The Right Way To Gear Up For The End Of Year Online Giving Push

Although it is no surprise that arts orgs are gearing up for the end of the year contribution push, one trend catching my attention in 2013 is the increase in groups focusing more efforts to streamline the online donation process. Of particular interest is providing the ability for potential donors to get in and out of the online donation process in only a few minutes and on a single online page; and for some groups, that seemingly simple goal can be easier said than done. But sometimes, the answers are easier than you think.

ADAPTISTRATION-GUY-052One of the biggest roadblocks to setting up a one page online donation form is how arts orgs process online credit card transactions. For many groups, this service is provided by a box office and/or Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution; in turn, that provider may only provide a rigid process that requires donors to create user accounts and click through several screens before completing the process. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the more screens donors have to complete, the more likely they are to drop out so if your box office/CRM provider isn’t able (or willing) to trim down that process, it can seem like an entirely fruitless, not to mention frustrating, Catch-22.

Fortunately, one straightforward solution to bust through those roadblocks is to go around them and simply forego using your current payment gateway provider.

If you maintain your own payment gateway account, such as those provided by or PayPal Pro, contact your website developer to see about creating a one page donation form. The requirements are pretty straightforward and most reputable providers should be able to put something together quickly and without substantial cost. In order to do so, you’ll need to consider costs related to the following requirements:

  • A dedicated SSL certificate installed at your host. They cost as little as $50/year plus whatever your web and/or hosting provider charges to install and maintain.
  • Integrate the payment gateway into the donation form. Some publishing platforms make this an incredibly simple task while others require custom programming. As such, the costs can vary wildly.
  • You’ll need to make sure you can export/import donor records from the one page donation form into your CRM. Without this capability, you’ll be stuck moving those records over by hand (where did that intern go?). Again, this step has a number of variables related to each side in the equation but better case scenarios only require you to export something like a .csv file which you can then import into your CRM. In those cases, the entire process can be done in a few straightforward steps.

Ideally, this entire process can produce a working one page donation form that allows users to complete a donation in less than two minutes within 48 hours.

What’s worth mentioning here is even if you don’t already maintain a payment gateway account, that doesn’t mean you should discount the value in purchasing one in addition to the one provided by your box office/CRM provider. Simply put, if you have all the right pieces in place, the return on investment could make the decision a no-brainer. The expense variables are fairly straightforward:

  • One time setup fee: $0 – $200.
  • Monthly gateway fee: $10 – $40/month.
  • Transaction fee: from a flat fee per transaction, such as’s $0.10 per transaction, to a combo formula of percent + flat fee, such as PayPal Pro’s 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction.

Additional transaction goodies such as automatic recurring billing usually cost extra so make sure you know what sort of donation options you want to offer in order to accurately estimate your costs.

A Working Example

The ALO's one page donation form.
The ALO’s one page donation form.

When working on this very issue with one of my Venture Platform users, The Austin Lyric Opera (ALO), it was determined that starting up a separate payment gateway account to facilitate the one page donation layout was the best option. Once that decision was made and the payment gateway account was set up, getting the form and integrating all of the necessary components was a very straightforward process.

Fortunately, Venture already offers an advanced form building tool that can integrate the payment gateway all without requiring any special programming. As a result, it took less than a day to integrate the payment gateway and build the form. Automatic email notifications are sent to donors via the payment gateway’s receipt functionality and the form tool can export donor info into a file type that the ALO can import into their CRM.

The form also includes a conditional field to gather additional info if the donor wants to make an honorary or memorial contribution; meaning, if that option is checked, additional fields automatically slide out to gather the related information. A similar conditional field exists for the employer matching gift option; you can see those conditional fields, and the entire form, in action at

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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