Cost/benefit of monthly donations

iNaturalist seems to have a strong preference for monthly donations.

I used to make an annual donation to iNat, more recently I have switched to regular quarterly donations. I know wonder if there are any real benefits to making monthly donations.
I’m unsure of any benefits of monthly donations over quarterly,
the costs are increased transaction fees (particularly for non-US donors) and I am reluctant to add to the banks’ profit margins.
What arguments might change my mind?


So, I’m not completely sure, but there are some things that other sites have mentioned on the values of recurring donations. I’m super happy to be a recurring donor because I think it allows iNat to do more of a year-long plan rather than just a “hope we get some before the end of year.”
There’s also evidence to show that recurring donors give more – this is probably more of a statistical truth rather than a philanthropic value.
Here’s a site that talks about some of the other values of recurring donations:
Reasons To Invest In Monthly Recurring Donations | Classy


I’m with you. I think if there are increased costs associated with monthly giving, I would avoid it myself. I personally have a specific budget for charity each year and prefer to do it in one time gifts across the board, so I’m not going to try to change your mind! I’m sure that there are other people for whom giving monthly works better. That said, I understand why it makes sense from the non-profit’s perspective on average.

I think that all non-profits prefer to have monthly donations (even if they are losing a little more to transaction fees) for consistent budgeting. That said, there are also the benefits to the non-profit (or any company) of having folks on what is essentially a subscription service: Donors are less likely to forget to donate with autopay. They are also more likely to not cancel - the payments may continue until the card expires. Monthly payments also look smaller, which means that donors may end up giving more over the year.

I would guess (but don’t know for sure) that in general those benefits to the non-profit outweigh the slightly higher costs of the transaction fees.

One way to keep losses to fees low is looking into direct debits from a bank account or similar.


This is one of those issues I’m torn on.

On the one hand, as an individual, I hate recurring charges and such and vastly prefer making a simple one-time transaction.

On the other hand, I’m the director of a biodiversity conservation NGO and to operate an organization like this (or any other business), you really have to know exactly what finances you can count on and at what frequency if you’re going to be making any plans to keep operating, or, ideally, expanding what you’re doing.

In my opinion you’re kind of asking two different questions here, and the answers are different depending on what side you’re looking at. Cost/Benefit to the donor, and Cost/Benefit to the recipient.

For the donor a simple one-time charge is better and easier.

For the recipient the steady ongoing funding is better and more reliable.

Also, the ongoing arrangement can often wind up netting more money per year than the individual donation. Most people can handle $20=50/month but may balk at $240-600 at once. That’s good for the organization, but not necessarily good for the individual.


As a not-famous artist who relies on seasonal events, most of the year I don’t have extra funds, so monthly is not even an option.


Employer-matching donations are difficult to arrange if donations are monthly.


Financially strong nonprofits rely on diverse income streams which can be roughly categorized as donations, grants, and program/sales revenue. A steady, predictable donation stream (i.e. monthly donations per the comments above) means that partnership and development staff can spend more time on the other streams.

In general, most development directors want donors to feel good about their donations. If your donation is tainted with resentment towards the banks, that primes you to stop donating, perhaps for reasons unrelated to iNat at all. I think you should do whatever you can to minimize the cost to you while maximizing the benefit to iNat. It might be worth (re)checking into the various donations options (Google Pay, Paypal, Venmo, Credit/Debit Card, Bank Transfer) to see which offers the best option, especially internationally.

Tagging @carrieseltzer to provide any insights on facilitating international donations to iNat.


Good question, I should prefer not to make monthly donations because of the costs.

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…resentment towards the recipient for begging more and more money all the time ?

Indeed, iNat* has fixed this issue for me, but I ~regretfully~ have pulled back donating to many organizations I would prefer to support.

Why? Because making a donation usually triggers escalating appeals for more funds.

Nope, I do not want my inbox flooded with weekly+ begs even from organizations I hold in high esteem. If I make a donation to an NGO and start getting flooded with further appeals, I will write and explain how that seems unkind to me. If the NGO persists in frequently asking for more money, I write again and advise I will block further emails from them and avoid further contributions. It’s sad, but I have indeed pulled the plug on some otherwise admirable institutions.

*I found INaturalist to be quite responsive when I expressed my POI about over-solicitation, so kudos, iNat.


I also find this frustrating (and am happy that iNat was responsive in your case). The emails don’t bother me as much (since I can usually unsubscribe and I’ve had good luck with doing so). It’s the physical mail that gets me, since it costs some money to send (email does too, but a lot less) and takes up resources. I’ve stopped donating to some charities because of the incessant string of mailed appeals that they send and I just feel like anything I would donate is going to be invested in more mail!

