Using Google Checkout for Donations?

Robert Weiner, fundraising technology guru, and I exchanged a few emails yesterday on whether Google Checkouts makes sense for nonprofits. It's a completely free (including no transaction fees) way to take online payments - but how well does it work?

Robert was kind enough to let me publish his very useful thoughts on how it would work as a replacement for something like PayPal or Network for Good for online donations. Here's what he had to say:
  1. The donor has to register for a Google account.
  2. The donor has to add a credit card number to the Google account, rather than entering the card for a single transaction. The process doesn't take any longer, but I'm not happy about having my credit card number stored. It's like setting up a PayPal account in this way -- the transaction is set up so I become a Google customer, rather than a donor to a nonprofit.
  3. The service uses a shopping "metaphor." After you enter the donation and credit card info it says it's calculating shipping and tax (it actually hung at this point and I had to click Refresh). But then it recognizes that this is a donation and says "Click to process your donation."
  4. The receipt is a hybrid between a sale and donation. It lists a quantity of items (e.g., 1 donation) but has the right text for a tax receipt.
  5. The receipt only displays a limited amount of text. Mine said "This donation to the Z Space Studio and its programs (Word for Word, Youth Arts, Z Plays) is tax-deductible to the fullest..." Yes, it ended with ...
  6. I don't see a way to enter a comment, direct my gift, make a tribute gift, or set up a recurring donation.
As Robert concluded, and I agree, it's hard to beat the price, but the service has some problems. If you get less donations because the process is weirder, how much does that 3% savings (because there's no transaction costs) actually buy you?

Resource Roundup 3/6

Tracking Decision Outcomes with Salesforce (ONE/Northwest)
Interesting screencast - and I just love screencasts! - about a customization in Salesforce to track outcomes of advocacy actions

Desktop SMS Campaign Tools (MobileActive)
Terrific, detailed guide on how to use desktop software tools to send SMS messages to your supporters' cell phones - including thumbnail reviews of a number of available products

Elevate your email newsletter from snoring to soaring to soaring (Katya's Nonprofit Marketing Blog)
A great guide to what to think about when creating email newsletters

No more custom CMS! (Zen and the Art of Nonprofit Technology)
A manifesto as to why nonprofits should stop hiring firms that want to build them a site using a custom CMS

Having a Team Meeting in Second Life (Brandon Hall)
Useful and well balanced look at the pros and cons of Second Life for holding team meeting

Software to Support a Community Blog

There was a great discussion recently about more advanced blogging tools on the always useful ProgressExchange discussion list. A number of people shared their thoughts about blogging packages that can support a multi-blogger model, where users write their own blogs and administrators can chose individual entries to promote on a home page or section pages. This is the model used by DailyKos and OpenLeft, for instance.

A number of people shared their thoughts on Scoop, which was the first package to support this model, and the one used by DailyKos. People didn’t have warm and fuzzy feelings about it– Jason Lefkowitz suggested, for instance, that you could recreate the Scoop experience by “taking a fork, covering it with salt and then sticking it in your eye.” It sounds like a very large, complex, hard to administer system, which will be substantial overkill for most needs.

Several people suggested SoapBlox instead, as a more straightforward way to mimic Daily Kos’s feature set. As Adam Mordecai of Advomatic said, “SoapBlox is extremely cheap, and it has all the recommended diary features on setup. They are moving to an open source model and the guy in charge does great work. The downside of Soapblox is you can't customize the design a great deal, and you can't add all the fun features you might with more customizable applications like Drupal.”

Speaking of Drupal, that was also recommended for this need by a number of people. It sounds like it would take more setup and configuration than something like SoapBlox, but would likely be a more flexible solution in the long run.

The relatively new Movable Type Community Solution was suggested as well, which appears to be geared to these community needs. And WordPress was mentioned, but it’s unclear whether it would support this more complex multi-blogger community model without custom code.

Jennifer Berk offers more detail on her own blog post on this topic.

Thanks to the ProgressiveExchange community for another great discussion!

