Sunday, October 12, 2008

Charity Begins at Reading the Fine Print

While preparing myself for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I browsed the web site and saw a "Get Sponsored!" link. Intrigued, I clicked, and was initially pretty happy:
You can get friends and family to sponsor your novel-writing month through All proceeds from sponsorships go to NaNoWriMo's parent 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the Office of Letters and Light to pay for this year's Young Writers Program and adult main program.
Cool, right? Then I went over to to see how this sponsorship thing works, and got one page into the signup process before hitting disappointment.

Now, I've talked about online donation services in the past, and I don't want to get any more hate mail than necessary. So let me just quote part of's Terms and Conditions (my emphasis below):
Firstgiving will (i) be paid and process on-line donations (“On-Line Donations”) made by individuals or entities (“Donors”) through the Firstgiving Service; (ii) comply with the Privacy Policy in the form set forth at, (iii) hold the funds received through On-line Donations in a non-operating bank account; (iv) remit funds to the designated non-profit or by check or electronically to the bank account the On-Line Donations, less (A) a service fee of 7.50% of on-line donations collected via the Firstgiving service, (B) 3.3% for fees collected for all online event registrations processed through our system (only applies if Firstgiving’s Paid Event Registration module is used). These fees above are inclusive of all credit card processing and banking fees; these fees are subject to change at any time at the discretion of Firstgiving...
I understand that any service like this needs to charge a fee. They need to pay for web hosting, staff, credit card and bank fees, and so on. But seven and a half percent? That's more than twice what most credit card processing fees run (around 3%). That's more than the sales tax in some states. Maybe it really is the least they can charge and still get by as a business. But knowing that only $18.50 of a $20 donation will actually make it to the charity still rubs me the wrong way.

So please, if you're thinking of giving any money to NaNoWriMo, just write them a check. It'll only cost you a postage stamp and an envelope, and they'll get every cent of what you donate. And don't forget, it's tax deductible.


1 comment:

LC said...

Went to FirstGiving's site and was surprised at how much traction they have. Surprised because PayPal HAS a Donation button feature and they charge between 1.9% and 2.9% +$0.30 per transaction (and that's if you don't qualify for the micropayments schedule). But I think FG probably survives because (1) they create a page for you to track all the funds, much like those pages that Team in Training participants put up, and (2) they push the angle hard on "We're fundraisers and activitists too" -- many non-profits are more relationship/trust-based, and they'd be more likely to trust "one of their own." BTW, they are fairly transparent about their fee. On their AboutUs page (, they spell it out.

Still, that fee is really really high. I'm still surprised.