Top Online Payment Service Providers: You might be asking yourself if there is a better way to process payments if you have done it manually. Unlike ten years ago, people were hesitant about entering credit card information online. But today, 3 out of 4 people use the Internet to the bank.
Although the world of online payment services can seem complicated, it is really about making it easy for your customers and donors to support you in a way they find convenient.
The new technology of online payments has prompted rapid changes in human behavior. Online payment options are essential for all organizations, regardless of size, if you want your customers, donors, or members to access your products and services.
Gary Rubens, a member of the Ski Club in Washington, DC, accepted online payments through WildApricot’s Membership Management Software.
Gary was able to fill all the spots within a month after promoting the club’s winter trip.
Gary stated, “This is far and away the earliest time we have sold out a ski vacation… Our President & Board are also extremely impressed.”
Gary could reach people who may not have registered for the event if he had not accepted online payments.
He’s only one of the thousands of companies we work with daily that have experienced incredible growth since accepting online payments.
While online payments can initially seem daunting, we will help you navigate the various options and understand the jargon.
Online Payment Services: Why is it necessary?
You collect checks or cash primarily if you are like most small organizations. This may work well for you now, but online payments benefit you and your supporters.
Online payments are becoming more popular. Customers, supporters, and members are more likely to register for events, make donations, or sign up online. Websites not accepting online payments can be viewed as out of touch.
Speed up the process
Online payments are quicker than manual payments because you don’t need to wait for the check or clear. It can take only seconds to complete the entire process, from updating your bank account to submitting an online payment. You will see an increase in cash flow and almost instant confirmation of transactions. Prospective members don’t need to wait to join your company. Participants will immediately know if they successfully registered for an event.
You can also check online if the person paying the payment has enough funds to cover the transaction. This is a far better option than waiting a week for the check to bounce.
Save yourself a lot of trouble…
Automated payments save you time, eliminate the need to deposit a check, and record the amount manually. Online payments are processed automatically once you have set up your website. Credit card information is not stored or handled by you. All member records updates are automatically handled.
But at a cost
There is no doubt that any value comes at a cost. Your payment provider will charge a transaction fee and may charge additional fees such as setup fees and monthly fees.
If online payments help you grow your membership, fundraising, or online business, they will get a piece of your larger pie.
We will discuss the cost later. However, it is vital to be familiar with online payment terminology, including payment providers.
What are Online Payments? Understanding Online Payment Terminology
Online payments can be described using a variety of terms.
- payment gateway
- payment processor
- payment provider
- Payment service or payment system
- merchant account
Although they may be distinct with subtle differences, they all refer to an application, company, or service that acts like a financial intermediary between your website and the customer and between you and your bank accounts. Each allows for online transactions and online payment processing.
The payment gateway receives an online payment request from your site and sends it to the payment process. The payment gateway can be considered the digital equivalent of the point-of-sale machine where you would put your card at the grocery shop.
The payment processor verifies the purchaser’s credit card information (e.g., those of a donor or supporter) to determine if there are sufficient funds to cover the payment. The transaction is approved if the customer has enough funds. The transaction status is sent back to the payment gateway, which sends a status message to your website. The payment processor company may provide you with equipment to accept in-person payments, such as a card swiper.
The payment service provider (or payment service provider) operates the payment gateway and payment processor services. Some companies will offer both.
Payment service or payment method
A payment provider that offers multiple payment gateways with different pricing and features is called a service or payment method. PayPal, for example, is a payment service provider that offers many payment services, such as PayPal Payflow Pro or PayPal Express Checkout. (Here’s a great listing if you are looking for a Paypal alternative. Or, continue reading our review of different online payment systems at the bottom of this post).
Another important term to know is the merchant account. Once an online transaction has been completed successfully, funds are transferred from the purchaser’s account to your merchant bank account. This bank account holds funds only from debit and credit card transactions. You must open a merchant account with your payment processor to accept online payments. Regular transfers of funds from your merchant account to your bank account will take place.
What’s the difference between a payment gateway and a payment processor?
Although payment gateway and processor can sometimes be used interchangeably, these terms refer to distinct parts of the payment process.
The payment gateway authenticates the customer’s online payment. While the payment processor communicates the transaction between the merchant and the bank,
This distinction is crucial because, in a physical transaction, the payment processor is all that is required. However, a layer of additional authentication is needed in a virtual trade.
To make things even more complicated, payment gateways and processors are often combined to create a single service known under either name. While some companies manage the payment gateway and processor, others handle only one.
Remember this important distinction as you go through the list of payment processors.
How does the online payment process work
Let’s look at an online transaction from beginning to end to understand the online payment process fully. This will allow you to see how your website, member, donor, and payment service provider interact.
You will need the following items to get started with online payments processing:
- A merchant account is required for some payment systems, such as PayPal. However, you can get one if they don’t need one.
- An account with a payment provider
- A button on a website (e.g., You can create a web page with a controller (e.g.
After you have set up your website and connected it with an online payment system, the site visitors will be able to pay online for products and services. The online payment process starts when a visitor clicks on the button to make an online payment, either for membership fees or event registrations, or to make donations or buy something from your online shop.
The visitor fills out the online payment form and enters their credit card information. Depending on the online payment service provider, the format could appear on your website. Or, your purchaser might be directed to your provider’s form.
