A Really Lame Way to Lose a Donor

I get emails daily from non-profits looking for money. Sometimes they’re super professional, interesting, appealing — and even thought-provoking — but often they’re none of those. When I give, they’re some version of grateful, and if I stop giving, they try to (strongly) persuade me to donate again.

Until today, when I received an email from a large university telling me that I was done giving. How can that be, you ask?

Here’s the story.

A couple of years ago, I signed up for a recurring monthly donation to one of my alma maters. Like most recurring donations, I let it continue and didn’t think about it. As you likely know, that makes me highly valuable to the organization, because (a) it’s predictable revenue, and (b) I don’t need to be solicited to keep donating (at least at that level.) For many online businesses, and for some offline businesses as well, recurring revenue is the gold standard.

So why in the world was I told that I was done giving?

About two months ago, I lost my credit card in a movie theatre. I got a new one in the mail two days later, just like the original one, but with the last few numbers changed. Although I updated the card with Amazon and my dry cleaners, I didn’t go through every single transaction of the past year-plus — rather, I decided to wait until the less regular vendors noticed that the credit card didn’t work, and when they contacted me to say so, I would just give them the updated card number. Pretty simple, right?

For this university development department, not so much. The email today said, in a very terse tone, that my credit card was declined and that I was now removed from their database. If I wanted, I could go onto their website (or call them) and start a new account, but my account was now closed. A link to the donor website was provided, but instead of linking to a section where I could “update my payment method” (standard procedure in just about every site I’ve ever seen), I was linked to a generic “donate now” website. Yup — my previous account was closed. I had no access to my payment history, no ability to give a new credit card — nothing.

To add insult to injury, when I shared this email with a friend who has worked for years in development, she pointed out that instead of the expected “we value you as a donor and want to make this easy for you”, I got a terse email message that was akin to the “you bounced a check and are now persona non grata”.

I’m so disappointed. How, with all the money spent on the development infrastructure at a major university, can this happen? Is it possible that the powers that be in that organization’s development department aren’t aware that the average recurring donor gives 42% more in one year than donors who give one time gifts? Or that the costs of maintaining recurring donors is far less than for annual givers? Or that recurring donations can provide much-needed revenue in the off-peak months of a nonprofits fundraising cycle? Or, just as importantly, that recurring donors are more loyal and easier to retain?

It will be interesting to see if they notice that I’m gone….

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- Lisa