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  • Marty Zimmerman

Recurring Donations: Set it and Forget it?

Updated: May 31, 2023

Leveraging Mastercard’s Compliance Rules to Drive Donor Stewardship

Recurring donations via credit card are a win-win for so many in the nonprofit world. For the donor, this option offers convenience and maybe even perks like miles or cash back. For your organization, recurring donations are a consistent source of income to support operations.

We’re big fans of offering this option to donors. Recent consumer protections at Mastercard remind us that convenience must go hand-in-hand with great donor stewardship. In other words, a recurring donation is not a self-cleaning oven. There is always a human being behind that credit card number who deserves to know the impact of the gift, get what they need to keep their personal affairs in order, and be offered opportunities to reconsider their gift (which hopefully leads to an increased donation!).

Mastercard’s new consumer protection requirements include consumer notifications, bill receipts, the sufficiency of consumer confirmations, and provisions for an electronic cancellation option. Most nonprofits are not required to comply with Mastercard’s consumer protection measures around recurring charges in the same way traditional businesses are. However, Mastercard recommends (and we agree) that nonprofits adopt them as best practices. We encourage this because looking out for the best interests of your donors keeps donors engaged and

giving. Also, it’s the right thing to do.

We recommend reading this piece from the National Council of Nonprofits because it provides clear steps nonprofits can take to comply with Mastercard’s standards (including some things many of our clients already do). Here are a few of our favorite habits:

  • Send an electronic thank you message every time a recurring donation is processed. Good CRM software makes this manageable.

  • Include a link that says “how to cancel your recurring donation” on your donation page on all communications related to the donation.

  • Notify donors with a less frequent recurrence (every six months to a year) a week to 10 days IN ADVANCE of their next billing date. Include the amount of the donation.

Emails related to recurring donations should always be labeled as such in the subject line so as not to be confused with marketing content. For example, the subject line might say, “Your Recurring Donation,” or “Reminder: Your Credit Card Will be Charged in 10 Days.”

Donor Stewardship is the hallmark of a successful non-profit. You can’t further your mission and serve your clientele without your donors. Mastercard’s consumer protections are an easy place to start implementing your donor-centered approach.


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