When it comes to accepting online donations, nonprofits have numerous options in terms of technology providers.
Regardless of which vendor you choose, there is a fundamental decision that has to be made: whether you will host the donation form yourself on your own website or use a third-party to host the donation form and page.
What’s the difference?
A self-hosted online donation page is a page on your website that contains an online donation form. Unlike a third-party online donation page, you aren’t sending a potential donor off-site to a page generated or hosted by your payment processor (like PayPal, for example), donor database or third-party online giving platform (like Network for Good, for example).
Here is an example of both:
- Self-Hosted: https://www.artsforlifenc.org/donate/
- Third-Party: https://www.kintera.org/site/c.7oJILSPwFfJSG/b.8649985/k.8414/Donate_to_AJC/apps/ka/sd/donorcustom.asp?msource=ChicagoEMA
In the first example, you can see that the donation form is embedded right on the organization’s donation page.
In the second, you have a page that looks a lot like the nonprofit’s website but is hosted off-site.
Another way to describe these is “on-site” vs. “off-site” or “embedded” vs. “redirected.”
With a third-party online donation page, the donate button on your nonprofit’s website will simply link to the offsite page. For example, if you visit http://www.ajc.org and click donate you are sent https://www.kintera.org/site/c.7oJILSPwFfJSG/b.8649985/k.8414/Donate_to_AJC/apps/ka/sd/donorcustom.asp?msource=ChicagoEMA – vs. visiting http://coburnplace.org/, clicking donate, and being sent here http://coburnplace.org/donate/.
Many vendors will give you each as an option, and depending on what you’re capable of technologically leave the decision up to you as to which is used. For example, Bloomerang customers have both options available to them (self-hosted / third-party)
However, some lock you into just the “offsite” option.
There are pros and cons to each, and we definitely favor one over the other. But we’ll let you be the judge.
Pros and Cons of each
- Self-Hosted: Ideal for fundraisers who have control over or the ability to edit their website.
- Third-Party: Ideal for fundraisers who do not have control over or the ability to edit their website.
Typically, your online giving vendor will give you a snippet of code that you simply paste onto your website. This requires you to be able to get into your website’s code and paste that code snippet onto the webpage that you want the form to appear on. Luckily, most modern website CMSs (content management systems) like Firespring and WordPress make this process relatively easy.
Winner: it depends.
- Self-Hosted: clean URL
- Third-Party: ugly URL
It’s much easier to communicate to someone that they should “visit coburn place dot org slash donate” than it is to say “visit kintera dot org slash c.7oJILSPwFfJSG slash b.8649985 slash k.8414 slash …” you get the idea.
Sure, you’d probably just say “go our homepage and click donate” but why add an extra step when you don’t have to? Homepages are typically very busy and you don’t want to distract visitors whatsoever with anything but making a donation.
One definitely looks better in print than the other.
The shorter URL also looks more trustworthy. When the donation form isn’t on your branded website, it can cast doubt in the donor’s mind, especially when they are seeing a new entity’s (the vendor’s) name (Kintera, eTapestry, Network for Good, etc.). Whenever a donor has to leave your website and visit a new page, conversion rates drop.
- Self-Hosted: you get/keep the web traffic
- Third-Party: vendor gets the web traffic
Because you are sending people away from your website to what is essentially a page on the vendor’s website, they are getting the website traffic. Even if the donor completes the donation, it can be difficult to redirect them back to your website.
- Self-Hosted: controls donation form only
- Third-Party: controls both donation form and donation page
The third-party route is a bit more turn-key than self-hosted. However, that can put you at a disadvantage (see below).
Winner: it depends on your needs.
- Self-Hosted: infinite customization
- Third-Party: limited customization
Third-party vendors often tout the “customization” of their online giving pages. While those vendors absolutely do offer customization options, they will always be limited to what the vendor allows.
When you are embedding a donation form on a page on your website that you control, the layout and content of that page is infinitely customizable – because you own it – it’s your website!
We’ve seen Bloomerang customers do some amazing things with our out-of-the-box donation form code snippets:
- Out-of-the-box: https://www.
- Slightly customized: https://
- Heavily customized: https://partnershipfca.com/donate and https://www.artsforlifenc.org/donate/
However, customization of course requires technical ability. Luckily, third-party vendors are typically up-to-date on best practices for web design, mobile responsiveness and conversion rate optimization (like stripping out navigation and keeping the form above the fold), as well as having the ability to make their page look as close to your website’s design as possible. But, again, you are ultimately limited to what that vendor offers and what they charge.
Winner: it depends on your capacity.
- Self-Hosted: likely donor database integration
- Third-Party: likely no integration – export/import or manual data entry required
If your donor database is what is providing the snippet of code for your donation form, it’s likely that form completions (donations) will be entered right into your donor database automatically. With a third-party vendor, you might have to enter that data yourself.
- Self-Hosted: fees?
- Third-Party: fees?
When deciding between one or the other, pay close attention to the fees associated with each transaction. Many offer a flat % fee (between 2 and 3%) plus a small amount ($0.30 or so). Some are priced based on getting a % of whatever $ amount you raise (a practice referred to as “skimming” which many in the nonprofit sector consider unethical).
Be sure to ask about this when selecting a vendor, as it could potentially cost you thousands.
Winner: it depends.
So which is better?
For fundraisers that have full control over their website, self-hosted is a no-brainer. However, in this day and age, there’s little excuse for having a website that you have no ability to edit (either yourself or through a website vendor).
So if your donor database has an online giving feature, please use it! Ditch that PayPal button.
If your donor database doesn’t have an online giving feature, it might be time to start looking for an alternative.
Note: this debate extends to other types of technology, like blogging, web video and peer-to-peer among others – and the conclusions drawn here typically apply there.
Did I miss anything? Or did you come to a different conclusion? Let me know in the options below!