On Asking Donors to Pay Credit Card Fees

On Asking Donors to Pay Credit Card Fees


20 June 2023


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


Just because something is new doesn’t mean it’s better.

Just because something is old doesn’t mean it’s worthless.

And just because we CAN do something doesn’t mean we should.


I juggle about 25 clients in a year, including coaching clients. I don’t know exactly, but let’s say I send an average of four invoices to each one through the year. That’s about 100 invoices I will send in a year.

All of these invoices are sent by email.

Not one asks for a tip.


Imagine getting an invoice from me, and before you get to the payment details, a pop-up asks you to proactively select 25% Tip, 20% Tip, 15% Tip, or No Tip.

You can’t imagine it, because it wouldn’t be OK. It would be irritating, even for those who left a tip.


So what makes it OK for us to ask our donors to help pay for our credit card fees? Thank you so much for your generous $50 contribution. You should know that the company handling our donations will get $1.62 of that. If you would like us to get the full $50, you might want to add $1.62 …

You should know that our bank will get another 22 cents …

You should know that our office supply company will get $1.89 …

Actually, if you want your entire $50 to come to us, you will need to give $65.


Actually – why not just ask for $65?


I recognize that my problem in this regard is generational. Customer service is becoming a quaint idea, replaced by do-it-yourself-on-your-own-time strategies. If business can get customers to voluntarily absorb the costs of the business infrastructure, they can hire fewer customer service employees and pocket more of the profit.

For example, consider air travel. The ticket itself costs $189 each way, but if you want to choose your seat or take a bag, it’s extra. Didn’t bring your own water or coffee? That’ll be more money.

This is increasingly true in every arena except shipping. (There is no such thing as “free” shipping. It’s just a cost of doing business that is baked into the price you pay the retailer.)


So, as a card-carrying member of the Baby Boom generation, I find this all irritating. Boomers tip wait-staff in sit-down restaurants, taxi cab drivers, and people carrying our bags in airports. We’re open to making our own appointments online, but we’re just as likely to call first. And when our internet goes down, we don’t find it amusing to get a phone recording advising us to use the company’s website for more immediate help.


And when we make a gift – a GIFT – to a land trust, we don’t want to be asked to pay your credit card fees.

It would seem reasonable to ask at this point: “What’s the big deal? Just don’t click the box, and you won’t pay the extra $1.62.” (Or just click the No Tip button.)

Here’s the big deal: NO ONE says “Oh, look at how clever they are covering their credit card fees this way. I think I will give them MORE money because they are so clever.”

Meanwhile, some Boomers are going to be irritated, and may give less.


And 65-75% of our current donors are Boomers and older.



Cheers, and have a great week!




PS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.


Photo by Ray Hennessy courtesy stocksnap.io


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  • Robin
    Posted at 11:18h, 11 July

    I’m late to his party, but will weigh in: I make modest annual gifts to about 20 organizations whose missions align with things I care most about. For years I wrote checks, because something in me enjoys the act of writing a check and sending real mail. But I also understand that means more time and labor for the org to open the envelope, record the check, deposit the physical check. So now I do more of my renewals online, and am happy to pay the cc fees. I don’t view this as the nonprofits being cheap, but rather that the orgs themselves are being victimized by increasing transaction costs (even though those electronic blips are supposed to make things easier and cheaper).

    While we’re sharing gripes, what DOES bother me are breathless, formulaic letters with whatever direct mail thing is trendy at the time: underlining was hot for awhile, as was highlighting, or including a P.S. And I utterly abhor fake “personalization.” I know that my gift level isn’t going to make an Executive Director notice me personally, and that’s okay.

    Nonprofits need to stop with the mail gimmicks. It’s gross. “Oh, but it works!” comes the chorus. I notice that in general only large, national nonprofits perpetuate this stuff; local and regional nonprofits can’t afford it (or the direct mail shops that advise it). The appeals and other updates I receive from small and midsize nonprofits are often more meaningful, authentic and heartfelt than those from larger orgs.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 13:02h, 11 July


      Thank you so much for writing! I love welcoming new voices into the discussion. Many people feel the same way about each of the items you mention. And their opinions would be equally valid. The question becomes one of how we make decisions about what to do and how to behave. The argument I presented is that if you are asking donors to do something that many people don’t mind while others find irksome, why would you continue doing it? If you ask people to cover the “organizational victimization of increasing transaction costs,” some will be irked. If you don’t, will anyone be irked? And is irking some donors worth the extra few dollars you make on each gift? How many irked donors are simply walking away?

      I won’t weigh in too much on the direct mail comments. The organizations large enough to afford direct mail shops and personalization also have the resources to test. We can choose to learn from their testing or reject it (without testing it ourselves). But if we make decisions based simply on what appeals to us, we should understand that we are most likely receiving fewer responses and raising less money per response as a result.

      I appreciate the comment and feedback!

