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Using APIs to Elevate Nonprofit Website Design


By Sean Chisholm

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

Before we dive in too deep, let’s address the proverbial elephant in the room: What exactly is an API?

An API (or Application Programming Interface) allows you to interact with another piece of software– to access data, make changes, and utilize the infrastructure that another company has set-up and invested in. To use a real-world example, Facebook provides an API for folks to build applications and websites around its data. The data in Facebook’s case would be your friends, photos, events, etc. APIs are incredibly powerful because they open up an entire world of data and insight that would otherwise be locked away in the data vaults of individual companies.

Think of each software application like a person. Every person has his or her own unique thoughts and experiences (that person’s “data”). An API is kind of like a telephone line, allowing one person to share thoughts (data) with another person that’s located somewhere else.

Okay, I realize that the general concept may seem somewhat unfamiliar and confusing, so let’s take a closer look at another example. Let’s assume that you represent a charity that uses StayClassy for its nonprofit fundraising software. Your organization’s website has a donate button that links to a customized donation page on StayClassy and your supporters come to that page to make donations.

The record of those donations, with the amounts, and general donor info, will all be stored within StayClassy. If you wanted to access that donor information, you could just log into the software and retrieve it, BUT you could also use the APIs to retrieve that same information without ever having to log in. Logging into the software is kind of like going over to someone’s house, opening the door, and then talking to them face-to-face. Using the API is like calling that person up on the telephone and getting the same information without having to make the trip.

I realize that this may not sound especially revelatory, but the ability to retrieve and view pertinent data is absolutely empowering. To show you just how awesome this can be let’s take a look at some other examples from charities that are using StayClassy.

1. New Organ

New Organ is utilizing the StayClassy APIs in a similar fashion to our hypothetical example described above. They’re pulling in general donation information for one of their ongoing campaigns. There’s a nicely styled donation bar showing their campaign progress (in dollars) with relevant donation statistics. But what’s especially neat is that these statistics are completely dynamic. If I donated to their campaign right now, those stats would increase. And this is all because APIs provide real-time data and not just snapshots of past historical data. New Organ’s integration of these APIs provides real-time insight into their organization’s progress, insight that simply wouldn’t be possible if APIs weren’t in play!

2. Keep a Breast

Similarly, Keep a Breast Foundation utilizes the StayClassy APIs to give real-time insight into donor and organizational progress. What’s really neat is that they have opted for a donation progress bar in the shape of a heart rather than a traditional thermometer graphic. Again, this isn’t mind-melting design, but it’s personable, fits the overall organization brand, and is unique. Those are very powerful characteristics and Keep a Breast is afforded the opportunity to play with the display of these numbers because of the very “hands off” nature of APIs. Our APIs don’t structure the visual presentation of data, they provide the data in raw form. This gives you the opportunity to fiddle, play, sculpt, and change the visual design any way that you see fit. It could be the computer geek in me, but I think that’s incredibly empowering and exciting.

Taking Customization to a New Level

APIs empower you to repackage and display data in unique and visually compelling ways that might not otherwise be possible. You can use APIs from a system like StayClassy to retrieve data in its raw format and then you can dress it up however you’d like. If you’d like to show the number of donations for a given program in the form of a thermometer, be our guest! Or if you’d like to show a live stream of donations, don’t let us stop you! There are literally endless visualizations, presentations, and designs that can fit this data. APIs provide the access that opens up this world of visual opportunities. Consider this ordinary looking table of data:

If you can retrieve that data via an API, you can repackage that information in a wide variety of visual styles. For example here are two simple ways you might display a stream of recent donations:

Personalization and consistent branding are very important to successful online fundraising. That’s a big reason why we try to take our brand out of the way and let yours shine. Our pages can be customized to look like the rest of your website without any programming knowledge necessary! That’s a great place to start, but sometimes you want even more design freedom. And that’s where APIs come into play.

With the power of APIs you can allow your imagination to roam even more widely. In an age where engaging websites are becoming the norm and competition for people’s attention is increasing, they can help you take those next steps towards providing a truly compelling, unique, and interactive online experience!

Please feel free to explore the general concept of APIs and reach out with any questions or comments. Also, be on the lookout for our soon-to-be released revamped API documentation with examples and tips for your organization.

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