Ask Idealware: Integrated Tool that Includes Ticketing?

Chuck asks: I am opening a new small cultural arts center and want to use online software for donors, web management, e-mail, etc. Your article was very helpful on all this, but as I also need to sell tickets for assigned seats, I wondered if there was online software that would do all these things.

Eric Leland at Leland Design says:
I'm not aware of a system that integrates donor, contact, e-marketing and event/ticketing in one, but it's possible that one exists. Alternatively, depending on your integration needs, separate ticketing solutions may suffice. For example, services such as Brown Paper Tickets and Acteva are very affordable, offering services that do not require monthly fees and can be linked to your existing website.

These services earn money based on your ticket transactions, charging a fixed fee plus a percentage of the ticket amount for each transaction. In the case of Acteva, there are some additional features customers can use to customize the look and feel of the ticketing system to look more like your existing website. If tracking ticket purchases is critical to integrate with your other information about people, try talking to these vendors to find out what integration features they offer, as the trend more and more is for vendors to open up their services for clients seeking to integrate with their other systems.

A very smart colleague of mine, Greg Beuthin, spend time a few years back looking into lower cost ticketing systems for nonprofits. Although the information is old, much of it is still useful and I would highly recommend checking out Greg's blog post about ticketing.

Laura adds:
I'm also not aware of any integrated system that allows for ticketing of assigned seats as well as things like online donations and email blasting, and I'd be pretty surprised if something nonprofit-specific like this existed that neither Eric or I were aware of. But of course, I've been wrong before! Anyone out there know of such a system?

The Ask Idealware posts take on some of the questions that you send us at Have a great option to suggest for this question? Hate the response here? Help us out by entering your own answer as a comment below.

What do all the software acquisitions mean?

I had an interesting exchange with a reporter from the Chronicle of Philanthropy recently (she's writing an article about changes in the fundraising software marketplace, so keep an eye out for that). She asked me what all the consolidations in this market - for instance, Convio's acquisition of GetActive, or Blackbaud's buying spree - mean for nonprofits. It's an interesting question. While sometimes I feel like we all might as well be reading tea leaves to find meaning in this stuff, here's a few thoughts I had on the topic.

I think there's both positives and negatives here. On the up side, it means that a number of companies see the field of nonprofit software as one in which it's possible to make money, as a profitable business. This is a good thing - while we as nonprofits don't really like to think of businesses making money off the nonprofit world, if software vendors can't make a profit, then we don't get new software. A healthy marketplace results in a healthy set of options.

On the other hand, all this consolidation indicates a market that isn't yet mature, and isn't as stable as it could be. So when choosing software, it's important to look carefully at the viability of the vendor as one of your considerations - do their revenues cover their expenses? What's their long term plan?

But at the end of the day, it's quite hard to judge if a software is likely to be acquired (in fact, a more profitable tool could be a more attractive acquisition target). So it's important to try to not put all your eggs in one vendor's basket. Like in disaster planning, it's worth thinking through what would happen if one of your vendors no longer supported the software you're using. What would you do? Would you be able to get your data out? Would you be able to use the software package even without the vendor around (as is true of many installed and open source solutions)?

Webinars: Open Source CMSs, and Donor Databases

Just wanted to highlight two online seminars we've got coming up. Both are only $40, and can be accessed with any phone and web browser.

This Thursday, we're taking a look at three open source website content management systems - Joomla, Drupal, and Plone. An expert on each system - Ryan Ozimek for Joomla, David Geilhufe for Drupal, and Patrick Shaw for Plone - will demo each platform, and we'll compare their strengths and weaknesses. That's from 1-2:30 EST this coming Thursday, Feb 21st. Read more or register>

And then next Thursday, Robert Weiner will be talking about 10 Common Mistakes in Choosing a Donor Database (and How to Avoid Them). This is a great seminar - Robert talks through a lot of practical nuts and bolts in deciding what you need in a donor database and then how to find it, with great examples and tools. That's also 1-2:30 EST, on Thursday, Feb 28th. Read more or register for that one>

Should You Podcast?