  • Kathleen Ackley
    Posted at 16:00h, 26 June

    I am Gen X and I am totally fine with the credit card fee request. I completely understand the need – seeing how much money our organization pays in credit card fees. And that extra $1.50 is no big deal. Honestly, I am more irritated that people are irritated by this. I mean really? That seems like such a silly, small thing to be upset about. Don’t you as a donor want to know where your money is going and that the credit card company will be eating up part of your gift? I am more than happy to pay that little bit extra to support my favorite nonprofits.

  • Chad N.
    Posted at 09:01h, 20 June

    There is some data and it shows that asking for a donor to cover credit card fees significantly reduces conversion and overall revenue.

    The following is from a blog post by Jeff Brooks asking, “Should you ask donors to cover processing fees for their donations?” It references an experiment by NextAfter (https://www.nextafter.com/experiments/how-introducing-donor-fees-impacts-conversion/).

    Long story short, here were the results and his thoughts of experiment:

    Results to conversation rates:

    Control (no mention of credit card fee: 12.0%
    Test: 7.4%

    That’s a 38.5% drop in conversion rate. About 60% of donors opted to cover the fees. This drove up the average
    gift by 3%. But overall revenue was 20.5% lower.

    Small win, but big loss.

    The hypothesis is that bringing in transactional language about the fees short-circuited the highly emotional act
    that charitable giving is.

    So I think David’s take and this data shows that asking donors to cover their credit card fees is in no service to anyone. We’ve opted out of asking donors to cover this moving forward.

  • David Perry
    Posted at 08:55h, 20 June

    Thanks as always for a thought-provoking blog entry, David. I too wonder what the data say. (I’m old school and still think data and media are plural).

    Here’s another one–we ask our donors to put a 63 cent stamp on an envelope to return a gift to us. Often the little square where the stamp goes says, “Thank you for using your own stamp.” Why not just pre-pay every gift envelope?

  • Lisa Haderlein
    Posted at 08:08h, 20 June

    The part that annoys me is when we send them a renewal letter the next year, and their prior year gift amount is $51.50, or $103. If we are asking them to renew at the same level, it seems awkward to ask someone to renew with a $51.50 gift. Or if we are asking for an increase of $25, it becomes $76.50 (in an automated system). All those odd ball amounts have to be corrected manually. On the letters and remit slips because I won’t send a letter asking someone to renew at the $51.50 level. Ugh

  • A.B.
    Posted at 08:06h, 20 June

    This GenX-er is irritated by the ask, as well. I get it. I even click Yes most of the time. But it’s yet another reminder that the kinder, simpler ways are over — and I want my nonprofits of choice to be an oasis from that. Thank you for having us pause to reflect on the message this “little thing” sends. 🙂

  • Carol Abrahamzon
    Posted at 07:43h, 20 June

    I concur with Jim, I’d love to see the data. We were actually encouraged to add the CC fee to our website by non other than Bob Ross. As a boomer myself I usually just say no to the question. I also send checks to small and local NPs because I understand the “cost of doing business”.

    • Lisa Haderlein
      Posted at 08:00h, 20 June

      Hi Carol! I’m the same way Carol. If it’s a donation to a local group I always write a check. And like Jim, we include the 3% option at the end of our LGL form.

  • Jim Bonesteel
    Posted at 06:59h, 20 June

    Hi David,

    I’m wondering what the data is behind this? When one of my board members say, “I find this all irritating”, or “If I got an appeal letter like that (4 pages, formatted funny) I’d throw it right in the garbage, I can usually say, “Well, actually, the data shows that more people respond to a letter like that”. Is there any data? I just looked in our LGL Forms at our main online donation form that has been live for 3 or more years. We have received 1948 transactions so far. LGL Forms keeps track of when someone starts entering data on the form but doesn’t finish. We do have, “Add 3% to my total amount to help cover the payment processing fees” at the very bottom of our form. Over all the time we’ve been using this form only 15 times has the transaction not been completed. That is 0.8% (less than one percent). And, scanning that list of 15 I can say off the top of my head that most of those people are consistent donors and therefore it was probably a quirk that they didn’t finish the form. I didn’t take the time to look them up to compare timeframes, etc. Doing the math I would say that we are ahead of the game with the extra 3%. So, I sign off, by challenging you to look at the data on this.

    I love these posts. My team reads them each week and we act on much(a majority even) of the advice given.



    • David Allen
      Posted at 07:27h, 20 June

      Good questions – and maybe it IS just me. My logic is this: something that doesn’t help you (win donors) and has the potential for hurting you (like being irritating) isn’t worth the trouble. This moves asking for the CC fee out of a parallel with four-page letters (does help you win donors and doesn’t hurt you). Your experience may be related to WHO goes online to give (as opposed to writing a check). Frankly, I don’t know whether there is data or not. I’ll dig and report back on what I learn. THANK YOU for the push.