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Choosing a new fundraising platform? Watch for these 5 warning signs

Over the past few years, we’ve spent a lot of time discussing the importance of a mature and well-rounded digital program. An important first step along this path of maturity is choosing the right online fundraising platform.

I know what your inner monologue is probably saying right now: “Picking a fundraising platform should be fairly easy. How hard could it possibly be to accept a donation online during the digital age? Surely, this is a problem that has been solved really well by now with a standard off-the-shelf solution or two? Surely, whatever platform I choose will meet all our fundraising and marketing needs, right?”

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there isn’t always an obvious choice. It all depends on your fundraising situation. It’s a competitive space, but at the same time, a space where 2bit hacks sometimes feel a byte too comfortable airing their half-baked wares.

Over the years, we’ve seen some trends in the nonprofit tech stacks that come through our bay doors. While we’re always happy to improve upon whatever our clients are using, we also have a front-row seat to witness the pitfalls, too.

So, I’ve decided to take a short break from writing code to offer up a little advice so that you can notice some of the common warning signs we see in fundraising platforms of all shapes and sizes. If this can help even one good cause find the right tool to further their mission, it will have been worth it in my book!

1. Is an iframe involved at all?

If the answer is “yes,” your platform is going to have a rough time delivering conversion tracking for your marketing campaigns. While we’ve implemented solutions that work around this pitfall in the past with success, it requires deep access to both the platform providing the iframe and the front end accepting the iframe. Browser security makes the proposition of iframe-related donation forms more challenging as each year passes. It also increases the number of hours of work required to set up tracking for each individual form—and that’s if tracking is even possible.

The form being usable is also completely dependent on both systems working at the same time. If your host site is down, users can’t find your form. If the donation platform is down, users can’t use your form. Simply put: iframes are a sign that everything will be more complicated.

2. Is the platform looking to hold you hostage?

Each fundraising platform can have its own types of vendor lock-in. Here are a few questions to consider:

  • Are your recurring donors really yours, or does the platform have complete control over their subscriptions?
  • Is the data they’ve shared with you really yours, or does it lack a way to export your donor information to any other CRM?
  • Is it possible for your in-house or consulting developers to update the form if they need to, or is it locked down so that you need this vendor’s blessing to add a single tracking script to your organization’s form? (More on that in point three!)

The reality is, if you have to depend on your relationship with the vendor to make even the smallest changes or gain access to your donor information, you’re likely setting yourself up for a headache in the long run.

3. Does it support Google Tag Manager? Or any tag manager?

This one may not look important. Maybe you’re not even using a tag manager yet to measure your digital program (sidenote: you should be!). Every digital marketing platform from, Facebook to Adwords to Google Analytics (and ecommerce), Instagram, Pinterest, heck even TikTok, has a tracking script or pixel they will want to use to claim their conversions.

When it comes time to use one or many of them, you won’t want to struggle with the coordination of setting up dozens of these tags/pixels through your vendor. Tag managers provide a host of tools internally to quickly establish your tracking site-wide. Without a tag manager, you’re left with no way to schedule your tracking deployments ahead of time, and your team may find itself manually adding a tag to every page. Or worse, missing pages, muddling data, and ending up at the end of the year with no idea which platforms brought you the most value per dollar. If the fundraising platform doesn’t support tag managers, run away and live to fight another day.

4. Does it have commonly required integrations for successful marketing campaigns?

While this might seem similar to number three, that was about managing tracking, and this is about having it at all. You might think you’d be hard-pressed to find a fundraising/ecommerce solution that doesn't have Google Analytics Ecommerce tracking support, right? Sadly, that is a common shortfall for a lot of the small-to-mid-sized fundraising platforms, and even a few of the larger ones, too. If you can’t track who gave what from which sources, you might end up missing out on even the most basic measurement needed to make channel and campaign spending decisions when it comes time to plan for next year.

5. Does it have an uptime SLA? Do they adhere to it?

There are a few platforms in the nonprofit space that notoriously have abysmal uptime records. The sad truth is, your fundraising is the lifeblood of your organization, and if you have a critical outage on Dec. 31 or on Giving Tuesday, there is probably nothing in their SLA that will help you get back the sleep lost, much less the donations.

I always recommend taking the time to find someone who has lived in the fundraising platform for a year or two. They can give you an idea of the platform’s historical uptime, and, even more importantly, details about the platform’s performance on the highest traffic days of the year. Their hosting should not be your problem, so look for a solution that has reliable, scalable architecture. This is most common in donation platforms that started their life after modern DevOps practices and serverless architectures became common (roughly within the last 6-7 years). Legacy platforms that haven’t embraced the cloud will fare the worst on uptime.

Your fundraising platform is one of the most important elements to the success and maturity of your digital presence. If you keep an eye out for these warnings signs when picking your fundraising platform, you can save your donation form set up team and Ad Grant specialists a lot of time, money and heartache in the long run.

Now, this last part might come off as shameless self-promotion, but that doesn’t make the advice above any less valid.

At RKD Group, we’ve built a fundraising platform largely out of the heartache we’ve felt through the years on behalf of our clients while working in their legacy fundraising platforms. Our goal has been to deliver fundraising solutions that enable cutting-edge fundraising, marketing strategies and donor experiences. The Donor Marketing Cloud is a modern and reliable fundraising platform that addresses each of the five critical points above.

While I’d love to bore you with ALL the details about our serverless architecture that can scale to millions of simultaneous users per client without flinching, I’ll save it for another day. In the meantime, if you’re interested in learning more about RKD’s Donor Marketing Cloud, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team at connect@rkdgroup.com.

Jake Hudson

Jake has been building technical solutions to address nonprofit marketing and business problems for more than five years. As the Special Projects Lead at RKD Group, Jake organizes strategies and implements technical solutions across dozens of CMSs, CRMs and APIs for his nonprofit clients.

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