How to avoid technical difficulties in your next fundraising campaign

Here's a nightmare scenario: You've put in weeks of preparation for a major online fundraising campaign. You've sent out the e-mails, promoted it on social media, and encouraged your supporters to share with their family and friends, all building up to an exciting fundraising blitz... And just as the campaign is set to launch, you're hit by technical difficulties!

Maybe it takes a few hours to sort out the issues and you miss out on some key time. Maybe your website has loading issues, and some supporters get impatient and give up. Perhaps this means having to reschedule or extend the campaign, meaning more hours of tireless work and some lost interest by your supporters. This nightmare recently came to life for DoMore24.

How can your nonprofit ensure technical failure doesn't impact your next short-burst online giving campaign? Here are three tips you can't ignore!

1) Choose a donation provider that has proven up-time

It is hard enough work to reach potential supporters, gain their interest, and then compel them to consider donating. No nonprofit wants to take the chance that those who have decided to donate won't be able to give!

Ensure your online donation provider has proven "up-time" capabilities. That means that whenever your campaign is scheduled you can be comfortable knowing that their service will stumble at any point in the donation process.

The Technical Take from our Sr. Director of Infrastructure and Strategy:

  • Hardware and software will fail. No software is protected from "bugs" and no piece of hardware runs forever. Good infrastructure design eliminates dependency on a single hardware component failure while good software design ensures that when a "bug" rears its ugly head, the software is able to handle the error without completely crashing. Ask your donation provider if they have redundancy built into their system.
  • Uptime is an all encompassing term for system availability, which is a measurement of how long the system has been running without a failure and how reliable it is. Availability is all about application and infrastructure resilience. Outages usually occur because of an unexpected event impacting a critical component of the overall application ecosystem. Ask your donation provider how they architected the environment to increase availability and resiliency.

2) Make sure your web hosting company can handle the load

A successful campaign should result in a surge of activity to your campaign website. Some web hosts may not have the capability to process large volumes of traffic, and your website could go down. 

If your charity's website crashes, visitors will not be able to reach your donation form... and it won't matter how reliable your donation provider is!

Protecting your campaign takes some foresight. If a nonprofit can project how much traffic their website will receive, based on the data and conversions from previous campaigns and the number of supporters reached in marketing and communications, it can compare that to the load guaranteed by their web hosts.

Check out some of the online services available that can analyze your website's ability to handle stressful loads, such as Load Impact.

The Technical Take:

  • Websites can run in dedicated or shared modes. Dedicated is certainly costlier and requires significant technical know-how, but allows you better granular control of the environment. Shared mode is utilized by a majority of web-sites and essentially outsources the majority of the work to the hosting company. Take care to choose the right hosting company that can meet the requirements of your website.
  • Many hosting companies utilize an oversubscription model to increase their revenues while significantly limiting the load your web-site can accept, so price should not be the only consideration.
  • Before your campaign launch, call your web host and ensure that they have been informed about your expected increase in traffic and can prepare on their end. After all, large volumes of traffic to your website could potentially affect all of their clients.

3) Learn about PCI compliance and how to protect donor data

If you're collecting online donations, PCI compliance is incredibly important. In most cases, online donations require the donor to share credit card and addressing information. If proper steps are not taken during the donation process, donors could be at risk of having their personal information stolen.

For all of the positive publicity a fundraising blitz can bring, a data-breach can undo all of it and then some. PCI Data Security Standards are the most stringent practices to protect your donors, their data, and your organization.

To avoid a data catastrophe, it is crucial that nonprofits ensure that their donation processing vendor is certified as PCI compliant.

The Technical Take:

  • PCI certification ensures that the way a service provider that collects and stores credit card information is compliant with the requirements the PCI council put in place. However, don't stop there! Talk to your donation processing vendor to ensure they have an ongoing security program in place and that the security of such data is always of the highest priority.
  • PCI Level-1 certification is the highest level of PCI compliance, but there are other levels of PCI certifications which are less stringent. Ask your donation provider which level of certification they hold. You can also verify their statement by checking the Visa PCI Registry.

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