Charities - check or credit card?
January 1, 2009 4:27 PM   Subscribe

Is it better to donate to non-profits by check or credit card?

I typically donate to non-profits by check rather than credit card. I figure that even if Visa's cut is just 1% or 2%, I'd rather the organization get every last penny.

However, I'm curious: what do the organizations themselves prefer? Is there a difference between huge charities and tiny ones (assuming the tiny ones are big enough to take credit cards)?

If it matters, I typically give once or twice a year, not every month, and I prefer to get as little mail from the recipient organization as possible.

I'm especially interested in answers from folks who work for non-profits or have done so recently.

posted by kristi to Work & Money (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Smaller charities would MUCH rather get checks. The one on whose board I serve is not really "small" (it has a $2 million a year budget, which makes it actually fairly large for an arts non-profit) but it still pays 3 percent on every credit card donation. We only accept cards because some people won't give unless they can get the miles.
posted by The Bellman at 4:30 PM on January 1, 2009

Credit card fees vary by the amount of business you do overall. So a small charity, like a small store, might pay 3%, but a much bigger one might pay 0.5%.

If you are interested, here's Visa's list of "interchange fees." MasterCard has allegedly also published theirs, although I didn't find an easy link (although I didn't look too hard). The interchange fee is only one of the fees that a merchant has to pay; there are also monthly fees to keep the account open and possibly rental fees for terminal equipment, if it's not owned outright.

I don't think non-profits get any sort of break on processing costs from the CC companies; it's not treated any differently than a company selling porn subscriptions. Plus, since most donations are done online or via mail, I suspect the rate ends up being higher than if it was an in-person transaction in a store. (This article confirms that suspicion.)

The only way I can possibly imagine a small charity "preferring" credit cards to checks, would be if people signed up for automatic monthly donations because of the credit card option, and ended up donating substantially more money overall than if they have to send in a check in response to a monthly mailing. (Or even if the net amount is the same, the dependable cash flow from a donor on automatic payments might be "worth" more in terms of what activities can be done with the money, than the same amount paid out in drips and drabs whenever it's convenient for the donor.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:44 PM on January 1, 2009

Speaking as a fundraiser for a non-profit performing arts organization, we really prefer credit cards because we can use the money almost immediately. Also, while there is a credit card fee we have to pay, it comes to, all considered, less than the cost of printing out and mailing out the pledge request, the follow-up reminder to send in your pledge, the follow-up to the follow-up reminder, and the thank you letter, as opposed to just sending the thank you letter.

In summary: We'd rather have money in the account *now* than a promise of money further down the line, even if "further down the line" means the end of the week.
posted by SansPoint at 4:56 PM on January 1, 2009

I run a small non-profit, and we prefer checks because of the processing fees on credit cards.
posted by puppy kuddles at 7:30 PM on January 1, 2009

If you donate using a credit card via Network for Good, there is a small processing fee that is deducted from your donation. However, it saves the responsible staff person the time he or she would spend processing your check and taking it to the bank to deposit. I work for a small non-profit organization and I don't mind either way. We're simply grateful for the support.

You could also add a note to your Network for Good donation saying that follow-up mail isn't necessary or requesting that you not be added to any mailing lists.

And thank you for supporting non-profit organizations!
posted by val5a at 8:52 PM on January 1, 2009

This may be a slight tangent, but I hate being thought of as an "asset" of any organization.

When sending money to charitable organizations, I prefer mailing a cashier's check or money order. This keeps it anonymous, and I know that the organization won't have my contact information so they won't contact me or share my information with other organizations.
posted by amtho at 3:56 AM on January 2, 2009

I find that charities seem to be the only places I deal with that are obnoxious enough to rip your detail from a credit card transaction so that they can spam you.

Even paying for a door ticket to a charity ball by credit card, eight years later I'm STILL getting mail.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:29 AM on January 2, 2009

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