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Accepting Donations Online and Offline: The Big Opportunity for Nonprofit Organizations


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Published September 29, 2023 Reading Time: 6 minutes

There’s significant value in accepting donations online to enhance your offline presence. Classy’s annual donor sentiment report, Why America Gives, shows there’s no shortage of generosity among modern donors but rather a collective desire to support organizations in ways that stand out and align with online engagement trends. Still, the likelihood of capturing charitable donations depends on the flexibility and simplicity of the giving experience.

Many nonprofit organizations have traditions rooted in offline donations, where fundraising means collecting checks and cash donations. As those avenues become less prevalent, it may be time to modernize these in-person interactions with the addition of online donations. That way, people can choose the most convenient way for them to support organizations they care about, and nonprofits can see the financial impact of managing fundraising through a simple online fundraising platform

Here, we’ll cover why nonprofits unite offline and online giving, with two examples from organizations that saw an incredible return on investment toward fundraising goals.

Accepting Online Donations at Live Fundraisers

What started as a pandemic necessity became a doorway to new potential as donors responded to the flexibility of online donations. The personal nature of live fundraising events isn’t completely replaceable by virtual alternatives, but incorporating our learnings on the effectiveness of online donation options at live and hybrid event experiences is critical to fundraising growth moving forward. 

4 Reasons to Add an Easy Way to Pay Online 

  1. You appeal to more donors with a simple and intuitive giving experience that supports payment processing via credit cards, bank account transfers, and apps they already know and use, like PayPal or Venmo donations.
  2. You open future engagement opportunities as online donations capture donor data automatically in a customer relationship management solution and make it easier to engage with tailored email marketing and social media outreach or upgrade supporters to give recurring donations.
  3. You save time and money with the resources it takes to process checks and cash donations and organize them into your system of record.
  4. You unify the supporter journey with a cohesive donation process that donors can rely on across any fundraising campaign.
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How Nonprofits Collect Donations Online and Offline

The Salvation Army Brings a Fresh Take to Simple Giving 

The Salvation Army recognizes just how important it is to meet their donors where they are with a giving experience that’s both simple and accessible. The nonprofit introduced online payment processing as more people started going cashless in 2018 and has continued innovating since. 

The Salvation Army was adamant about protecting the tradition of its famous red kettles, but added a modern touch of QR codes that send people directly to a simple donation form to give in real time. They even named their creative union of offline and online giving, KettlePay. 

To level up the experience for both The Salvation Army’s supporters and team members handling fundraising and donor management, KettlePay captured donor ZIP codes so gifts were distributed to donors’ local Salvation Army chapter. It became clear how valuable it was to offer a digital payment option that removed the barrier of cash availability and maintained the spirit and ritual of the red kettles people have come to love.

We spun up the simplest donation form we could think of. It had four buttons—$5, $10, $25 and ‘other.’ And then we had, at that time, Apple Pay, Google Pay and your credit cards, so you can checkout. We really wanted to emulate the experience of dropping in cash and coin, but make it very fast and remove barriers for our donors.

Dale Bannon

National Community Relations and Development Director

From Early Innovation to Pandemic Necessity

The following year, The Salvation Army rolled out digital payment options nationwide. They saw growth in digital donations that continued to support them as the pandemic created a new safety and health concern around exchanging physical cash. The original introduction and ease of QR codes went from an early innovation to an everyday tool for giving. 

Donors can give either physical donations or digital offerings as they encounter a kettle. The growing list of donors who donate digitally is tracked in The Salvation Army’s donor database. That type of tracking allows the organization to continue building relationships, which wasn’t an option with anonymous cash donors in the past. They were surprised to learn that 85% of digital red kettle donors were new to their donor community. That further emphasized the value of the online donation component to acquire and deepen their relationships with new donors.

Transitioning our red kettle online would not have been as successful as it has been without Classy’s embedded donations forms. Since we launched in November 2022, we’ve seen a nearly 60% completion rate.

Dale Bannon

National Community Relations and Development Director

Families in Transition Redefines Annual Events

Families in Transition hosts an annual fundraising event that invites 500 business and civic leaders, clergies, politicians, dignitaries, and friends to come together and enjoy a breakfast on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. As the organization’s flagship fundraising event, it’s experienced quite a bit of innovation through the years. 

In 2022, the event returned to an in-person celebration from its modified virtual version, but it didn’t lose the element of flexibility that modern attendees love. Each year, a “Fund the Mission” pledge period takes place. Before the pandemic, donors would use the time to give cash, write checks, and fill out donor envelopes that the team would gather and log after the event concluded. The hours of manual work and desire to offer in-person attendees a renewed experience of giving led to a whole new pledge period in 2022.

Before our biggest event of the year, we implemented Classy’s embedded donations forms. On the day of the event, we were able to provide a streamlined donation experience that allowed donors to give in less than five clicks.

Reilly Murphy

Salesforce System Administrator

An embedded donation experience made it easy for event attendees to quickly access everything they need to make a gift on their mobile devices. Families in Transition placed a QR code on event materials like centerpieces and placemats that led attendees to the donation URL they set up ahead of time. Bringing the donations online also solved the challenge of collecting email addresses from cash and check donors. 

With QR codes printed on event materials, attendees could quickly navigate to the online donation form. As an added bonus, we captured attendee email addresses which had been a challenge in the past with check-based donors.

Reilly Murphy

Salesforce System Administrator

Responding to what their donors want to see at different points in their supporter journey is what makes Families in Transition so successful. They preserve traditions while not being afraid to push the boundaries of modernization and saw a big impact as a result.

Overall, we’ve seen an increase in online giving since 2019 when we hosted our last in-person event. In 2019, 50% of donors gave cash or check gifts, and 50% gave online. In 2022, we saw online giving increase to over 70%.

Reilly Murphy

Salesforce System Administrator

Takeaways to Bring Together Offline and Online Giving

  1. Let your brand shine through: Carry the same look and feel into your online presence across physical fundraising materials, like direct mail, QR code flyers, or signage at events, to create consistency in the donor experience, whichever way they choose to give.
  2. Lead with a strong hook: Start each donation appeal with a compelling reason to contribute. Any time you can share your story and the value of donations ahead of your live event or on your physical fundraising materials, you’re in the best place to increase potential donation totals.
  3. Choose the best URL to send people to: Send people to the digital destination you think will most effectively inspire action when you use a QR code or something similar to offer an online donation route. This is the time to create a donation website with minimal fields, user-friendly navigation, and clear instructions to help people complete their transactions. You may also be able to send people directly to your donation form if they’re already familiar with your mission and are likely to convert immediately. 
  4. Make it mobile-friendly: Remember that supporters are likely using their mobile devices to click the donate button. Optimize your donation form to provide complete mobile functionality, including payment options like debit cards, credit cards, PayPal, Google Pay, Apple Pay, or Venmo.
  5. Follow up always: Make sure to capture donor contact information and track which campaign they give to in your fundraising or donation platform to follow up with thoughtful communications that keep them coming back to give again in the future.

Bring the Inspiration to Your Organization

This is your opportunity to get creative about where you can unite your offline and online fundraising. Maybe you look at where you can add QR codes to your in-person activities, locations, and events. As you brainstorm with your team about maximizing this giving route, you can see where your donors respond most and develop a strong action plan to boost generosity year-long.  

Connect with the Classy team to learn more about our industry-leading online fundraising tools to help you achieve your goals.

Copy Editor: Ayanna Julien

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