FYI Blog

Are Declined Credit Cards Shrinking Your Sustainer Program?

Are declined credit cards chipping away at your sustainer program? This recent trend may have to do with the Target data breach at the end of 2013 – because many banks are automatically issuing new credit and debit cards to customers whose accounts may have been compromised by the breach. And those customers don’t always remember to update automatic payments like their sustainer commitments.


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Unfortunately, the only declines you can anticipate are credit card expires, so you must have a system in place to follow up immediately. Even one month of a lapsed decline can mean a big deficit in your sustainer program. We recommend telephoning monthly donors whose cards have been declined, in order to update credit card numbers in your system as soon as possible. In addition, follow up with any donors you can’t reach by phone – send them a brief letter with a form to fill out and a stamped reply envelope. Assign a staff person to implement a monthly process for handling declined cards and anticipating expires.


Another option is to use a credit card processor with a recovery program. In short, the processor reaches out to credit card companies and automatically updates card numbers and expiration dates as needed. In this way, the organizations never miss a payment.

The downside of recovery programs is that you miss an opportunity to cultivate and upgrade your sustainers when contacting them to update their expiration dates and/or card numbers. And, of course, the credit card processor charges a fee for this work. We recommend that each organization run the numbers and see if it’s worth it to stem sustainer attrition in this way. 

Avalon encourages our clients to implement a proactive system for updating credit cards before they expire. For more on this and other ways to manage and engage your sustainers, see my previous blog on
sustainer stewardship.