Build vs. Buy
5 Pitfalls to Building Donate-at-Checkout In-House

If you’re considering implementing a donate-at-checkout solution, you’ve no doubt explored whether building or buying is the right path for your team.

Adding a donation widget to your brand’s online checkout flow might seem like a simple proposition. However, there’s much more going on behind the scenes than you might assume.

Through partnering with some of the world’s largest enterprise e-commerce brands, the ChangeUp team has identified five key pitfalls that teams often confront when attempting to “hack” together a donation solution in-house.

Pitfall #1

Diverting Internal Teams from Core Expertise

Do you want your engineers focused on what they do best, or do you want them building donation technology from scratch?
There’s more to activating a donation offering than adding a checkbox to your checkout flow. It involves the coordination of multiple teams like operations, design, legal, accounting, engineering, and CSR.

Here are just a few things you’ll need to address:

“When we walked in to meet our partners at PopSockets, they had no fewer than 7 people across multiple teams involved in maintaining the solution they had built internally. One of their engineers said, ‘Thank god you’re here. We’ve ended up building donation software when we’re supposed to be selling PopSockets.”
Robert Soderstrom
CEO of ChangeUp
If your team’s core expertise is e-commerce and speed to market is a factor, we strongly recommend partnering with a vendor that specializes in donation technology to ensure that the project comes in on time and is built for long-term success.

Pitfall #2

Underestimating Build, Hacked Solutions, No Scalability

It starts with a simple premise: one engineer proposes hacking together a simple donation module. The result is typically a primitive offering with limited functionality and disappointing customer opt-in rates.
“On the front end, it’s a very simple opt-in, but the reality is that behind the scenes there’s a great deal of complexity.”
Dickon Kent
ChangeUp Senior Product Designer

We’ve learned over time that the most effective solutions allow for multiple donation types (round-up vs. fixed dollar amount), are flexible in placement and layout, and tie into a deep backend system.

Customer experience is critical. It’s particularly important that the invitation to donate happen at checkout, rather than “orphaned” or buried on a standalone page.

The ChangeUp donate-at-checkout solution is a highly customizable and lightweight widget that can be injected directly into the checkout flow and reads your transactions to easily calculate round-ups and maximize customer participation.

Pitfall #3

Misconceiving Charity Diligence

Did you know there are approximately 1.5 Million 501(c)3s in the United States? Not only that, but the IRS charity database is constantly evolving as new charities are formed and others cease operating.

In addition, at any given time there are approximately 100 charities that have been deemed bad actors by the Southern Poverty Law Center, meaning they’re either operating as hate groups or collecting donations for nefarious purposes.

On-boarding and maintaining charities in-house – especially if your brand intends to support multiple charities at checkout and wants the flexibility to change them frequently – can easily become a full-time job (we’ve seen it happen!).

If you decide to embark on building an internal charity database, you’ll want to ensure that you have processes in place for:

  • Vetting charities
  • Collecting assets (logo, mission statement, banking info)
  • Reporting donations to the IRS
  • Distributing donations in a tax-compliant manner
  • Updating your database monthly
“For our partners, having adaptability with access to a non-profit database that is compliant and knowing that the donations are guaranteed to be delivered to the intended charity using a tax-compliant distribution system is incredibly valuable.”
Robert Soderstrom
CEO of ChangeUp

Pitfall #4

Ongoing Costs of Internal Support

It’s one thing to have an idea for a new feature, but anyone who builds technology knows that the real work begins once that feature goes live.
“Software is always evolving and donation software is no exception. It’s not a “set it and forget it” module, and the cost of ownership with an internal build can be three times higher than a third-party solution over time.”
Dickon Kent
ChangeUp Senior Product Designer

Ensuring that your team plans ahead for ongoing support is non-negotiable.
You’ll want to consider:

Administrative Support

  • How easy is it for a non-technical person to maintain the front-end giving campaigns?
  • How will accounting get the data they need to reconcile transactions and report donations to the IRS?

Technical Support

  • How will the donation infrastructure be maintained?
  • Has your team allocated time on its roadmap to address bug fixes, code updates, and compliance/security needs?
  • How will you handle reporting and analytics?


Charity Management

  • Who will be responsible for maintaining charity relationships over time?
  • What will your team do if a charity suddenly stops cashing checks, ceases to operate or becomes non-responsive?

Pitfall #5

Failing to Meet IRS Compliance

The purpose of charitable giving software is to make the world a better place and to make giving easier. What’s not so easy is navigating the complexities around charitable giving compliance, data security, and IRS reporting regulations.
“Teams often fail to recognize the rigor and scrutiny that goes around charitable giving, even micro-donations.”
Robert Soderstrom
CEO of ChangeUp

The IRS stipulates that every single penny that is donated must be tracked, reported, and receipted. If your brand is using a charity’s name or logo to help promote sales, it must get permission from that charity or risk being in violation of cause marketing regulations.

The ChangeUp team has spent years building a secure system that allows e-commerce brands to publish charities at checkout and move funds using a compliant and reliable process.

Our software is SOC 2, Type 2 and PCI SAQ A compliant. It also allows for in-depth reporting and analysis to ensure that every single penny that’s donated on your site is accounted for.

Thank you.
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