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Mechanicsburg firm develops online donation tool

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Fathom Studio had a problem.

For years, the seven-person communications agency in Mechanicsburg had developed print materials for nonprofit capital campaigns throughout the U.S.

In 2012, the New York-based Episcopal Church Foundation, which acts as a resource for Episcopal churches nationwide, asked Fathom to provide fundraising websites for individual church campaigns. Each site would need to be generated in a matter of hours.

“Building specialized websites at scale like that is not something you do with WordPress,” said company founder Jason Smith. “So we created a system from scratch to rapidly deploy web-sites that contain the special features capital campaigns need.”

A key feature was the ability to secure large pledges online.

After the work was done, Smith said the company realized there could be a market for a product that enabled nonprofits to generate appeals in a fun, secure and robust way — leading Fathom to create GivingTools.com.

Founded in 1999, Fathom Studio provides a range of services — from print and web design, to video production and brochure creation.

“Creating GivingTools.com was just a response to a client need that enabled us to expand our capabilities while leveraging what we already do well,” said Smith.

The GivingTools business is handled differently than Fathom’s other services, however. Rather than charging an hourly rate, Smith set a price of $14.95 per month, hoping Fathom could amp up the number of clients over time to make the venture profitable.

“Our competitors generally have a startup fee, a minimum-use fee, a security fee, rates for processing and a cancellation fee. We recognized that the nonprofits were getting the short end of the stick and we saw that we could do better,” said Smith.

The platform supports capital campaign pledges, event registrations, product sales, supporter appeals, and even volunteer signups and petitions. Nonprofits simply select what they wish to accomplish and templates provide options. The system makes it easy to securely display and share appeals, too. Donors are provided with tax receipts and a tracking system.

The product ramped up slowly.

“In the beginning, the Google ranking for GivingTools was horrific and we decided not to spend much money on advertising,” said Smith, adding that Fathom instead chose a soft-launch and listening phase to further refine the product.

Creating a mascot

Foremost on Smith’s mind was creating a user-friendly, non-threatening website. When would-be clients click on GivingTools.com, they are greeted by an orange Chihuahua. The mascot, named Tuppence, was conceived by creative veteran and Fathom employee Chris Hoke.

Tuppence appears in print and also is animated to demonstrate product benefits and explain features. Tuppence even has her own advice column on the site, called Ask Tuppence.

“We say that GivingTools is so easy that even a reasonably smart Chihuahua can do it,” said Smith.

To streamline the process in support of a low-cost, volume business, video tutorials were created to walk clients through the software.

David Canoles of Buck Mountain Episcopal Church in Earlysville, Virginia said his church used GivingTools to accept credit card payments from parishioners interested in donating funds toward building a fellowship hall.

“Before I accepted the position as treasurer, we couldn’t do that and I understood that people are inclined to give a bit more if they can use a credit card,” said Canoles, who soon learned that accepting credit card payments sounded easier than it was in actuality. “It’s a daunting task. You have to jump through all kinds of hoops. What set GivingTools apart was their willingness to sit down with me and walk me through the process,” he added.

Kelly Mainor is another satisfied customer.

The assistant director of development and public relations at the InterFaith Health Clinic in Knoxville, Tennessee, Mainor said she chose GivingTools for its cost-effectiveness and array of options that enabled her organization to remain competitive on a tight budget.

Mainor also praised the customer support end of the product. “I can reach out to them via email and have a response almost instantly. For a nonprofit just entering the online giving space (or a nonprofit without an IT department), this has been a tremendous benefit,” she said.

For Smith, GivingTools has been a win-win for both him and the nonprofits the software supports. The hundreds of clients using the product generate passive income and enable the studio to concentrate on providing what it calls “unlimited, free, white-glove service,” while continuing to enhance the product.

To date, GivingTools has moved over $11 million to over 240 charities.

“It’s been a real blessing — to go from responding to one client’s needs to serving hundreds of nonprofits,” said Smith.

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