4 Tips to Keep Your Recurring Gifts Recurring

Ian Gruber - 06.26.2009 Follow me on Twitter

There are few online vehicles better than recurring gifts for donors to show their appreciation and ongoing commitment to your organization. Not surprisingly recurring gifts are also one of only a few ways to secure ongoing sustaining support from your online donors. 

Unfortunately, there are many ways that Murphy’s Law can conspire against you, your donors, and their recurring gifts.  To name a few:

  1. Credit Card Expiration Dates- Every credit card naturally expires on some date in the not so distant future. When credit cards expire recurring gift payments fail.
  2. Lost or Stolen Credit Cards- When credit cards are lost or stolen, your donors will cancel their existing cards and be re-issued new cards by their credit card company. When cards are canceled recurring gift payments will fail.
  3. Over Credit Card Authorization Limit- Credit cards are meant to be used, but if your donor is over their credit limit when their recurring gift is processed the transaction will fail. In this case future payments will still succeed as long as the donor reduces their credit balance by the next scheduled payment.


Recurring Gifts Facts

There are about 900 Sphere customers currently using recurring gifts.

There are over 40,000 recurring gifts processed by Sphere annually.

There are over 120,000 recurring payments processed by Sphere annually.

Approximately 13.69% of these gifts will fail based on historical data.



Fear not, there are a few easy things that you can consider to more effectively recapture recurring gifts that are failed.

  1. Measure the problem- Before hysteria sets in take a few minutes and understand the scope of the problem for your organization. Run a couple reports to see how many failures you are currently receiving.
  2. Set a game plan- What is the operational process that your organization currently has for expiring recurring gifts? Are you going to proactively contact donors? If donors want to contact you, who should they reach out to?
  3. Implement the plan- Recurring gifts processed should automatically send confirmations for successful payments and notifications for failed payments. Below are a couple things to keep in mind when customizing your communication.
    • Branding- I recommend that you update your failed notification email to match your organization’s branding.  This will make your notification appear more formal and less like a phishing scam, which will increase the likelihood that a donor takes action when they receive the email
    • Workflow- Make sure you are extremely clear about the process you or your donor should engage in to get the gift up and running again. Do you want them to call you? What phone number should they call? Do you want them to go online and donate again? Shouldn’t you include a link directly to the form that you want the donor to use to maximize their convenience? If you want to proactively contact the donor, you can bcc yourself on notifications.  This will allow you to easily reply and start a personal conversation with your donor.
  4. Be more proactive- It is possible that your donor’s email address has changed as well as their credit card. You might want to consider requiring your donor’s phone number on recurring gift donation forms so that you have other methods to contact your donor if Murphy’s Law strikes. If you are concerned with having too many required fields on your donation form, it may be worthwhile to separate single donations and recurring gifts into separate forms. 


Execution Tips for Blackbaud Sphere Customers

Measure the Problem

Use the Activity Summary Report (Control > Reports > People > Activity Summary report) and drill into the “Failed Transaction” category. Here you can quickly see a list of donors that have failed transactions across your entire Sphere Account. 

Measure the Problem

You can use the Pending Scheduled payments area of Bookkeeping, the filter on “All Failed” to see a list of failed payments for a single form.

Implement the Plan

Out of the box Sphere sends a plain, but very informative email to donors whose transactions have failed.

Implement the plan

You can create a custom notifications (Control > Administration > Tools > Confirmation Library) for failed transactions.


With a couple small tweaks you will be well on your way to making sure your recurring gifts keep recurring. What is your plan for when recurring gifts fail? Take a second and share your practice with others by leaving a comment below.

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