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I Called To Cancel A Monthly Donation: Here's What Happened

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Spoiler: Nothing Happened.

Other than my recurring gift getting canceled after barely a minute on the phone.

There was no “thank you for giving.”

No “may I ask why?”

No “did we do anything to upset you?”

No “would a different amount work better for you?”

I also emailed another org that I had been contributing to monthly (for over a year, like the other). I simply asked “Could you cancel my automatic contribution?” and they simply replied “Your recurring donation has been canceled, effective immediately. Thank you so much for your support!”

I’m not sure what exactly I expected from each experiment, but part of me now wishes they had fought harder to keep me.

Why This Phone Call Matters

A strong monthly giving program is a common characteristic of organizations with high donor retention rates. It’s not uncommon to see retention rates among monthly donors in the 80-90%, compared to the low-40s for one-off gifts and low-20s for first-time donors.

Despite those figures, it’s dangerous to assume that monthly donors will never end that commitment, despite your best efforts to steward them.

It’s even more dangerous not to have a plan or a script in place for instance when a monthly donor calls in or emails to cancel their recurring gift.

I asked my favorite online community – members of the Nonprofit Happy Hour Facebook group – how they handle recurring gift cancellation requests.

Do you:

  1. cancel it with no question/pushback
  2. push back somewhat gently (“sure, may I ask why?”)
  3. push back somewhat aggressively (“you’re killing the unicorns!”)
  4. propose a different amount/schedule
  5. not sure/don’t really have a policy/haven’t thought about it

Most favored starting off with a thank you followed by a gentle inquiry as to why they are canceling (with the added suggestion of a sixth option: “sob silently in a corner rocking back and forth hoping someone will hold me until the pain ends”). Another commenter recommended differentiating your approach based on your familiarity/level of relationship with the donor.

It’s possible that the canceling donor is genuinely upset with you, and not inquiring why or attempting to resolve the issue could potentially annoy them further, moving them from simply not contributing financially to publicly disparaging you. Donors with complaints have been shown to have higher retention rates than those who don’t complain, and not surprisingly having those complaints resolved further increases their loyalty.

Regardless of what your approach is, it seems that having some kind of approach can at least help you turn an awkward conversation into a stewardship opportunity.

What about you? Do you have a documented policy for handling inbound recurring gift cancellation requests? Share your experience with your nonprofit in the comments below.

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  • Alfredo calzadilla

    I want to cancel my donation to Vivek 2024
  • Michelle Livanos

    These are good suggestions. I always said in response, Thank you so much for your past support. It was very meaningful, and then I would usually get a why, which was usually a job change or loss. But yes, I like the suggestions given - thanks!
  • Kristen Hay

    You'll have to call the organization to cancel the donation.
  • Rosa D Rodriguez

    I want to cancel my monthly donation for ACTBLUE DONATETODEM POBOX 441146 SOMERV1 .I can not afford to donate for no more months. Need to stop before the month of December 2022. Please help me.
  • Mahehswaran

    Good points, Richard Freedlund. That's what I was trying to get at - so many of us have had horrible cancellation sagas that we want to make sure we aren't that way to others! Certainly, a few simple questions aren't bad, though. Especially if they come after you've made it clear you accept the cancellation.
  • Kristen Hay

    Hi Larry, if you need to talk to someone about your Bloomerang account, please reach out to [email protected] - thanks!
  • Noel Gilliam

    Reminds me of the time I had to cancel my mother's emergency button. They asked "Can you tell us why you want to cancel?" My response was "She has passed away." "OH" she said and hung up!
  • Larry Permenter

    I need someone to call me. I was told there was a number that I could call and I could talk to someone I’ve called and called and called and it’s always a stupid garbled message. And Life left a message after message after message if someone doesn’t call me I’m going to cancel my whole thing or just change my credit card number. I want to know how much I’m going to be giving every month if I get any every month.
  • Carole Buckeye

    If they aren't going to fight to keep you, perhaps they don't need the donations that bad.
  • Larry

    Our approach is a little different. If they've given us a reason (e.g. we have some other priorities right now), we say, "We understand. We appreciate all that you've done. And we want you to know that our relationship with you is more important than the money. Do you mind if we keep you on our email list so we can stay in touch and keep you keep up-to-date with the ministry?" Almost everyone says, "Of course, we'd like that." Many of them (perhaps 1/3) come back at a later date and become recurring donors again or at least make an occasional gift. Our philosophy is that it's always best to leave hearing a "yes" and never a "no."
  • Steven Shattuck

    Thanks, Beth!
  • Beth keough

    I like your recommendation of,having a written policy of how to handle cancellations...always had a policy of how to create, thank and engagement but no guidance for cancellation.
  • Dan Kirsch

    I think it's irresponsible of the organization - after showing gratitude - NOT to ask at least something like: "Is there anything we could have done better/differently to keep earning your loyal support?"
  • Jon Nelson

    Good points, Richard Freedlund. That's what I was trying to get at - so many of us have had horrible cancellation sagas that we want to make sure we aren't that way to others! Certainly, a few simple questions aren't bad, though. Especially if they come after you've made it clear you accept the cancellation.
  • Richard Freedlund

    Steven, Thanks for the interesting read. This issue brings me back to my customer service days. I often had to deal with customers who wished to cancel services for one reason or another. I'd always thank them and asked them some probing questions, but knew not to push too hard. You might recall a story about a Comcast customer service call that went viral because the agent went too far and long before finally ending the customer relationship. Perhaps, fear of such a viral event weighs on the minds of development assistants who answers these requests?
  • Jon Nelson

    Sure, organizations should try to keep donors, and obviously need to say thanks no matter what. But do you really want a nonprofit to fight to keep you if you're trying to cancel? Do you want charities to become the next cable and phone companies when you try to cancel a monthly service? That could backfire and cause all kinds of bad social media PR.
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