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.
- cancel it with no question/pushback
- push back somewhat gently (“sure, may I ask why?”)
- push back somewhat aggressively (“you’re killing the unicorns!”)
- propose a different amount/schedule
- 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.