Aug 6, 2018 - Justin Emond

Understanding the Online Giving Solution Marketplace

For more than 20 years, nonprofits have been trying to make ecommerce solutions fit their fundraising requirements. It makes sense, given that the revenues generated through for-profit ecommerce have driven technical innovation and led to a large ecosystem of platforms and tools.

These ecommerce platforms generally offer more features, more payment gateway options, and a lower price point than dedicated online fundraising platforms—both in terms of implementation costs and transaction fees.

But there are a couple of challenges in using an ecommerce platform for raising money online — particularly the shopping cart experience. Donors don’t want to put a donation in a cart and then click through a bunch of screens before it goes through. When donations are funneled through shopping cart experiences, we see significant bounce rates, and a lot of abandoned carts—something we refer to as the “browse and buy problem.”

Donors expect online giving to be as fluid an experience as shopping on Amazon. They want to enter and store payment information, look up past gifts, make changes to their donation levels, etc. to be simple and easy.

As digital commerce experiences improve, nonprofits will face increased pressure to provide seamless donation experiences.

Here’s our take on how four leading commerce systems stack up for online giving solutions:

Drupal Commerce

The popular open source Drupal content management system is used widely in the nonprofit space. Before the release of Drupal 8, many of the prominent Drupal consultancies focused on the nonprofit sector leveraged Drupal Commerce as a highly-configurable front-end for online giving.

With the right contributed models and custom code, Drupal Commerce can be turned into an online giving platform that provides support for campaign creation and recurring donations. Drupal Commerce also provides fairly strong support for international payment gateways, given its global adoption among Drupal software developers.

However, Drupal Commerce has really failed to launch in the Drupal 8 space. More importantly, running both your content management system and your online giving tools through a single platform t creates an extreme reliance on a single platform and creates significant institutional risk.

Third & Grove recommendation: Implementation is too high-risk to be viable

“Roll Your Own” with Drupal

A better approach to managing donor experiences in Drupal is to create a custom, lightweight solution that sits on top of a recurring payments platform like Recurly or Stripe.

In this scenario, a payments platform or r a headless commerce solution would handle credit card processing, cancellations, etc., and all you would have to do is provide the front-end user experience.

It may seem like a custom solution like this would require more effort and budget than something like Drupal Commerce, but given the expensive maintenance and security costs of Drupal Commerce, a custom solution is often a better option; it offers more flexibility and a better user experience at a lower overall cost of ownership.

Third & Grove recommendation: Viable only for organizations that have already invested in Drupal

Blackbaud & Convio

If you were to ask 10 institutional fundraising professionals at major nonprofits if they would ever consider moving away from Blackbaud, seven of them would tell you that you’d have to rip the platform away from their cold, dead hands.

Blackbaud (and Convio, which it purchased in 2012) is THE big player in the nonprofit fundraising space. This is largely due to its robust features supporting person-to-person (offline) donor management, direct mail management, and grants management.

Unfortunately, Blackbaud’s online giving tools are incredibly expensive and lack modern features — most importantly, a robust API for seamless integration with CMS products like Drupal.

Assuming you are not already using Blackbaud as your fundraising CRM (Constituent Relationship Management platform), we would recommend a more modern suite of tools.

Third & Grove recommendation: Viable only for organizations already using Blackbaud

Salesforce for NPOs

When it comes to implementing a flexible, API-driven CRM platform, we recommend Salesforce for Nonprofits.

Salesforce offers highly-competitive pricing for nonprofit customers, as well as architectural flexibility that allows you to develop your own data models, donor workflows, event management features, asset management features, and so on.

Salesforce for Nonprofits also benefits from a large developer community and an extensive Apps Marketplace for extending its feature set.

If you’re in the market for a complete CRM and online giving solution, we would generally recommend Salesforce for the backend and a separate, lightweight frontend for collecting donations on your website. (The specific technology for that frontend depends on your CMS platform and exact online fundraising needs).

Third & Grove recommendation: Viable only for organizations already using or planning to migrate to Salesforce


A number of modern, stand-alone online fundraising platforms have entered the market over the last 10 years. Most offer some level of integration with CRM platforms and with websites — though generally speaking, these integrations are clunky at best.

Of those that we’ve worked with, Classy stands out as the most feature-rich, supporting standard online donation forms, recurring donations, peer-to-peer fundraising, crowdfunding, event management, and international giving. Classy also has strong integration with third-party platforms. And, perhaps most importantly from our perspective, it has one of the most robust APIs of any fundraising platform on the market.

Third & Grove recommendation: Likely the best option for your NPO

How does headless commerce stack up to the existing solutions?

With the emergence of headless commerce, digital commerce platforms are undergoing a tremendous amount of disruption. While most modern digital commerce platforms have robust APIs you can use to integrate them with other systems, headless commerce platforms go a step further and provide only the APIs and none of the experience layer. This gives organizations unprecedented control over the customer experience without busting the budget or blowing up long-term maintenance costs. What does this disruption mean for online giving? Quite a bit. Read part two of this story to ensure your NPO doesn’t get left behind.