Podcasting is one of these social media tools that is getting a lot of buzz these days – it’s the ability to create an audio program that people can then listen to, or pull in routinely through something like iTunes. There’s no question that this is a nifty technology, but like many of Web 2.0 tools, I’m concerned about the amount of attention they’re getting in the nonprofit world. Are they a great option for nonprofits? I’m unconvinced. They’re certainly not for everyone.

I had a conversation with a friend the other day that helped to crystallize my thoughts around this. Podcasts are like the ability to create a radio show that reaches your constituents. I like this analogy – it’s really cool that almost anyone can now create their own radio show. But that doesn’t mean that every nonprofit needs one.

At the end of the day, a podcast is still pretty time consuming to create. You need plan it, record it, edit it, put it up for distribution – easily 4-8 hours for a half hour show. And the audience is pretty small – you need people who are familiar enough with technology to know what a podcast is and how to get it, and who also want to listen to a long audio program (commuters, say, or serious runners). And for the most part, they still need to hear about your organization – it’s not really an outreach method, but rather a piece of content that needs to be marketed yourself.

My advice would be to think about it as if someone offered you a slot on a radio station. Would you be excited about that? Can you already imagine your programming? Would you be eager to start to put staff time into it and start telling your constituents where to find it? If so, then podcasting might absolutely be a good opportunity for you. But there’s an awful lot of nonprofits I’ve worked with whose mission isn’t easily served with a radio program. And for those folks, I’d say that podcasting isn’t a good fit – no matter how cool the technology.

Otherwise, how about some good old fashioned written content? You can reach the many more people who know how to find and read written stuff, and use the many distribution methods that exist to promote and get it into people’s hands. It may not be as exciting, but it just may be more effective.

Ask Idealware: Hosting Video

Barb asks: Do you have any recommendations on good web hosting companies for a mid-sized site with video? I'm looking for a plan that allows for 1-2 GB disk space and a monthly data transfer around 25-30 GB. I would like support for PHP and MySQL as well as Real Video and Windows streaming servers (not for a huge amount of video but some).

Michael Hoffman at See3 Communications says:

There are two factors to consider when hosting your video: 1) the amounPublish Postt of traffic on the site and 2) the size of the files. In addition to volume of traffic, file size also increases the amount of content transferred, which impacts price and possibly quality of playback (depending on which solution you choose).

The first decision you need to make when considering the media delivery portion of your website is where you will host the video: at a single location, or through a multiple locations Content Delivery Network (and the rest of the site through a regular web server)
Single location serving
Serving content from one location for the type of website you describe (ie, not much transfer, not too video heavy) may work just fine. You will experience the best connection times closest to the server, so this solution works best for a mainly domestic audience. It may be unacceptable for an international project, especially at higher traffic numbers. Single location hosting is in the range of $30-600 per month, depending on the amount of transfer you will be using. Most hosting companies do not require a long-term contract.

Multiple location serving through Content Delivery Network (CDN)
A CDN is a global network of computers linked together across the internet. When a user sends a request to view a file, the file is cached to the server nearest to the user's location. This is the best method to ensure consistently fast play for a global audience if you have large files and a lot of traffic. It is also relatively expensive.

Once you've made the decision to host either through a single location or multiple locations (a CDN), there are two potential types of streaming solutions to consider for your media delivery:
Progressive download (http streaming), or True Streaming (Flash, Windows Media, Real Video, etc.)
Progressive downloading
Progressive downloading, also known as http streaming, is a type of delivery that can be handled by any web hosting company. A copy of the file will reside on the user's computer (some consider this a security problem). It requires fast connection on the user's side. Sometimes the file will download slower than it plays. However, with a site that is light on video and doesn't have tons of traffic, it could work very well. This is an extremely inexpensive option if hosted at a single location.

Although progressive downloading is called "http streaming" it is not true streaming.

