Aug 8, 2018 - Justin Emond

Are You Ready for Headless Commerce to Disrupt NPO Online Fundraising?

One of the best parts of running a digital agency is when you get to work with clients that are actively hustling to make the world a better place. At Third & Grove, we are fortunate to work with a variety of great nonprofits, from organizations running free highly effective preschools in one of the poorest communities in the United States to some of the largest aid organizations in the world. In a small, modest way, we get to help further the awesome mission of these great organizations.

Nonprofits are not immune to technological disruptions and one that has been top of mind to many fundraisers are the rapid changes in digital commerce technology that we are calling the third wave of commerce platforms. Some of the innovations in collecting money online are impacting online fundraising already while some are proving to be a distraction unworthy of consideration.

Forward-Thinking NPOs Must Follow the Trends in Digital Commerce

Most importantly, successful online fundraising practices must be built on digital storytelling and personalization. Digital storytelling creates credibility and will get first-time donors in the door. Personalization keeps donors coming back — and ideally, increases giving frequency and average gift size.

So what is the biggest trend in digital commerce? Believe it or not, it’s called headless commerce. To understand why headless commerce is the future of online donations, you need to have a strong understanding of the donations solution marketplace today.

Should your NPO go headless?

There are many viable approaches to online fundraising available today, and to us, Classy is the clear leader of the pack. But headless commerce for the first time makes it possible to build a completely custom donation experience without the massive investment in engineering time and heartbreak. Let’s look at how.

So what the heck is headless commerce anyway?

To understand what headless commerce is you have to understand that a typical commerce platform—like Magento or WooCommerce—is composed of two parts. The first part is a front end that serves the end user various experiences (product detail page, cart page, checkout) and the second part is a backend that performs the commerce activities (like charging credit cards and storing order information).

Unlike a standard commerce platform that does both, a headless commerce platform provides only the backend commerce engine. It is up to you to build a custom front-end experience and plug in the headless commerce platform by calling their various API endpoints.

Headless offers an interesting proposition to NPOs. In addition to being able to add commerce to high-impact, content-driven online giving experiences, headless commerce solutions provide a “Spoke and Hub” opportunity for rolling out new ecommerce experiences. In other words, a single headless commerce platform could handle donations across an infinite number of stand-alone websites, mobile apps, and other digital platforms.

OK, I get it, but I don’t get it - what does it make possible?

Up until now, you had two choices: Use an existing solution like Salesforce, or Classy, or Blackbaud, or any of the others, or build an entirely custom donation experience. But as every NPO discovered the cost of a completely custom donation experience was very high, not just in the initial build, but in the ongoing support, refinement, and enhancement of the approach. This is because organizations had to build both the front end and the backend.

You will always need to build the front end because the front end is part of your brand voice and is optimized to your unique and exact customer profile and journey. But the backend is not unique to your organization, and headless commerce solutions offer that perfect balance of flexibility and power to reduce the total cost of ownership of custom solutions to make them competitive with third-party solutions.

How to decide is headless is right for you?

If you are a small or medium-sized NPO with just a single website URL, you probably should use a cloud solution like Classy (see our previous analysis here of your options). However, if you want to capture donations in more places than just your website (like a mobile app or on a street corner) headless is likely a strong path to success. And if your organization is federated and you have many different websites controlled by different departments or organizational units, headless likely will let you build a highly custom donation workflow experience you can reuse easily on a variety of different website content management systems and hosting environments.