The transaction request and the credit card information entered by the purchaser are securely transmitted to the payment gateway operated by your payment service provider. The data is encrypted so that no one – including you – can view the purchaser’s personal and financial information.
The payment service provider will use a secure payment processing system – whether it is their own or one offered by another company – to verify the purchaser’s credit card details and confirm that the buyer has enough funds to complete the transaction.
Suppose the purchaser’s credentials are valid and sufficient funds to complete the transaction. In that case, your payment service provider will initiate a transfer of funds from the purchaser’s bank account to the merchant account associated with your website and notify your website that the transaction has been approved. Depending on how your website is set up, that information can be used to update records on your site automatically (e.g., update your membership management or event registration database).
If the transaction is declined for any reason – such as invalid credentials or insufficient funds – no funds will be transferred, but status information will still be sent to your website.
These are the Top 11 Best Online Payment Methods for Your Organization
After we have covered the anatomy of an internet transaction, here are some payment systems you can use to process your online payments.
We have included reasons you might choose one processor over another and an overview of the transaction fees.
(This may not be the exact case for all providers. Some credit card companies may charge additional fees. Transactions sent from abroad will also be passed through, so this is only a comparison.
With this in mind, here’s a list of the top 11 online payment systems to meet all your payment processing requirements (and if applicable for nonprofits, see our complete guide to nonprofit payment processors).
WildApricot PaymentsWildApricot Payments, powered by AffiniPay (a payment gateway specializing in payment solutions for associations), is WildApricot’s payment processing system.
AffiniPay is a payment company with over ten years of experience and an A+ rating by the Better Business Bureau. AffiniPay, WildApricot Payments, and WildApricot are PCI compliant. They were specifically designed for nonprofit transactions. They can support recurring donations, offer PCI compliance, and provide free support.
WildApricot Payments is an online payment system that requires you to transfer money to your bank account. However, WildApricot Payments allows you to deposit the entire transaction amount directly into your bank account.
Get a free 30-day trial of WildApricot’s Membership Management Software to set up online payment for your company.
Prices:2.9% + $0.30 for Credit/Debit transactions
Stipe is the most flexible payment processor on the market. Whether you’re a large nonprofit with different donation streams or a small club/association, Stripe’s API will easily link your payments anywhere needed. You can even transfer from LLC to corporate status!
Costs: 2.9% & $0.30 per Credit/Debit transaction + 0.4% per recurring bill
Apple Pay offers the best online payment option for payments. With just a touch (or fingerprint scan), users can instantly pay with their Apple Wallets. They are not a payment processor, so you will need to set them up through another provider if you wish to accept other types of payments.
Prices: There are no additional fees to credit transaction fees (1.5-5% average in the USA).
Dwolla is flexible and offers many integration options. Dwolla can handle multiple payment arrangements such as installments, multiple-stage interest, and recurring fees. Dwolla’s fee structure is highly competitive.
Costs: $25 per month + 0.5% per transaction
Due is a modern payment processor with all the features you need. Due allows users to access virtual wallets, secure transactions, and even time-tracking software. Due is an excellent choice if you are looking for a comprehensive solution that supports multiple forms of payment.
Prices:2.8%+2.9% & $0.30 for each Credit/Debit transaction
Square was the first to offer a credit card swiper that could attach to a mobile phone and be paired with an application to process transactions. Square’s technology has improved dramatically with advanced tap features and fully inclusive software that securely and safely processes your transactions.
Prices:2.65% for card transactions, 2.9%+30 cents per Square Invoice paid online or manually entered the trade, and 3.4%+15 cents for Interac debit tap sales
PayPal is a popular method of payment. This is their most significant advantage. Most potential customers and supporters already have PayPal accounts and can easily make payments. PayPal handles all security concerns, so you won’t need to store credit card information like most payment processors.
Prices:2.9% + $0.30 for Credit/Debit transactions
As the oldest and most widespread payment solution on this list, Authorize.net can do pretty much anything you’ll ever need payment-processing-wise. With Authorize.net, you’ll never have an unsupported payment type since they stay up to date on trending payment methods and even win an award for their outstanding API integrations.
Costs: $25 per month + 2.9% & $0.30 per transaction
Freshbooks is not just a payment processor; it’s robust accounting software used by millions of businesses worldwide. You won’t find more transparent financial reporting in the industry since they are known for fantastic user experience and supportive customer service. If you’re looking for the ultimate reporting tool and payment processor in one, Freshbooks has you covered.
Prices:2.9% Flat Fee
Moneris offers its customers not just a payment processor but also modular reporting and inventory tracking. Moneris’s edge is its outstanding 24/7 customer service, with ratings through the roof. They pride themselves on reliability and being there when you need them most.
Costs: $19.95 CAD per month, + 2.75% per Credit transaction
After reviewing the list, you will need to learn more about choosing an online payment provider.
Regpack integrates payment processing and registration on any website. Regpack allows you to collect payments from your website and manage your events, programs, donations, etc. The system’s payment processing capabilities can be used to fulfill all your registration requirements. For example, groups can pay for an event using one account. Automatic discounts can also be enabled based on registration data and known data. Custom automated billing plans are even possible. Regpack comes with a complete suite of data management tools like email communication, reporting tools, and filtering options. It is the perfect one-stop shop to manage clients, programs, and payments.
Prices: Starting at 1.5%