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10 Key Items to Consider in Online eCommerce for Nonprofits

Updated: Jun 25, 2021

nonprofit ecommerce transactions

eCommerce for a non-profit business is a unique piece of business operations.  While the traditional business is designed to sell products and produce profits, a non-profit organization processes transactions online to advance their mission. 

Therefore, the order management systems used for non-profit businesses must be tailored to suit the needs of the business and the mission too. In this article, I discuss my thoughts on a few of the subtle nuances of eCommerce and items to be mindful of when selecting software for your nonprofit. 

eCommerce Software for Nonprofits 

For the purposes of this article, I refer to the buying or selling of anything online by your nonprofit as e-commerce. Just a little over a decade ago, having an online presence for a business or social organization was not a priority. In fact, it wasn’t very common at all. Larger organizations had a website and even offered some sort of online payment options, but many smaller organizations and nonprofits were still doing all the work face to face.

Suffice it to say, today it is extremely important to have an online presence for your nonprofit so that people can find you and get information about you, how they can join and how they can help support your efforts. Like a digital trading post, your constituents will be able to experience the same “add-to-cart” process they’ve become accustomed to when shopping online at other outlets.

To get the most out of your online ecommerce presence, you need to know what will make the most impact on your target audience. You’ll want to consider things like: Where is your audience looking for information? How tech savvy are your clients? What language are they using? Once you’ve created your audience profile, you can start planning your online strategy.

Also, before spending too much time on the search for an ecommerce solution, it’s important to think about the financial transactions themselves too. Financial transactions online for nonprofits is a bit unique. Orders processing for non-profit businesses range from paying dues, making donations, registering for events, training courses, and even ordering goodies from the organization like mugs, t-shirts, etc.

For every order, the business must be able to account for the cost of the product, where the product came from and how that product impacts their tax liability.

In many cases, this is no different than a traditional for profit business. Below are 10 things to consider as you embark on finding an eCommerce partner at your nonprofit.


When it comes to your website, remember that the design and layout are also very important to help visitors navigate to the right information. Make sure that your design is simple and your menu is easy to use from every page of the site.

When it comes to selling merchandise, you want something that stands out but also looks good so people will use it and raise awareness. It’s important to be mindful of how a vendor can brand their ecommerce transactional pages into your existing website without appearing disparate. The manner or openness of an eCommerce web page to be branded or not is unique to each provider.

SEO Importance in eCommerce 

Almost everything comes back to SEO! Your social media pages and website are all ranked by search engines, so the more information and images you have on them the better! Since most people check their social media accounts several times a day, they’re a great platform for you to share and promote events.

In terms of SEO, it’s important to consider the impact a disparate eCommerce solution may have on your overall SEO strategy. For example, if you have an event registration page managed by a third party provider, you may be losing “google juice”. So, when looking at ecommerce options, consider this in the mix too.

Mobility of Website Pages:

Your eCommerce pages need to be mobile like every other page you include on your website. Making your website mobile-friendly is also something to consider during the planning stages. With over 38% of smartphone owners buying through their devices, you’ll miss out on reaching a chunk of your target audience it you don’t do this.

Responsive design is the must have today, but some vendors actually develop their pages for true mobile business commerce. Mobile eCommerce pages designed specifically for mobile devices adapt to the screen size too but specifically eliminates items which provide an even more friendly online experience too.

Compliance & Segregation of Funds:

Your transactions online must be able to be segregated. In other words, if a PAC contribution comes in along with a dues payment in one order, your system must be able to account for that in the back end. Or, you will have a mess to deal with. Further, PCI compliance is a big deal too. Obviously, credit cards should not be stored in your database.

Taxes In Nonprofit eCommerce:

Nonprofit is basically a business model. It indicates that an organization puts any income it earns back into its budget. However, all organizations must be mindful of taxes. But, because of the guidelines the IRS sets for non-profit and tax-exempt businesses, every order must be tracked for tax purposes.

The payments for donations may likely be considered deductible for the purchaser so sending out quick receipts from the membership system (or donor database software) is very important. Further, if goods are given away as with some nonprofits, the items that are given away must be accounted for on the non-profit’s final tax return. If you sell physical goods, some systems may have a national sales tax database for states you are doing business in.

Inventory Management:

If you sell books, training manuals, or even gift items, you need to consider managing your stock levels. Having large volumes of stock left over can be very costly, particularly if you choose items that simply aren’t popular. Selling branded merchandise is also great for increasing your offline presence- your clients are walking billboards! But, if they have a bad experience online (wrong size, wrong color, long delays), it can backfire.

Shipping Costs:

Again, if you have to ship things out. Any system which you obtain, you may consider the impact of having to manage the costs and the actual process of sending goods out to your constituents. Some systems today have integration with major shipping carriers such as UPS and USPS too. Depending on your volume, it may be helpful to place importance on this feature.

Fees for eCommerce Software:

Credit Card fees matter. Be mindful of the fees associated with an  e Commerce software vendor. Each software provider is different here. Fees can be plans which include a monthly subscription fee and a fee based on revenue managed in a system. In addition, a provider may charge either a payment fee to use an online merchant account, or a connection fee to connect your own provider. It’s critical to check every little fee when you sign up with a software provider or merchant account provider.

Cancellations of Orders:

How will you handle cancellations for orders purchased online with an eCommerce system? If a participant cancels their event registration, how will the revenue fee be calculated and credited your constituents. If you are using a commercial off the shelf software database web platform for various online eCommerce activities, be sure to check how the refund process works within the confines of the solution.

Contract Terms:

Some e Commerce software providers require a longer term contract while others do not. It’s important to know your eCommerce providers (Association Membership Software, Donor Management, CRM software ) terms in case you decide that it isn’t the best eCommerce platform for your business. Be careful to check for hidden fees too. The lower costs options usually make their money on them.

There’s no reason why eCommerce shouldn’t work for nonprofits today. Not only is it a great way to generate revenue for your nonprofit, it’s also a useful tool to build your online presence and get your nonprofit out there. Each item, class or membership you sell through your online store contributes to your SEO and helps you get found online.

So, eCommerce is a bit different than the for profit market. Therefore, be mindful as you embark on the journey to find and administer your e-commerce solution. If you would like to discuss online membership management solutions or general e-Commerce pages for your nonprofit, give us a call.

Until next time, keep SmartThoughts in mind.

Not for Profit CRM Fundraising Software Guide


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