Online giving is becoming more popular at schools and other nonprofits. Accepting credit cards online makes the giving process more convenient, increasing the number of small donations in a fundraising campaign. It also integrates better with email marketing — it does not make much sense to send an email that then directs donors to fill out a check!
You basically need two features in order to be able to accept credit cards online: 1) a web site with a secure certificate, so that credit card numbers are encrypted when transmitted between the browser and web server; 2) a merchant account that will transfer funds from the credit card provider into a bank account. There are many services that provide online credit card processing in a single package, such as PayPal and online payment gateways sold by banks. However, the commercial spirit of PayPal does not always fit well with the image that a nonprofit wants to project, as PayPal used to be quite popular with porn sites and used to require users to have a PayPal account to give online.
At school, we already had a merchant account and a physical terminal for processing credit card information sent by mail or over the phone. Therefore, it would have been redundant to set up another one for online giving. Instead, I wrote my own online giving script that securely stores credit card information and provides a way for our Development Office to download the numbers and manually process the transactions. This results in the lowest ancillary costs of all of our options.
For my nonprofit organization, we did not already have a merchant account. Instead of paying hundreds of dollars to set up our own, we joined the Network For Good service, which allows you to accept donations through their site if you complete an extended profile at Guidestar. Network For Good only services nonprofit organizations, and Guidestar already stores nonprofit organization tax filings. The link from our giving page is easy to set up.