The GuideStar Blog retired September 9, 2019. We invite you to visit its replacement, the Candid Blog. You’re also welcome to browse or search the GuideStar Blog archives. Onward!

GuideStar Blog

Reduce Payment Processing Costs and Build Your Sustaining Donor Roster

Circle of pastel arrows with a green dollar sign in the middleFew of us think twice when we pull out a card to pay for a shopping cart full of groceries or a plane ticket. We enjoy the cashback or miles we’ll be getting, and whatever the merchant has to pay in processing fees is of no concern to us.

But when the merchant is a charitable organization, why would anyone want it losing as much as 5 percent of our donation?

Trouble is that few people think about that when donating. Many probably don’t even know that happens. Which is why it’s so important to inform your donors about a better way to give: direct withdrawal via ACH (automated clearing house). Also known as Electronic Funds Transfer or EFT, it takes the funds directly from donors’ checking or savings accounts.

How Your Organization Can Benefit from ACH

If you get your salary or tax refund by direct deposit, or pay your mortgage and other bills online, you’re already using ACH. But you may not have thought about how it can help your organization.

Along with saving money, there’s real potential to build sustaining donors.

Research commissioned by NACHA, which administers the ACH Network, finds that donors using ACH average 8.2 donations over a 12-month period, compared to 3.5 on average by supporters using other forms of payment. Those gifts are also a lot more generous, with ACH donors giving an average $1,700—more than double the $650 average of supporters paying by credit card or check.

How do you make converts? Direct withdrawal via ACH has a triple S message to your supporters: Simplicity, Safety, Savings.


Donors provide their checking or savings account and bank routing numbers once and they’re done. Recurring donations never expire and continue unless the donor decides to stop. No checks to write. No credit cards to update.

When was the last time you changed your checking account? It’s probably been a few years. But odds are your credit/debit card numbers have changed a lot more, whether it’s because the cards expired or, all too common today, they were compromised.


Checks go in the mail first and then pass through several hands. But that’s not the case with ACH, where donors’ information is processed electronically and remains confidential. And if there’s ever any ACH charge in which you suspect fraud, you can dispute it with your financial institution, just as you would with a credit card.


More money gets put toward donors’ intended use, a message sure to resonate. Who wants to see upwards of 5 percent of their donation spent on processing fees?

Does it work? Consider the case of Capital Public Radio in Sacramento, California, a leader among public radio stations in sustaining donor dollars. More than three-quarters of CapRadio’s sustaining donors pay with ACH. And compared to people using credit and debit cards, ACH sustainers have an 18 percent greater likelihood of continuing their donations beyond the first year.

Closing Thoughts

ACH isn’t exactly a household name. But you can remind donors that they may already be using it. You might even consider creating a name for your sustaining donor direct withdrawal via ACH program. Make it meaningful to your donors and use that name in your materials so they know they are part of a special group.

NACHA has a “Building a Sustaining Donor Program with ACH” tool kit, complete with case studies, white label documents, best practices, and more. It’s available at

Michael W. Kahn is director of ACH Network communications at NACHA.

Topics: Fundraising costs Donor Retention Recurring Gifts