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How to Maximize Your Online Donation to Charity

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Online and mobile payments have made donating to charity easier. But this convenience often comes at a price.

A transaction or processing fee may be applied if you use a credit card or a third-party service for nonprofits to make a gift. If you make a $100 donation, the charity may get less than that.

If you want to ensure that as much of your digital donation gets to your charity as possible, here’s what you need to know.

How to deliver 100% of your gift

Some payment companies have programs to pass along an online or mobile donation in full.

American Express

The credit card issuer charges a 2.25% transaction fee, subtracted from your gift, for each donation through its Members Give program. But if you have membership points, you can donate them and avoid the fee, according to the Members Give FAQ section. Charities will receive $10 for every 1,000 points you redeem. However, before you donate, check to make sure this is an optimal use of your points, which can vary in value. The issuer partners with the nonprofit JustGive to let cardholders donate online to over 1 million charities.

Discover

Discover partners with JustGive for its Discover Giving program. Discover deducts a 2.25% transaction fee from your donation for processing costs, but cardholders can use their cash back bonus to make donations with no associated fees to the charities listed on the Cashback Bonus charitable donation page.

CHECK

Although it’s less convenient, you can also send money the old-fashioned way by sending a check directly to a charity. Transaction fees won’t kick in, and you have the canceled check as your receipt.

How about Facebook?

You can also send money to charities through Facebook. The plus here is that Facebook vets the charities, though at a cost. According to Facebook’s charity giving FAQ, donations made to nonprofits that have signed up directly on Facebook’s fundraising tools incur a 5% fee — 3% for payment processing and 2% to cover expenses including the costs of vetting organizations that receive donations. That means charities get 95 cents per dollar donated.

Third-party payment methods

Here’s a look at several processing companies’ transaction costs, which typically are taken out of the gift:

Payment processorTransaction fee
Popmoney1.1% + 15 cents per transaction
PayPal*2.2% of the value + 30 cents per online transaction, for 501(c)(3) charities for most products
Square
  • 2.75% per swiped,
    dipped or tapped payment
  • 3.5% + 15 cents per manually entered transaction
Stripe2.9% + 30 cents per successful card charge

*If a donor gives to a charity listed on the PayPal Giving Fund, PayPal doesn’t charge the charity or the donor any fee.

Fundraising sites, which can feature hundreds or thousands of charities, may have their own fees. Here are some of the sites and their costs. Some sites give donors the option to cover transaction fees.

Fundraising siteTransaction fee
JustGive4.5% (plus 35 cents if donated on JustGive’s site)
Network for Good3%
BrightFunds7.5% for administrative and credit card fees
GoFundMe5% by GoFundMe platform + 2.9% + 30 cents for payment processing, for a total of 7.9% + 30 cents per donation for charity campaigns
CrowdRise2.9% + 30 cents for processing, plus a fee from 5.9% to 6.8%

Visa and Mastercard fees

Outside of third-party payment options, your main choice may be using a credit card. But not all cards have the same transaction costs. The typical 2% to 3% processing fee includes an interchange fee (a fee for processing online transactions) plus a flat fee per transaction. The major card networks Visa and Mastercard set most of these fee rates for credit cards. Their charity-related rates are as follows:

Transaction typeInterchange feeCharge on $100 donationCharge on $12 donation
Mastercard credit card (charity rate)2% + 10 cents$2.1034 cents
Visa credit card (charity rate)*1.35% + 5 cents$1.4021 cents

*For Visa Signature Preferred / Visa Infinite, Visa Signature / Visa Infinite, traditional rewards and all other products.

Data from Mastercard and Visa

Other ways to donate

Some nonprofits offer ways to donate other than plastic or a single online processor. GiveDirectly, for example, lets you use the bitcoin cryptocurrency, the social money transfer app Venmo or a direct bank account transfer using the Automated Clearing House system or wire transfers (wire fees may apply). As the company explains on its site, only donating by check, PayPal Giving Fund or ACH transfer lets you avoid credit card processing fees.

Still another way to donate to a nonprofit is by gift card, but credit card transaction fees can still apply.

Before you donate, be mindful of transaction fees to ensure that as much of your gift as possible goes to the nonprofit. Always check to see whether your employer matches employee charitable donations, increasing the impact of your contribution. And finally, check out sites like CharityNavigator to see how efficiently each charity uses the money it receives.

Spencer Tierney and Courtney Jespersen are staff writers at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: spencer@nerdwallet.com or courtney@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @SpencerNerd or @CourtneyNerd.

Updated April 19, 2017.