they provide a wider range of services (eg. text donations) which facilitate more donations. Our figures are set against a total donation

amount, and so you don’t get to see the benefit that a campaign donation platform like The Big Give can have on your donations.

It’s hard to pick a winner out of the group so I’m going to have to have two picks. It’s probably obvious from the ratings that I’ve put up there but, on a cost basis, the winners have to be BT MyDonate and Charity Choice. 

2. Design: impact of the user interface

We’ve tested the user experience of each website

Design plays a key role in keeping your donors engaged and making the experience as stress-free as possible.

With this in mind, we’ve analysed the overall user journey experience of each platform including how easy it is to customize to your branding. We have also listed the level of mobile compatibility that each affords.

An additional feature to look out for is a fundraising app that can be downloaded for iOS or Android, which most of the donation platforms we reviewed feature. Although these can’t be used by donors, they offer
a means for fundraisers to view donation activity, track trends, and raise the profile
of the charities they are fundraising for through linking to social media. 

Design: Analysis and ratings


Analysis of design can always be regarded as subjective. However, tangible and measurable outcomes are no more present than on a dedicated donations platform where the design aesthetic and structure can radically affect conversion.

‘Global Giving’ offers some stand out features, particularly the emphasis on projects and the ability to add maps, photos and reports to your profile page but we feel that you can’t beat simplicity and minimalism for converting wary customers through a financial transaction.

For this reason the ‘Just Giving’ website is our winner in the design category. Calls to action and options are clear and reassuring and the care taken to minimise ‘drop outs’ throughout the process, especially on a mobile platform is the best we have seen.

3. Social: sharing to increase donations

We’ve ranked social media influence

The role social media plays in fundraising campaigns is not to be underestimated. Getting the word out is closely tied to the amount raised, and social media provides a way of reaching more people than ever before.

We’ve given each platform a ranking based on:

  • The ease of tweeting or posting to directly from your fundraising page
  • Their own presence on social media

Interestingly, research by Just Giving in September 2011 showed that while a staggering 97% of social media donations come from Facebook, donors coming from Twitter give considerably more. The average donation from Facebook is £18.33, whilst Twitter users give an average of £30.26. It’s safe to say then, that while playing slightly different roles, both are key to any fundraising campaign.

Social: analysis and ratings


If you’ve been following our blog you’ll know how important we think social media is - and social influence is only set to rise in 2014.

Just Giving is a not only a winner but a leader in the social category, with seven times as many Twitter followers and much more influence than its nearest contender, and over 100,000 monthly users of its Facebook App.

Our favourite social feature is that on their website, the social media icons follow the user down the screen, meaning the likelihood of viewers sharing your project socially is much higher! Other platforms, take note.

4. Functionality: services to aid fundraising

We’ve highlighted the most impactful features

While each of these platforms can collect one-off donations on behalf of UK registered charities, there are also additional features that vary in importance depending on the specific fundraising needs of your charity. Some collect monthly payments, and some allow payment via Paypal, making the payment process easier but increasing the fees to the charity (Paypal charges 3.4% + £0.20 GBP for payments less than £1,500).

If your charity regularly hosts sponsored events then the ability to host personal fundraising pages will be an important feature, and if you have an older supporter base then you might want to consider a platform that offers a gift-giving through wills service.

Functionality: analysis and ratings


Two of the most important functionalities for charities are the ability to sign up monthly direct debit givers, and buttons with one-off amounts as well as a manual function.

We, therefore, placed Just Giving, Virgin Money Giving and BT My Donate the in the top four as they were the only three offering these services. (Global Giving only offers manual input of amounts, but has lots of other features that make it worthy of its score!)

Just Giving comes out the highest due to its PayPal integration and Just Text Giving services, however, the other platforms shouldn’t be dismissed as they do offer a variety of services which could be useful alongside a fundraising platform offering Direct Debit Giving.

5. Conclusion: the best platform in our view

We build websites and provide communications and marketing support to a wide range of charities across the UK, from large to small, who all have different fundraising needs. It’s difficult to, therefore, take a ‘one-size fits all’ approach and crown one of these donation platforms the outright winner, as so much of it depends on the size of your organisation and your fundraising strategy. We were, however, really impressed with our winner, Just Giving, which won in the design, social and functionality categories. It’s not the cheapest option, but you really do get what you pay for. Our runner-up, Virgin Money Giving, is a more consistent contender across all categories so may be worth considering if you’re prepared to sacrifice some features in order to maximise every penny from your donations. 

Additional fundraising options to explore

Just Text Giving: the free text donation service

Users of Just Giving will already be registered for this service which is also free for charities using other donation platforms to use. A partnership between Vodafone and Virgin, Just Text Giving allows charities to collect donations by text message with no running costs, no commission and no catches. Every penny of every donation goes to the charity (plus Gift Aid.) It's particularly useful when running events or for use on leaflets and other promotional materials. We love this service, and with an easy registration process, there’s no excuse not to join!

Mission Fish (the Paypal Giving Fund): the Ebay for charity service

Ebay is one of the largest shopping websites in the UK. Mission Fish allows charity shops to sell on eBay and receive the full amount, and for eBay sellers to pledge a percentage of their goods as a donation towards a charity. Mission Fish then collect gift aid, deduct a 3.75% fee, and pay the money to the charity. There’s a minimum donation of £1 per listing. Once you’re registered, givers can also go from your charity page on Ebay direct to Paypal to make a donation without buying anything on Ebay, though the fees don’t make this particularly worthwhile.

Everyclick: the online shopping donation service

The idea behind Everyclick is simple. Your biggest fans download an app extension for their internet browser, which then logs securely their online spending. Companies who’ve registered with the service then donate a percentage of their spend to your charity. Don’t be put off by the basic design of their website- the idea behind it could bag you loads of extra donations.

Sponsor Me: the payroll giving service

Sponsor Me are a not-for-profit organisation managing Payroll Giving and corporate donations for companies large and small. Existing to support companies with their giving, they are one of the largest Payroll Giving organisations and support their clients in corporate social responsibility activities including fundraising, appeals management, volunteers and community engagement. They take a 4% fee from all online and offline donations.

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