Taking Credit Cards on the Web

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You have several options for taking credit cards on the Web. They fall into two categories: using a service that collects the money and passes it back to you, or setting up your own virtual terminal. Your organization should consider several things as you select a method for taking donations, such as technical requirements and how much you expect to receive in donations.

Services that Collect Money on your Behalf

Services such as PayPal, Google Checkout, Groundspring.org, or Network for Good take credit cards over the Web and transfer funds to others. They have online merchant services in place and, after a modest setup fee (and sometimes a monthly fee), charge a small percentage or transaction fee to take payments on your behalf. The big advantage to these systems is simplicity and startup costs. These systems can be added to your Web site within one day for startup costs as low as an hour or two of Web work.

Google Checkout is offering commission free transactions through 2008 to 501(c)(3) organizations. At the end of 2007, Google launched a very user friendly Donate program. They also have a very simple "Buy Now" that has very small fees and doesn't require the use of expensive shopping cart software.

Organizations that use PayPal report that it is easy to use for them as well as their donors. Preferences can be set so that your organization is notified of the donor's name and address when a donation is made. Or if you prefer, you can log into PayPal and print a running history of all transactions made through the service. Another advantage of PayPal is that it accepts international credit cards. Their accounts actually hold your funds until you transfer or spend it - but they do pay decent interest on held funds.

Groundspring and Network for Good are organized specifically to provide online tools and services for nonprofits. When you create an account with them, they provide simple html that you can easily place on your own website with no programming experience. They can be a bit more costly, however.

All of these services are"3rd party" processors. You never see or have access to the customer's credit card or checking account information. This is a great security/privacy benefit to your donors and reduces the burden you have of securing such information.

Setting up your own Terminal

Taking cards on the Web directly involves more development at your website. Some web development companies, such as http://www.webtrix.net/, can help develop the terminal and ways of visualizing transactions online. The first step is to open a merchant account, which you can do at the same place your organization banks. You should also feel free to shop around; other banks may offer significantly better terms for this service, even if you are happy with your organization's existing accounts.

Once you have a merchant account, you need "secure server" access (a service provided by most ISPs, typically with a monthly charge) and shopping cart software to actually complete the transactions, including verifying the credit cards. Most shopping cart software comes with customizable templates, but these will require adjustment, so don't forget to build in costs or time for webpage production as you embark on this project. Depending on your ISP's range of services and your merchant account's security requirements, you may also be required to buy a commercial "trust" certificate.

Like organizations such as Groundspring, merchant accounts will also involve transactions fees of some kind, although they may mean that a larger net income from donations goes to your organization. The total setup, however, can easily cost over $1000 and up, even if your ISP includes a shopping cart software license in your monthly fee. Setting them up also requires a careful Web maintainer, even if programming is not required.


Other Tips

Whatever system you use, make it simple for your donors. While any donor can easily understand how to put a check in an envelope, people are becoming increasingly comfortable with online payments ”and with good reason: many sites make them simple and secure. It is important that you make it as easy as possible for those visiting your site to make a donation to your organization at the moment that they are feeling appreciative for your services, especially if you include donation appeals in electronic (email or Web) newsletters.

Most advocacy organizations report large increases in the numbers of members that join after they establish a Web presence. Many report spikes after Christmas and Hanukkah, since end of the year giving usually increases, and computers and Internet access are popular gifts.

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