True Streaming

True streaming requires a special type of streaming server: Flash Media Server, Windows Media Server, Real Video Server and so on. Some companies allow you to host alternate versions; for example, you could have one version of your files streamed through Windows and another version through Real Video. True streaming uses the network bandwidth more efficiently and thus delivers better audio and video quality to the user. It also never stores a copy of the file on the user's computer (better security).

We recommend Flash streaming to our clients, since most users have the Flash plug-in installed; one provider quoted it as over 90% of PC users. The Flash platform is pretty consistent and ubiquitous.

True streaming (single location)
This could be a good way to get the benefits of true streaming somewhat inexpensively, assuming you have relatively modest traffic numbers, a small amount of bandwidth transfer, and a domestic audience. Once you starting doing significant traffic worldwide on a video heavy project, the cost to performance ratio of this option is poor; ie, the money you save is small in comparison to the loss of quality.

Some true streaming (single location) providers include:
Flash: Influxis
Windows/Real Video streaming providers: ValueWeb, Digital Rights Director

True streaming (CDN)
This is what the big boys and girls use - MSNBC, Dreamworks, you get the picture. True streaming on a CDN provides smooth, consistent performance internationally and is able to grow with your traffic. This is the method we recommend to large clients launching a large, sustained campaign with several videos and high traffic. Most CDNs will allow you to set up a test account for a week or two. However, keep in mind that the test will likely work fine. The real benefit of a CDN is handling large volumes of traffic, which is typically hard to replicate in a 2 week test.

Pricing again will be based upon the amount of bandwidth transfer you use. Most CDNs do require a year-long agreement, along with a minimum monthly commitment that may start around $500 per month.

Some options for CDN include EdgeCast, Mirror Image, and Limelight Networks. You may also check with your website host to see if they partner with any CDNs

Please note - no matter which type of media content delivery you choose - that you will want to host the rest of your website on a regular web server. Some options for this include HostMySite and Speakeasy.

One approach we recommend is to set up your site on a regular web server, delivering your video content through progressive download to start. Tell the hosting company your PHP and MySQL requirements and they will guide you to the correct plan based upon this information. Then test how the video on this server behaves, asking friends and coworkers with different computers in different parts of the country/world to test it. If you have more time to experiment, consider trying out a single location true streaming server. Most companies do not require a long-term contract, so you can try it for a month and see if the delivery is improved. Again, do a round of testing. If you are seeing large amounts of traffic and bandwidth transfer (especially if you have a heavily international audience), you would be better off paying for the CDN. However, for the purposes of the site described in the inquiry, a CDN is probably not necessary.

The Ask Idealware posts take on some of the questions that you send us at Have a great option to suggest for this question? Hate the response here? Help us out by entering your own answer as a comment below.

Software for Managing Grant Making - Survey Results

I've mentioned here a couple times that we're in the midst of substantial research into software that helps grants makers manage their process, and at long last we have a hefty report to prove it!

In November 2007, we conducted an online survey of grantmaking organizations about software used for grants management. 311 staff members at United States-based foundations responded, providing information about their current software, rating both the perceived importance and the effectiveness of this software at handling a list of thirty grants management software attributes.

And the results are out! View the survey analysis report now>

Note that this is a preliminary deliverable in a larger research project, and the report is targeted to those interested in relatively raw survey results (read: it's pretty darn wonky). If you're interested in the final report - a Consumer's Guide to Grants Management Software, you can sign up to be notified when it's released.

R and Other Free Statistical Analysis Software.

A recent discussion on the Progressive Exchange listserve provided this gem of a link for those looking for affordable statistical analysis software: The Impoverished Social Scientist's Guide to Free Statistical Software and Resources

There was also a fair amount of discussion about R, which is an open source statistical programming language which mirrors the common stats language S. The consensus was that R is a powerful and useful tool for analyzing and visualizing datasets - but it's really, well, a statistical programming language, meaning that it's going to require a substantial learning curve, especially for those who don't programming and statistics experience.

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