Pop Art Blow a kiss

Put Donors First, Even When It Seems Like a Pain

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I wanted to give a fairly large gift to a charity I admire. And I wanted to put it on my American Express card. You see, I have an annual budget that I like to donate, and I want it to all be on my AMEX card which makes my tax return much easier.

So I asked the charity if I could donate by AMEX …

And they said no.

I asked why, and they had two reasons they didn’t accept AMEX:

  1. AMEX usually charges more than other cards for the merchant fee. This can reduce the value of the donation by 1% to 3%.
  2. AMEX card holders have other cards too. They can use those.

I asked around and found out many charities don’t accept AMEX, and for the same reasons.

Actually, there’s also a third reason, and I think it might be the real reason: In order to accept AMEX, someone has to get around to the paperwork, and there are other priorities. Charities are often understaffed, and this just seems a lot of effort for small return.

But let’s take a deeper look at the question, especially from the donors’ point of view:

  • AMEX donors give up to 50% more than non-AMEX donors. This reason alone should get every charity in the world to start taking American Express!
  • Even those AMEX donors who give the same amounts as non-AMEX donors are identifying themselves as higher value prospects.
  • AMEX charge cards usually have no credit limits, reducing bounces.
  • AMEX regular givers give slightly higher monthly donations, and they have much, much higher retention rates.
  • Wealthier people — that is, your best high-donor prospects – tend to use AMEX cards.
  • AMEX holders pay for their cards, so they want to use them.
  • AMEX donors like to keep donations on one card. It’s easier for their tax records.
  • AMEX donors may say that it is fine when you ask for Visa instead, but you are creating a barrier — they wouldn’t have offered AMEX first if they wanted the donation on a different card.
  • Making the case for why you accept AMEX is a useful opener for donor-focused training, it’s a great example of putting donors ahead of administrative needs.

Am I persuading you? Diners should be accepted too — for the same reasons.

But my real point here is not actually that you should take AMEX — I promise I’m not getting paid by them! The point is that a tiny decision — like accepting AMEX or not — tells a lot about how donor-centred an organisation is.

Put donors first.

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7 Comments. Leave new

  • Hi Sean
    Thank you for sharing your experience. I am presenting at the FIA Conference 2020 in Brisbane. Would you mind if I use this example in my presentation? I will acknowledge etc.
    Warmest wishes

    • Christiana Stergiou
      January 9, 2020 3:47 pm

      Hi Julie, yes that’s wonderful. Sean will contact you with more. Thanks so much! All the best with your presentations!

  • Sean…interesting information. Are you able to share the original source of the AmEx data you’ve cited?

    • Hi
      Pareto Benchmarking. This is an amazing annual study of data across millions of real transactions.
      Basically, a load of charities upload all their donations into one big pile for analysis.
      Because it is based on what people did, not what they say they did or do it is much more representative of reality!

      • Jon Biedermann
        January 12, 2020 10:35 am

        I’m not aware of this Pardot databae… Is it actually donation data for Amex or a database of all transactions? Do you have a link? Thanks!

  • I love stuff like this. Customer service is customer service is customer service.

    Know your audience, and cater to their needs and preferences. They don’t serve you. You serve them.

  • Hi Jon, it is ALL donor data, not just AMEX. It was a few years ago that I got that info but I believe Pareto is still running benchmarking. I will put you in touch by email.


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