By Scott Baughman

The smoke has cleared and the ashes have cooled, but in many ways the cleanup from one of the worst wildfires in the history of Lake Lure has only just begun. Many of our faithful readers are year-round residents of our jewel by the lake and they know they have their hands full with recovery efforts. But if you’re like a lot of our subscribers who don’t spend 12 consecutive months at the lake, you might be wondering what you can do to help.

As always, this column is here to provide a few tips. In this day and age, recovery efforts are all about funding. And not just about getting checks mailed in and deposited but about efficient funding. The answer? Well, you are reading the technical column so as you might expect I’m going to talk about the wonders of the Internet and how you can use it to help get donations to where they need to go.

Donating to charities online isn’t all that new, but there have recently been some new tools created to make it even easier. The American Red Cross and other national charities use donation tools like PayPal and online donation forms to accept funds and are a good choice to make sure your money is put to good use. But like many things on the Internet that started out as a good idea, there are scammers out there who can make use of it for nefarious purposes. To make sure you don’t get scammed, check to see if the web site or Facebook page to which you are donating uses any of the following top five online fundraising applications and software. Just because they don’t use one of these doesn’t mean they are a scam, but it means you should do your research to make extra sure. Also, our list will explain any processing fees hidden behind the fundraising tools so you can know how much of your money is actually going to the charity in question.

  1. Google Wallet and Google Grants – The best thing going for this online donation tool is being associated with Google’s trusted brand. Charities can set up wallets and “shopping carts” which make it easy for donors to see what they’ve donated in the past and keep track of their habits. And when you see the Google name you can feel a little safer about making sure it’s no scam. The standard service costs 2.9% plus $0.30 per transaction for the charity. Some charities will fit the criteria for Google Grant, though, which is completely free. But that application process can take a few months.
  2. Razoo and the Razoo donation widget – Razoo is its own website for indexing nonprofit organizations to get exposure for their causes. The software includes its own widget so nonprofit groups can process donations from their own websites. Razoo’s fee is 4.9% per donation and the widget will allow for recurring donations.
  3. Network for Good’s DonateNow Lite – the Network for Good software has a lot of features for nonprofits including branded donation pages, email services and hands-on customer service. The full version of DonateNow is pretty extensive and the fees associated with it can be a bit too high for smaller and more local charities – aiming more for national groups – the “DonateNow Lite” system is a more modest option for some groups and has a 5% transaction fee, recurring donation functionality and a fundraising page.
  4. PayPal Donations – PayPal has a lot to offer nonprofits not the least of which are its handy-dandy donation buttons that can be added to almost any web page. Another upside to having those easily recognizable buttons on your page is that if you know some basic HTML coding you can easily gather donor information in a way many buttons do not even allow. Also, the company has a trusted brand, that like Google, is recognized around the world. There’s nothing that puts donors at ease like seeing a company name they know. The standard processing fee per donation is 2.2% of the donation plus $0.30.
  5. FirstGiving – Unlike a lot of the services on this list, FirstGiving was designed for nonprofits from the ground up. This isn’t a commercial platform like Google Wallet or PayPal that has been modified for use in this way, it’s the reason it exists. The donation tool they offer can integrate with other tools including certain CRM, donor management, social media, CMS analytics and even email tools! The software even has options for direct donations, donor communications, events and grassroots campaigns. But all this functionality comes at a price. The fee per donation is 7.5% which is split into 5% for support and enhancement of the product and 2.5% credit card fees. Event registration costs 4.25% for online events.

As we all deal with the aftermath of the disaster, hopefully your donations can go to worthy causes and help get the town back to a sense of normalcy. And I sincerely hope you’ll be able to utilize the world wide web to its fullest in your charitable undertakings. Until next time…download complete.