As fewer people carry cash or even use check books, many nonprofits are scrambling to find new ways to capture donations. Passing the hat or asking people to pull out their checkbooks only captures a small percentage of the possible donations in the room. Whether you are accepting simple donations, hosting a silent auction, accepting admission based on donations, or selling postcards, stickers or t-shirts, having the ability to accept credit or debit card transactions has become essential to maximizing revenue.
Until recently, accepting credits cards was only an option for large organizations and simply not possible at offsite events. Many smaller organizations found accepting credit cards desirable, but simply out of reach. According to Anita Alic, Vice President of the Black River Academy Museum in Ludlow, “We have a gift shop, but do not have enough transactions to warrant having Visa or MasterCard directly. As a small nonprofit, we just couldn’t justify the cost for the QuickBooks plug-in.”
She continued, “Most of our sales and donations come from events, such as our annual gala silent auction which isn’t held at the museum itself. This is why we wanted to find a mobile solution for credit and debit card processing – to make it very easy for our donors and auction bidders.”
Thanks to the spread of smartphone technology, any organization, regardless of how small, can accept donations in three easy steps. To accept credit card donations, the group must either purchase or borrow an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch (any device running IOS5 or above) or an Android device with a cellular or Wi-Fi connection (hint: ask your community for help via Front Porch Forum), register online for the service, and download a free app. A free small square device is then plugged into the phone’s earphone jack and, as soon as the organization logs into their account, the device is ready to accept credit cards. It’s secure, because all data is handled by the credit card company and is not stored on the phone.
There are currently three similar products on the market: Paypal Here, Square, and Inuit GoPayment. Each of these companies will send you a free card reader after registering on their website. You can also purchase the device for under $10 at various electronics stores and pharmacies and receive a rebate in the amount of the purchase. The companies charge you a percentage of each transaction: Paypal Here charges 2.7% for registered nonprofits, while Square and GoPayment each charge 2.75% for all organizations. There is no monthly fee. Keep in mind that the companies charge more if you manually type in the card, as opposed to swiping it.
After minimal training from the Vermont Digital Economy Project, the staff of the Black River Academy Museum was able to use their new mobile card reader. Museum Director, Georgia Brehm, tested the device using the museum’s new iPod Touch, purchased for under $100, for a transaction in the museum’s gift shop a week before the big silent auction event. The event, called “Unique Experiences,” is the museum’s largest annual fundraiser. All profit from the event comes from bids on silent auction items that range from a $25 dining certificate at a local restaurant, all the way up to the grand prize: a trip for 2 to Africa.
According to Anita Alic from the museum Board of Directors, “In order for us to remain revenue neutral for the year, we needed to raise at least $6,000 at the event. Thanks to Rob’s help and the Square, we did it!”
Total event revenue reached nearly $6,800 with more than $1,500 from credit and debit card transactions. “People were so surprised and happy to have the option to pay by credit card. I could tell that it allowed some people to make higher bids than they otherwise would have,” Anita Alic continued.
While these mobile credit card products currently have a few limitations, such as an inability to accept re-occurring donations or to retain the donor’s email address, as more and more nonprofits use this technology, these issues will likely be resolved.
Think back to the last time your organization hosted an event. How much more do you think you might have raised if you were able to accept credit card donations?