Creating a Fundraising Platform for a Global Non-Profit
As a non-profit headquartered and operating in Pakistan but with a sizeable donor-base of expats in other countries, The Citizens Foundation (TCF) has a network of partner organizations in several countries to assist with outreach and fundraising. This can lead to confusion amongst donors about where to donate for compliant receipting and to receive tax benefits.
At the same time, attracting new donors online is resource-intensive and costly.
How might we leverage TCF’s existing global network of supporters for fundraising, while complying with regulations and giving donors a seamless way to give tax-deductible donations online?
A Peer-to-Peer (P2P) fundraising portal and financial backend that routes funds to a locally registered partner charity in the country where the donor resides.
This helps donors make tax deductible online donations in the currency of their choice, while the organization is able to comply with the tax laws of each country in which it is registered as a nonprofit organization. It also creates a unified platform that consolidates all online fundraising activities, showcasing the impact created by donors around the world.
Since no existing platform on the market provided similar features, our team designed and built TCF Global from the ground up to match this unique organizational structure. At the same time, it gives supporters a best-in-class online donation experience, engaging ways to create fundraising campaigns, and gives the backoffice team in each country the ability to seamlessly manage donor data in secure, isolated CRM systems.
After successfully launching the new fundraising portal in 2020, we were able to achieve $1 million in online donations and show a 60% growth in fundraising campaigns from new supporters within 15 months.
You can visit the website at TCF Global.
Project lead + UX researcher & designer
Other team members:
- Ayesha Khatib: Marketing team lead
- Fahad Shaikh: Development team lead
- Zain ul Abedin: UI Designer
Time period: 2019-2021
Many of the learnings from my work in optimizing the online donations process helped inform our decisions going into this new platform, and you can read more about that for additional background.
Mainly, there were 3 findings:
Because of the way the organization is structured, donors often gave to an affiliated entity in another country, thus missing out on tax benefits in their jurisdictions.
Many donors gave to TCF because they had either already heard of the organization themselves or through friends and family.
Platform and digital infrastructure limitations meant none of the turnkey fundraising platforms available could fit the organization’s unique needs.
A unique corporate structure
The Citizens Foundation (TCF) is an award-winning non-profit organization that builds and operates schools in low-income communities across Pakistan.
Globally, TCF exists as a network of affiliate but legally independent non-profit organizations, each registered with the tax authorities in its respective jurisdiction. While TCF Pakistan is the entity that builds and operates the schools in Pakistan and employs the most staff (including headquartering the marketing team), each of the country partner organizations (TCF USA, TCF UK, etc.) runs its own fundraising efforts independently.
Confusion over tax domicile
This can sometimes lead to confusion amongst donors, especially when it comes to making tax-deductible donations.
While the TCF brand extends globally, the flow of funds between the organizations is restricted by tax and compliance regulations. Residents of a country can only make tax-deductible donations if they donate to the organization registered in their country. For example, if a tax-paying donor in the United States made an online donation to TCF Pakistan’s website, the funds would go to TCF Pakistan, i.e. the organization legally registered in Pakistan, which does not have 501(c)(3) certification in the United States. To receive a tax-deductible receipt, donors in the United States must always make the donation to TCF USA, which is the only organization in the network registered as a 501(c)(3) in the US.
To the donors, TCF is a single entity, but the background was a bit more complex. A survey of online donors told us more than 50% had faced difficulties with this, e.g. having donated to a TCF partner organization in a different country, and thus not being able to file a tax-deductible receipt in their home country.
Donors Prefer Peer-to-Peer Fundraising
Analysis told us peer-to-peer (P2P) donations accounted for nearly 40% of online donations, i.e. fundraising by supporters of TCF within their friends and family networks. These donations differed from ‘direct donations’ in the sense that they were received in response to an effort by a supporter of the organization (peer-to-peer), as opposed to some marketing effort by the organization itself (direct donations).
In interviews with donors and fundraisers alike,
TCF’s network of supporters, mostly Pakistani expats around the world, wanted to fundraise for TCF in their network, which in turn consisted of expats living in different countries. But they were hesitant because of confusion over tax domicile, resulting in lost revenue.
Locally in Pakistan, P2P fundraising was the fastest growing sector in terms of both number of new donors reached, as well as total funds raised. The organization wanted to capitalize on this growth in other markets.
While digital payments have risen rapidly in Pakistan, during FY2019-20 (i.e. pre-COVID) they still accounted for a little less than 10% of the total financial transaction that year. Lack of consumer confidence in online debit/credit transactions and restrictive State Bank policies meant the balance between online donation methods and traditional offline methods such as cheque collections, bank transfers, etc. was skewed between Pakistan and the other countries where TCF raised funds.
Secondly, to truly leverage the global network of supporters, the marketing team wanted a unified view of fundraising efforts – both front-facing as well as in the back-office.
No existing software platform offered a global account where fundraising efforts could be pooled in this way, while at the same time routing donations to different organizations to aid tax-compliant receipting. Individual, isolated websites for each organization could be built, but this would not offer a consolidated view of global fundraising for TCF. We spent several months talking with the leading donor-management and fundraising software companies to no avail – their platforms were simply not designed with this kind of use-case in mind, and our volume was not sufficient for them to consider making the changes we needed.
Designing the P2P Platform
Our team decided to propose building our own software platform. We set out to map the logic through extensive meetings with the outreach, accounting, and legal teams.
Donors almost exclusively made online transactions in their “home currencies”, i.e., the currency of their country of residence. In light of this insight and to comply with legal requirements, we tied the currency of the online donation to the organization that would receive the funds. This meant that any donation made in US Dollars would be routed to TCF USA; donations in Pakistani Rupees would be routed to TCF Pakistan, and so on.
This was by far the biggest UX challenge, and we went through several variations to test which would clarify the flow of funds in the clearest manner. We conducted usability tests and think-aloud observations of volunteer donors to test their understanding of the language and UX of switching between currencies and how that would affect where their donation was going.
We created wireframes and hi-fidelity mockups for basic validation with executive leadership, supporters, and legal counsel, and conducted over 40 hours of user interviews to match our UX learning from previous projects with best practices in online P2P fundraising.
Following web development and devops best-practices, we developed our platform with over 70k lines of code using Laravel and ReactJS on the front-end. For payments, we created integrations with Stripe and PayPal; since neither are available in Pakistan, we integrated with HBL IPG, a gateway provided by a leading bank in Pakistan for donations in Pakistani rupees.
For each donation and fundraising campaign created, we added a quick calculation to show how much of an impact this would make towards the education of children from underprivileged backgrounds in Pakistan.
Since many donors in Pakistan, especially large-ticket donors, preferred making donations through cheques, TCF provided a cheque pickup service within the country. We created a user flow to manage this entirely online as well.
With the future of TCF’s digitalization in mind, we built the platform with a RESTful API with the aim of creating a mobile app and integrating the ecommerce functionality with each of the other websites in the TCF network.
Securing a Grant for Development
To support the development and platform costs, we pitched the project along with the projections of increases in donations and new donors reached to a leading aid organization that supported such projects through grants. After a successful pitch, we received a grant that would cover these costs for 2 years.