Crowdfunding Platform Checklist: Which Site Best Serves Your Nonprofit’s Needs?

A handy rundown of features to make sure the crowdfunding site your nonprofit chooses offers what you need.

Thinking that a crowdfunding campaign might be right for your charitable organization? This fundraising method certainly offers many potential benefits. It can be a way to mobilize existing supporters, gain new ones, and create a buzz around a particular project. (See Using Crowdfunding to Raise Money for Your Nonprofit for more on the pros and cons.)

But not all crowdfunding platforms are created equal, and choosing the right one will be important to not only the success of your campaign, but the ease with which you carry it out.

Here are some criteria upon which to base your nonprofit’s choice of platform. With some copying and pasting, you can turn the below into your own handy checklist, with which to evaluate sites as you research them. Whatever you do, don’t just launch in and figure you’ll find the “right” crowdfunding platform immediately—you may discover you have to compromise on some of your wishes. And by the time you’ve looked at three or four different crowdfunding websites, you will no doubt have forgotten what you learned about the first few!

You may be able to complete this research online, but more likely you will also have to get in touch with representatives from your list of finalists and ask for a phone conversation or demo.

CROWDFUNDING PLATFORM NAME: _____________________________________

  • Type of project usually featured on its website: ___________________________________________

Some sites occupy a particular niche, for instance, being used mainly by individuals seeking help with medical care, teachers seeking funding for classroom supplies, or entrepreneurs raising money for a for-profit enterprise. If you don’t fit the niche, you probably want to look elsewhere.

  • Does the platform include opportunities for peer-to-peer fundraising? _______________________________

Many say that the most successful crowdfunding campaigns are ones in which individual supporters of the organization create a mini-campaign page and ask for donations from friends and family on the organization’s behalf. If you’re interested in this, check into how it works and what those pages will look like, as well.

  • Price/fees: $______________________________________________________________________

Crowdfunding platforms often charge some combination of a set monthly or annual fee and a per-transaction platform fee (often from 2% to 5%). Some charge a lower percentage if the project meets its goal. You will also need to factor in third-party fees for your donors’ use of a credit card, Paypal, or other processor.

  • Services included: _____________________________________________________________

Take a look at how much back-end work is included. Will the platform handle emailing donation receipts to donors? Automatically update the fundraising ticker whenever a donation is made? The more it handles, the less you will need to. Also, while some platforms literally offer nothing but a place where you can run your crowdfunding campaign, others offer more comprehensive services, such as fundraising consulting, event ticketing, and Web design. Of course, you’ll usually pay more for the latter. Make sure it’s what you really want or need.

  • Is the site's customer service team responsive? ____________________________________________
As you research various sites, play close attention to how quickly you receive replies from their customer service staff, and whether those replies are helpful and understandable.
  • Aesthetics and ability to customize: ________________________________________________

Check out other organizations’ campaigns on the platform you’re interested in. Do they look good? Do they all follow the exact same template, and if so, are you happy with that template? How many photos and videos can you embed? (Watch out for sites that clutter up the main page with comments and recent updates, burying the main story.) How much variation is available regarding color, font, and so on?

  • Can nonprofits offer thank-you gifts to donors? ______________________________________

Rewards at different giving levels are common feature of crowdfunding campaigns, particularly in the for-profit setting. (For example, if you sponsor a documentary film, you might expect to receive a DVD or digital copy of it.) But not all crowdfunding websites allow this. The reason is usually that they are handling the tax receipt letters, and don’t want to have to deal with figuring out whether the thank-you gifts have a market value and thus whether the donor’s claimed deduction must be reduced by that amount.

  • Does the campaign appear to live on our nonprofit’s website or on the platform owner’s? ________

Some crowdfunding platforms will feature your campaign on their website; others build the page so that it looks like it lives only on your organization’s website (though it may actually, technically be hosted by the platform). There are advantages and disadvantages to each model.

  • How are payments processed? Through the platform’s site or our own website or payment processor? ___________________________________________________

If the crowdfunding platform handles payments, look into its reputation for timely transfer.

  • Can we keep the donations if we don’t meet our goals? _______________________________________

The terms of some sites require that you offer all the money back to donors if you don’t meet your fundraising campaign goal within the allotted time. Many will let you keep it anyway, but it’s definitely a hassle.

  • Has the platform created any special features to enhance the donor experience? If so, what? _____________________________________________________

For example, some sites will let you send donors a “thank-you video.” Remember, follow-through with donors is as important as getting donations. Much of this will be up to your organization, but the more your crowdfunding platform can offer advice and assistance, the better.

  • Can we do a mockup to show other people in your organization before signing up? ________________

Before you have to commit, you want to be able to test the platform's look, feel, and ease of use.

  • Can we export the donation data to our own donor database? _________________________

There's little point in attracting new donors if you can't easily find out who they are and follow up with them!

As you can see from the length of this list, just researching and choosing a crowdfunding platform can be an endeavor requiring many hours of concentrated work. Your organization may also have its own, unique criteria to add to this list.

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