Building a fundraising website for online donations doesn’t have to be a huge pain. I promise. There are many choices for online fundraising including SaaS services. I know it can be confusing. I have a solution for a quick and easy setup.
Building your own fundraising website with WordPress gives you the most control and is a quick solution. You’ll need to choose a domain name, a hosting provider, and a theme. Once that’s set up, we’ll install three plugins — one of which is your online fundraising tool.
Your Fundraising Website Needs a Domain Name
A domain name is the address for your website. You want something short, easy to remember, easy to say, and easy to spell. For example, if you organization’s name is We Help People, you would want to try to get wehelppeople.org, .com, or something similar.
There are many domain registrars to choose from when you purchase your domain name. Ideally, your domain name service should be different from your web host. This helps you later if you choose to move your hosting elsewhere.
Here are three of my favorite domain registrars:
It is extremely important to take some time to think through your domain. You want something that directly relates to your organization. Consider a name that lends itself easily for brand building, search engine optimization (SEO), and is easy to remember (and type).
Your Fundraising Website Needs a Host
Your website has to live somewhere if you want others to access it. Websites live on a bank of computers called servers. We call this website hosting. You’re basically renting out space like you would if you had a storefront. It’s where we point the domain name you bought andwhere your files will actually live.
Choosing the right website host sets the pace for your online activity. Hosting is normally a monthly or yearly subscription fee. Options range from a shared space on a server for a few dollars per month to dedicated server racks inside mammoth-sized facilities (bigger than Costco) for hundreds or thousands of dollars per month.
On top of those options, you can choose managed WordPress hosting. This gives your nonprofit a bit more support on things like security and software updates. You may have a dedicated professional or team who can do those things and want a more flexible solution. All of these are viable options to choose from.
My guess is that you are looking for something that is low maintenance for a low cost. I recommend several providers and have written about them in the past. They are all solid providers with strong reputations and service. I use each of them to host several sites and find value in both for different reasons. There are several options in this space that offer just the right amount of management and cost efficiency.
These two hosts will take care of your WordPress updates, security, and server maintenance. These three benefits alone can save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars — not to mention save you sleep at night.
One of the other nice things about these hosts is that because they are WordPress-specific, there is no need to install WordPress on the servers. That process can be somewhat complicated for someone who doesn’t have web development experience.
Your Fundraising Website Needs a Theme
WordPress comes pretty well set up out of the box, but there are a few settings that can help us achieve greater results. We’ll go over those settings shortly. Your website has functionality (WordPress and plugins) but needs to look good for the public. We call these themes.
While your content stays the same, choosing different themes changes how you content looks and is laid out. Good design communicates trust for your fundraising website, so choose wisely.
Your website’s theme sets the tone for your fundraising site. We will focus on choosing a theme that shows off the mission of our organization while providing a solid base in terms of code quality, design aesthetic, and portability. Portability is handy when you move to a different theme in the future or hire a developer to create a custom theme.
There are hundreds of thousands of themes. There are so many styles, so many opinions, and so many ways to design a site. It may be a bit daunting. For our purposes, we need a theme that is simple, clean, and mobile-responsive. WordPress offers a variety of free and paid (premium) theme options from a diverse group of online sources.
For the purposes of this tutorial, we’re going to choose a theme from our friends over at upthemes.com. This company knows what they are doing. Their themes are beautiful and well-coded. They offer lots of themes; but we’ll use their One Church Theme.
After purchase, simply download your theme and then go to your WordPress dashboard and click “Appearance.” Click “Add New” and then “Upload Theme.” Once there, you can upload the zip file that you downloaded and activate the theme. It’s important to remember that WordPress wants the ZIP file uploaded, not the unpacked folder. This is also true for plugins.
You now have a fundraising site with a beautiful theme installed! This is getting exciting.
Your Fundraising Website Needs Optimization
Out of the box, WordPress comes with an assortment of settings preconfigured for the general use case. Our efforts are focused on fundraising. It’s also important for us to think of brand awareness for a nonprofit organization — not just a blog or portfolio site. Remember when we talked about design communicating trust? Your fundraising site should look safe to online donors. So, to get the most return on our efforts, let’s optimize a few settings.
Change Permalink Style
Permalinks decide how your website’s URL or link looks. First, I recommend changing the permalinks to “pretty permalinks” or telling WordPress to use human readable URLs rather than page id numbers. You can set permalinks by hovering over Settings in the WordPress Dashboard menu and clicking “Permalinks.”
