Old-School, or Arcane?

From checks to Venmo and beyond

Let’s start today’s newsletter with some definitions…

Old-School(per Merriam-Webster) definition: characteristic or evocative of an earlier or original style, manner, or form, typical of an earlier style or formbased on a way of doing things that was common in the past.

Arcane(per Grammarist) definition: an adjective that describes someone or something as being less known or hard to understand except for a few people. Arcane things are hidden or secretive. Obscure is another good synonym. This is not always a good thing.

In some areas, old-school can be cool and compelling. Arcane, on the other hand, is almost always the opposite of compelling. In fundraising, neither old-school nor arcane actions or policies are likely to result in a donation. Looking at the way we accept donations, neither “old-school” nor “arcane” don’t serve us well. It’s time to “get with the times”. To that end, let’s examine some stats that will hopefully help you recognize the imperative to change how you accept donations:

  • Donor-Advised Funds

    You’ve probably heard this before, but with approximately $150B sitting in donor-advised funds (DAF accounts), most nonprofits still make a DAF donor jump through hoops to give via their donor-advised fund. This is easily remedied by clearly stating on all of your solicitations that “DAF donations are welcomed” and giving the organization’s mailing address and tax ID number. (Important note: if you’re offering an incentive to give, promoting a matching gift program, or selling tickets/sponsorships for an event, make sure that the DAF method of giving is as seamless as the other types of payment you’re promoting.)

  • Recurring donations

    Some fundraisers have been reticent to accept recurring donations (where a credit card is kept on file and automatically charged monthly) because they don’t want to deal with the issue of the card being expired, lost, or otherwise no longer valid. This decision is clearly leaving a great deal of money on the table, as 89% of Millennials, 78% of Gen Xers, and 67% of boomers are enrolled in subscription services, and approximately 35% of the total US population is enrolled in some type of autopay program. The “expired card” issue is easily remedied via simple email notifications that are sent to the user with a kind note asking for new card information (with a simple button on the email that allows the user to fill in the information immediately.) Check out this article from NonProfit Pro that gives some great advice on solving this problem.

One of my previous Substack newsletters, “The Holy Grail of Fundraising” (and how not to screw it up), describes my personal experience facing the “invalid credit card “ issue — which resulted in my ending my giving to that organization. Take a look here.

It seems obvious to most, but there are still many folks in fundraising (and other sectors) who are so intimidated by technology that they rely on the good ‘ole checkbook, as it’s as comfortable and familiar as, well, tuna casserole. I’m happy that fundraising professionals are comfortable, but that doesn’t mean that the donors you’re soliciting are. If you don’t know what Square and Swipe and Venmo are, please learn. These are as standard and ubiquitous today as checkbooks were in decades past. Keep the checks as a form of payment, but add just about anything that a donor might want to pay with. After all the hard work that fundraisers do, it would be a shame to lose a gift because of the payment method!


I’m Saving Giving by providing a clear path to success, supported by data, statistics, and interviews. You can find more of me lifting the lid on the charitable sector here on Philanthropy 451, in my bestselling book, Philanthropy Revolution, on socials at TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn or listen to this episode of UBS On-Air: In Conversation with Lisa to learn more.

- Lisa