You let your donors cancel when they call you – why shouldn’t they be able to do that same action online?

I like to think that I challenge the status quo more than I accept it. I know this to be true in many areas of my life – in fundraising, in our society’s gender-based stereotypes, in how I live, where I live and how I run my business. But in this instance – the options we give our donors when they want to cancel their monthly donation – I have been guilty of accepting the status quo, without challenging it.

I can tell myself that this is because the regular giving strategy is bigger than digital and therefore outside of my remit. I may try to argue that as a partner and supplier to organisations, I don’t have responsibility or influence over this decision – but that’s not a true statement either. In general, I will chalk it up to ‘this is a battle I have (so far) chosen not to fight’.

Give your donors an excellent online experience

One of my biggest digital advocacy points to non-profits has always been that they need to give their donors a great user/ donation experience online. And I’ve been paying a lot of attention in recent years to subscription businesses – how they’ve grown and the experience they give their customers. And I’ve been noticing and thinking about the similarities, and differences, between a subscription business and regular giving. In particular, I’ve noticed that pretty much every subscription product or service (that I’m a customer of or have researched) gives their customers the ability to cancel their subscription online.

But before I get into that, let me give you some context.

The Status Quo: Donors must call their charity to cancel their monthly gift

Organisations have had an influx of monthly donors calling to cancel their donation – either because their situation has changed due to the corona virus pandemic, or they’re worried it soon will. Every fundraising team that I know has of course accommodated this request if their donor needs it – but not without first offering the donor the option to PAUSE their donation for 3 months, or downgrade it, instead of cancel. Mostly they’re doing this via a phone conversation, because for every organisation I know, this is the only way a donor can cancel their monthly gift – by calling. 

Requiring regular donors to call to cancel their donation is a deliberate “claw-back” strategy. By having a conversation with your donor who wants to cancel, the fundraiser is able to understand their individual problem or need and respond to it – with compassion and with sensitive alternative options that aim to retain the donor if possible. But if they leave – and most donors who need to pause or downgrade inevitably do churn – they’ve had a genuine and heartfelt conversation with your organisation and the cause they care about. Which is absolutely what your donors deserve – some gratitude and heartfelt appreciation.

At the same time, it is another deliberate strategy in preparation for the future (say 6 months) attempt to bring this donor back on board – ‘a reactivation’.

Should you offer your donors the option to cancel online?

In 2020, because of the world we live in and the growth of the subscription economy, when a person needs to make a change to their flight, to change an appointment, to skip a month on their Netflix, to up or downgrade their insurance – we go online. We expect to be able to make these changes online – or at the very least to be able to send an email or submit a form and tick that item off our to do list. So should your organisation give your donors what they expect – the ability to cancel their monthly gift online?

And this is what forced me to think strategically – and not just jump onto my soap box and start preaching about donor love and that you should give them a great donor experience online. Because it’s not that simple.

Cancelling online, doesn’t mean you can’t call

If your donor needs to cancel, you do want to have a conversation with them.
If your donor has a grievance, you do want to know what it is? Likewise if they’re hurting financially, you want to offer some support.
Of course you want to retain your donor if you can.
But can you still do this, and allow them to cancel online? Yes, you can – you just call them after they submit their cancel request online. The purpose of the call would be to thank the donor for their support and to understand why. You won’t be ‘clawing-back’ – but you will be leaving your donor with a good and warm experience. Hopefully they will continue to donate when they can. You’re also priming your donor for a future reactivation.

My hunch: Allow RG donors to cancel online & your donor acquisition ROI will improve

I also have a strong hunch that if you were to allow your monthly donors to cancel online, especially newly acquired face to face (F2F) donors, it will have a positive impact on your RG program ROI.
Think about it – organisations are acquiring thousands of donors a year via F2F and most of you are losing between 45-55% of them in the first year. You have an agreement with your F2F agency that you only pay the high cost per acquisition ($400-500) after the donor has had 2 or 3 successful debits. So making it easy for these flaky donors to cancel, will actually save you money. You’re better off having them cancel in the first 3 months, when you may have net $90 if you’re lucky, than paying $450 to acquire them and lose them in month 4 or 6.
But that’s not the point of this article – however it is worth investigating more and trialling.

Which leads me to what it could look like, if you were to offer your donors the ability to cancel their monthly donation on your website.

Don’t cancel your donation, PAUSE it instead

So as COVID-19 happened and charities were having to process cancellations, I stopped looking the other way and put my laser focus on this problem. The more I thought about it, the more I agreed that we don’t want to make it too easy for donors to cancel – but we still need to honour them and their choice if that’s what they need to do. So where I landed was somewhere that is better for the donor and their needs, but also allows your organisation to try and retain your donor and the relationship.

So, if your organisation were to say Yes to consider giving your monthly donors the ability to change their gift online – this is how I think it could work.

  • Your donor visits the website looking for how to cancel their monthly gift
  • They most likely will end up on your contact us page, where you link them to a page to CHANGE YOUR DONATION
  • On this landing page they are given the option to PAUSE, Reduce or Increase their donation. The PAUSE option is highlighted. The option to cancel is offered, but in a very small text link underneath
  • Your donor selects their preferred option from the 3 given priority – to PAUSE for 3 months, to reduce their monthly donation or if they’re in a good position, to increase their donation.
  • If your donor clicks the link to cancel, we again try to ‘claw-them-back’ and offer the option to PAUSE instead
  • Regardless of their choice, they get a warm thank you message and confirmation that their request has been received.

The whole process is complete in 1-2 minutes, perhaps less if your form auto-fills or is able to be personalised if your website and CRM talk to each other in real time.
Your supporter relations team receives the request via the website and either processes it or calls the donor to say thank you, among other things.

Loving your donors, means letting them go

I’m a totally sucker for song quotes (or paraphrasing them), sorry. If you’ve read my book, you’ll know 🙂. But I believe it’s true. True donor love is letting your donor decide when and how they want to or can support your cause.
You may not invite them to leave you (although…. Ask me another time about the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre’s (ASRC) experience. They offered their monthly donors the option to pause or reduce their gift – during both the bushfire crisis of January 2020 and the corona virus pandemic of March-April 2020 – and both times they had more people increase than pause, reduce or cancel) – but I believe that we should give them options ONLINE to manage their donation, if they need to.
I may be biased, but I’m not wrong.