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Nonprofit fieldwork isn’t typically thought of as easy fundraising by those in the profession. But incorporating inexpensive technology into fold can make all the planning, legwork, and old-fashioned face-to-face engagement pay off at events, street canvassing, silent auctions, and fundraising dinners.

For tech-savvy nonprofits, ROI begins with the right mix of mobile point of sale (mPOS) technology in the field, and donor relationship management (DRM) software back at the office. Together, the two create a now-and-later funnel of revenue that extends well beyond the initial donor transaction.

“Funding basic infrastructure is one of the best things that you can do to make an organization more effective at achieving its mission,” says Karen Graham, executive director of Idealware, a nonprofit that provides impartial resources and information about software for other nonprofits. “Technology infrastructure is a prerequisite for performance management, innovation, and sustainability.”

Easy fundraising in the field: The hardware

I can walk down to the local farmer’s market with no cash in hand, and come back with a grocery bag full of produce having swiped my credit card through vendors’ mobile point of sale. I have come to expect this kind of simplicity in every transaction. Being able to make a donation should be that easy, too, and it is. All you need is a credit card reader attached to a smartphone or tablet to get started.

Mobile magnetic stripe reader

A magnetic stripe reader reads information encoded on a credit card. Mag stripe readers typically cost $40 to $75 and connect to a 3.5 mm headphone jack on a smartphone or tablet. Hardware encryption encodes cardholder data at the swipe, which keeps information safe in case the mobile device is lost or stolen.

headphone jack mag strip reader

ID TECH UniMag II Secure Mobile MagStripe Reader

What’s better for easy fundraising? A smartphone or tablet?

The choice of smartphone, tablet, or laptop should suit the nature of your fundraising operations. Most importantly, fieldworkers and donors need to know how to operate them. Generally, a larger screen lends itself well for entering donor data and navigating DRM and payment processing applications, so a tablet is the most natural choice.

Easy fundraising efforts can be made difficult if staff and donors don’t know the equipment. Consider whether fieldworkers and donors would be more comfortable with either Android or iOS. For tablets, iOS is more ubiquitous, with iPads making up roughly two-thirds of the market—but keep in mind that Android apps, in general, are more customizable.

Nonprofits often take advantage of cost savings that refurbished tablets and mobile devices offer. See below for staff recommendations.

Refurbished iPad 4


Apple iPad 4 9.7″ Retina (Refubished)

Apple iPad 2 9.7″ (Refurbished)

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 7″ (Refurbished)

ASUS Google Nexus 7″ (Refurbished)

See all refurbished tablets


Note that having a 4G  LTE tablet comes in handy for easy fundraising in a location without available Wi-Fi. Check for this feature when comparing tablets.

Mobile receipt printers

Digital receipts are becoming the norm, but having a mobile receipt printer is suggested for accommodating donors that prefer paper records for their charitable giving.

Epson Mobilink TM-P80 Mobile Receipt Printer

Epson Mobilink TM-P80 Mobile Receipt Printer

Accessories offer versatility, security in the field

Add protection for tablets in the field with a protective case. Trident cases offer an assortment of protective covers for almost all varieties of tablets.

A tablet stand frees up your hands while you’re out engaging donors or making a presentation. Stands tend to be inexpensive and one-size-fits most for smartphones and tablets.

TekNmotion Tablet-Mate Stand

TekNmotion Tablet-Mate Stand

Standalone tablets accessed by attendees of a fundraising event can be secured with an enclosure stand with a locking mechanism. This Kensington SecureBack in one such example for iPad Air/iPad Air 2 tablets.

Kensington SecureBack

Kensington SecureBack

An adhesive wedge lock kit offers a lower cost option for tablet theft deterrence for unattended tablets.

Credit card processing for nonprofits

The rules and fees for a processing a credit card donation are, for the most part, the same as any retail transaction. Processing fees might include a per-transaction percentage—a flat 2.75% charge plus $0.20-$0.30 is common for mPOS solutions, in addition to the interchange fees charged by credit card companies. There are hundreds of processors and each with different payment structures; the flat rate offered by Square or PayPal might not be the best rate for nonprofits—here’s why.

A nonprofit that takes credit card donations is designated a four-digit Merchant Category Code (MCC) identifying the organization’s nonprofit status, which may entitle it to lower transactional fees from credit card companies. These rates often beat flat rates offered to retail vendors. Make sure to work with a processor that is accustomed to working with nonprofits, and check that your organization is set up to take advantage of reduced rates tied to the nonprofit MCC.

Nerdwallet writer Spencer Tierney digs in and compares processing companies for nonprofits in this excellent article.

After the transaction: Donor Relation Management software

There are dozens—perhaps hundreds—of DRM applications suitable for nonprofits of all sizes and scopes. To an extent, free applications like Google apps will suffice, at least in the beginning, for managing donor data and scheduling outreach efforts. Google for Nonprofits will take you a step further with free versions of paid Google products for qualifying nonprofit organizations.

As organizations scale up, many nonprofits implement paid DRM applications to manage donor outreach, volunteer operations, custom app building, cloud hosting and more. Some of the more popular DRM options include:

  • Salesforce for Nonprofits – The nonprofit arm of the popular business CRM offers 10 free licenses for qualifying nonprofits, highly customizable apps and features, and online support. Initial setup may necessitate outside consultants depending on your technical aptitude.
  • Blackbaud Raiser’s Edge – Similar to Salesforce in scale and features; roll-out and customization may require professional expertise.
  • Knack – A simple database tool that enables code-free building of mobile apps for fundraising. Compatible with Google apps and integrates with online payment processors PayPal and Stripe.
  • CiviCRM – Free, open source CRM used primarily by nonprofits.

For more details about other popular DRM offerings for nonprofits, the site SoftwareAdvice has a great comparison chart.

Final thoughts

Choosing the hardware for implementing mobile operations is the simple part. The solutions for the most part are compatible with each other. As you already know, it’s what happens after that first donation that makes the fieldwork truly pay off. Just like tablets and mag readers in the field, social media, text-to-give, and other such targeted communications make for sustained, easy fundraising all year round.

How Smart Nonprofits Use Technology for Easy Fundraising
Article Name
How Smart Nonprofits Use Technology for Easy Fundraising
Nonprofit fieldwork isn’t typically thought of as easy fundraising, but simple technology can help maximize and sustain these efforts year-round.
Adam Lovinus

Author Adam Lovinus

A tech writer and Raspberry Pi enthusiast from Orange County, California.

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