That said, I am sure that many non-profits have “done the math” and figured that, on average, their mailings (both physical and virtual) bring in more money than they cost. But if you’re someone that has planned giving and the mailings aren’t going to impact that, it’s pretty frustrating/discouraging at times.


It’s an axiom in fundraising that your most likely donor is someone who has already given. It’s much easier (and cheaper) to maintain givers than to recruit new ones… I would hope that the industry research is updated to find the just right frequency of appeals, not too often that they annoy people and turn them off and not too infrequent that their charity falls off the donors’ radar.


Most of the organizations I give to are pretty good about not making too many appeals, but oh gosh, Giving Tuesday just went ON and ON and ON! I got two appeals from one organization in 7 hours!


Exactly! I’m sad when my contribution became a net deficit after they mailed full-color broadsheets and magazines - multiple times. :exploding_head:

Sad, just sad


instead of trying to figure out a schedule for more frequent gifts, why not go the other way? figure out how much you would give iNat the rest of your life, figure the present value, and just give them that right now in one lump sum, and ask them to put it into an endowment fund.

the AUD is near a 10-year low vs USD, and it’s just going to keep going lower right?

even though the Moore Foundation is tripling monthly, quarterly, and monthly gifts, that tripling only applies to the current period’s gift, right?

so if you can double a big one-time gift instead that’s the biggest impact you can make right now, i think.


I keep separate email accounts for activities that are likely to generate spam.

One for that sort of online activity, one for personal emails, one non-work related professional email, my work email, one for listserves and mailing lists, and another tied to my sadly neglected nature blog, all told, 4 primary ones, plus two side ones.

It sounds complicated, but it’s vastly easier than having all that go into one email and clogging it up.

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It’s the same reason why Microsoft and Adobe want to charge monthly for software subscriptions, instead of periodically requesting new licenses.

A) It smooths out the cash flow. It is always easier to manage an organization if you can set a budget and reliably fund it.

B) Scheduled monthly payments persist indefinitely. The customer/donor has to manually shut them off (or change credit cards).


Some organizations offer a “Lifetime Membership” that works this way. Give them a lot more money now, and you never have to give them money again to remain a “member” (whatever that means with that organization). I’m a lifetime member of two New York state regional organizations.

Off the top of my head, I can think of two limitations on this strategy:

  1. You have to have the funds on hand. That’s a privileged position to be in, and not an option accessible to most people.
  2. If the organization does not offer a Lifetime arrangement, after the year in which you contributed, you’re no longer a donor, member, or whatever applies.

i’m not sure why nonprofits would want to offer lifetime memberships. that doesn’t make any sense to me financially, but maybe it works as a marketing or PR thing for the benefit of folks who like having some sort of honorific badge or token.

what i’m talking about is setting up an endowment that, if invested reasonably, should provide a steady stream of income in perpetuity. for any nonprofit organization that has some sort of asset that needs to be maintained indefinitely – such as a trove of data – it makes sense to me that they should make an effort to set up an endowment that will provide some minimum level of sustenance just in case other funding sources dry up.

it’s just a nice complement to a broad base of donors who are giving on a regular schedule.

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Others have mentioned that NPO’s find it easier to budget knowing they have a more steady stream of income. After time, while some monthly donations might come and go, you do have a sense of average monthly income that you can use in budgeting.

Another element of this is that automatic monthly donations require an active decision by the donor to stop. Versus just forgetting to donate. I usually donate the most at the end of the fiscal/calendar year for the donation credit in the year just finishing. It’s become a bit of a New Year’s Eve Day tradition, like the Christmas Bird Count the next day. Last year I was away over this period and completely forgot to donate. In a few cases I did donate when I got back in January but for some of the groups I donate to - I didn’t. I’ll donate to them at the end of this year. If I had been an automatic monthly donor then that would not have happened.

I would be curious to know what banking fees people pay. If I donate to a charity or pay a business via internet transfer, I don’t pay anything more. I pay my monthly banking fees but there is no individual transaction fees for internet transfer. I can set it up to make regular monthly payments on line and there are no separate fees for that.

What does irk me a little is when I’m asked by some third party group to cover their charge to process the donation. I understand they need to be paid but it’s often a % of the donation instead of a set amount. It costs the same to process a $20 donation and a $500 donation - just charge me a set fee. Some do.

Lastly while I did just donate to iNaturalist, I don’t know if I will much in the future. While they pride themselves on accepting over 40 different currencies, the donations are only tax deductible in the USA. Fortunately I have some American friends who can use my charitable deduction but the majority of my donations will go towards similar Canadian organizations for which I can claim the deduction. On retirement income every saving helps.


Worse, donating to one charity then brings in a flood of appeals from other, similar charities. That makes me want to never donate to anyone, ever.