Are more donations just a “click” away for your nonprofit?

Lynda St. Clair, Ph.D.

Robert Peticolas is just one of the many individuals who find it easy and rewarding to give on-line.  Increasingly, Bob is using on-line giving platforms to find nonprofits to support rather than relying on solicitations mailed to his home.  And he is not alone.

Donating online is a growing trend (see PJ April 9, 2012PJ March 12, 2012) that benefits nonprofits, large and small. In addition to making it easy for donors to “click to give,” having an online presence can dramatically expand a nonprofit’s donor base by increasing “the reach for fund-raising across traditional geographical boundaries” (Shier and Handy, 2012).

Organizations that don’t have the resources to manage their own online donation programs can contract with an online giving platform (e.g., BetterPlace.orgJustGive.orgNetwork for Good).  These organizations, which (for a fee) manage the technical issues for multiple client organizations, have seen substantial growth in the amount of donations that they process.  For example, writing for USA Today, Vanderkam (2010) reported growth between 2004 and 2008:

Do perceptions of the trustworthiness of the donation platform make a difference to giving behaviors? How important is a prospective donor’s overall confidence in the Internet?

To answer these questions, researchers Micheal Shier and Fermida Handy analyzed data from 479 people who accessed GiveIndia (a web-based platform for human service organizations in India) and completed a survey regarding their use of the site.

Not surprisingly, perceptions of GiveIndia (the donation platform) significantly affected the likelihood of donating.  The researchers noted that a one-unit increase in the measure of positive attitudes towards GiveIndia is connected to a 70% increase in the odds of donating through the GiveIndia program.

In contrast to some suggestions in the literature, perception of the Internet was not a significant predictor of online donations.  Shier and Handy suggest that this apparently counter-intuitive finding may be due to self-selection bias in the study.  The individuals who accessed the site are likely to be more confident in the Internet compared to the general population.

In summarizing their findings, Shier and Handy note:

“Currently, our findings do lend some support to the use of online donating platforms for smaller organizations that are not easily recognized by the public or lack credibility. Because perceptions of the online platform contributed greatly to whether or not an individual donated online, smaller lesser-known organizations could benefit by joining well-known online fund-raising platforms that have earned donor trust and legitimacy. Their participation in larger online platforms will likely have a greater impact on the success of their online campaigns than if they were seeking online donations on their own.”

Shier and Handy conclude by emphasizing that donors’ perceptions of the online donation platform “including aspects of trust, reputation, and transparency” are an important factor in the ultimate decision to donate.

So even if your organization can’t afford its own online donation system, more donations  may be only a “click” away with the help of an online donation platform – just be sure to do your homework choosing your online partner.  (For a list of some online fundraising platforms with comments for donors and for nonprofits, see Sherman, 2011).


Sherman, A. (2011). Top 12 Online Fundraising Platforms for Donors & Nonprofits. Mashable Social Media, accessed at on July 2, 2012.

Shier, M. and Handy, F. (2012) Understanding online donor behavior: the role of donor characteristics, perceptions of the Internet, website and program, and influence from social networks.  International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing, accessed via John Wiley & Sons online library.

Vanderkam L. 2010. Microphilanthropy is changing the face of charity. USA Today (online edition, updated November 18, 2010 accessed July 2, 2012).  

Lynda St. Clair, Ph.D., is a retired management professor and co-author of Becoming a Master Manager, now in its fifth edition.   She and her husband, Bob Peticolas, live in Las Cruces, New Mexico.  

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