While any of the options listed will work, I recommend choosing “Post Name.” This will set all of your pages and posts to use their title as the URL structure. If you are planning on having a blog that you post to very often, you might use “Month and Name” instead as this can prevent problems with duplicate post names and can prevent issues with site speed when you have thousands of posts. That setting is best for news sites and publishers.
Take a look at the Settings page. This is where we set the human-readable site title and description to match that of your organization. This is where you can set your timezone, too. Go through all of the Settings panels and familiarize yourself. This will help you with future tutorials. You will begin to understand how WordPress works as a software.
Your Fundraising Website Needs Added Function
While there are thousands and thousands of plugins I could recommend to you for your site and there are many that I would, this tutorial is about getting a fundraising site up quickly. The improvements and extra functionality can come later.
Here is a short list of plugins that I would include in order to get your site secured, indexed by search engines and more.
Jetpack is a feature-rich plugin with individually-activated modules. You choose which modules to activate like adding social sharing to your site, brute force protection, or backups.
Jetpack is the first plugin I activate on many sites and provides millions of users with tons of functionality. While it occasionally faces issues, the support team behind the plugin is top of the line and offers great email support.
Yoast is a SEO plugin that I install on most of my sites. It is a staple of the WordPress plugin community and has one of the largest install bases.
The free version provides the ability to add meta descriptions, titles, and focus words. It helps you self-check your post and pages for keywords and readability. This plugin also allows you to set up how your site looks when it is shared on social media — that’s an important part of your fundraising strategy.
Your Fundraising Website Needs a Donation Tool
At this point, your fundraising website is simple yet functional. You have a great hosting provider and a custom domain name. You’ve set up the functionality with other WordPress plugins. Now, you need a tool for online donations.
There are many online donation tools available. Yes, you could use a PayPal button. But it won’t give you accurate reporting or help your donors trust your site. For this reason, I recommend GiveWP.
It is the most powerful online donation plugin for WordPress. Their website (https://givewp.com) puts it this way
”GiveWP is built from the ground up to provide an intuitive, easy to use interface for creating powerful donation forms. Add fundraising campaigns to your website as stand-alone pages, embed them our WordPress block or shortcode, or place giving forms into any of your theme’s sidebars with the GiveWP widget.”
With its easy install process, quick donation form creation, and growing add-on library, GiveWP is a great option for quickly setting up online donations.
First, we’ll need to get the plugin installed. This plugin is part of the wordpress.org plugin directory. That means we can click Plugins, then Add New, and then search for “GiveWP.” This should populate the plugin desired which you can see below. Click “Install Now” and wait for the plugin to install. Activate the plugin.
Next, we’ll create a donation form and add it to our donation page. You’ll notice that a Donations menu item has been added to your WordPress admin menu. Hover over this and click “Add Form.”
Give your form a title. Next, you can have either a fixed amount for donations or donation levels. You can also allow people to set a custom amount for donations. You can then choose whether or not to display content along with your form. In most cases, you’ll save the content for the landing page you create for your fundraising page. Then, just add the form shortcode to that page. For the purposes of this tutorial, we’re going to ignore the rest of the options, but they offer lots of ways to customize your forms and donation settings.
Next we need to grab the shortcode from the sidebar. Once you have this copied, simply click “Publish” and your form is ready to use. Create a new page or edit a page that you’ve already created and place the shortcode into the content editor. Publish or update the page and your form will appear on that page immediately.
The last remaining item is to set up your donation payment gateway. The core version of the WordPress plugin GiveWP comes with Paypal Standard integration. This means that you can use PayPal to accept credit cards online. However, unless you purchase a payment gateway add-on, your donors will be taken off your site for the payment. GiveWP has several paid add-ons that include other payment gateways like Stripe and Authorize.net as well as recurring donations and Mailchimp integration.
Congratulations! You Built a Fundraising Website!
Building a fundraising site for your organization to take donations or raise funds wasn’t a pain! See? Just as I promised. While there are many solutions for this and other web services, this approach gets you online and ready to take donations quickly.
Resist the temptation to fiddle around with your new site too much. Allow it to be. Create your fundraising campaigns and pages. Share them on social media. Take notes when people make suggestions. Then, in three months’ time, you’ll be better equipped to make changes. (But don’t do it without a backup. Wait. That’s another tutorial.)