Smoothing the way forward

Some days it all feels like an uphill struggle, but if we look carefully there are many small victories incrementally smoothing our path forward, writes CCA CEO David Crosbie in Pro Bono News:


Smoothing the way forward, Pro Bono News, 19 October 2022

In Greek mythology Zeus took a dislike to the sneaky God Sisyphus who he condemned to eternally roll the same boulder up the same hill. When the boulder reached the top it would roll back down.

Sometimes our struggles to achieve change for the communities we serve have a Sisyphean quality to them.

A good example this week is seeking to reduce gambling harm and make Australia a safer place.  Even when the hard work and perseverance of some in the charities sector forces public inquiries and revelations about the failings of casino owners, the same casino owners continue to operate and profit through their associations with criminals and money laundering, not to mention the systemic exploitation of dependent gamblers.

Another example is refugee policy.  It is over two decades since Australia first established offshore prison camps, our expensive and punitive refugee policies continue to be implemented, more than 200 refugees remain indefinitely detained and many more await processing.

There are any number of issues and causes I could cite where positive progress has been slow at best, and it is easy to become disillusioned as we repeatedly press our shoulders to the boulder.

This sense of ongoing struggle is why it is so important to celebrate the wins we do achieve, the small gains we make along the way. Often these small wins are instructive, but just as importantly, they provide hope and belief in the value of our efforts.

This week the heads of peak bodies representing charities around the world achieved what initially seemed like an unlikely victory that will save millions of dollars in fundraising revenue.  Those involved included the CEOs of Imagine Canada, the National Council of NonProfits in the US, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations in the UK, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action, CCA and others.

The same global collaborative efforts were mirrored in Australia led by the CEOs of the Australian Council for International Development (Marc Purcell), the Fundraising Institute of Australia (Katherine Raskob), the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association (Peter Hills-Jones), CCA and others.

The issue was a new policy from Mastercard Global requiring all regular payments and subscriptions (including monthly donations to charities) to have separate individual authorisations and appropriate processes to enable each contribution to be confirmed.  The policy was initiated in some larger countries in Asia where payment systems were restructured to help prevent fraud and protect customers from making payments they had not authorised.

Analysis from peak bodies indicates there are over 2.5 million donations made in Australia each year on Mastercard, and well in excess of $100 million of these payments are made using regular monthly giving programs.  If each individual transaction had to be authorised by the customer, it would not only be an enormous administrative burden, but the additional need to re-confirm the giving commitment each month in writing, rather than annually, would probably lead to higher levels of people dropping out of giving programs. It is important to note that fundraising principles already require all charities to confirm payments, issue receipts and provide easily accessible opt-out options for those no longer wanting to make a donation.

The early meetings with Mastercard in the US and Canada were not very positive.  Mastercard were not willing to review the policy or to offer any form of carve out for charities. After several further meetings and correspondence, Mastercard eventually agreed to delay implementation of the new policy until early 2023 – it was due to start at the end of September 2022.

The Australian peaks met with Mastercard Australasia (includes New Zealand) in mid-September. Unlike our international colleagues, we found the Mastercard Australasia President Richard Wormald and his staff interested in our views and prepared to reconsider policies that might have a detrimental impact on the level of charitable donations. Wormald and his team also indicated they would be prepared to engage in the Mastercard global consultations on the policy.

Within a few days we received written confirmation that Mastercard were actively reviewing the requirement for separate authorisations in writing of monthly donations to charities. This week Mastercard have confirmed their new global policy:

For charities/NFPs, the following items are now “recommended best practices” and will only be “required” if merchants are captured by Mastercard’s excessive chargeback programs: 

  • Disclose the subscription terms when the cardholder makes a payment
  • Provide a subscription order confirmation by email or other electronic communication following payment
  • Provide a transaction receipt after each billing event by email or other electronic communication
  • Provide an electronic cancellation method that is easily accessible online
  • For subscription frequencies of six months or more, provide an electronic reminder prior to the billing date.

The key point in this policy is that only charities where there have been a number of chargeback claims (where Mastercard is asked to reimburse a customer who feels they have been wrongly charged) will be subject to these requirements. Most charities already comply with good practice, create minimal chargebacks, and will be able to continue as they currently do without making changes to their billing and receipting processes.

It is a small victory, but it is a change for the better that has saved thousands of hours of additional work and potential lost revenue to charities.  It was achieved quietly – a public campaign might have been a double-edged sword with Mastercard able to use a charity campaign against it to promote their commitment to increased security for their customers.  It was achieved through active collaboration globally and locally, and engaging directly with those we wanted to make the change. The relationships this collective advocacy fostered, and the lessons it taught us all, will make us stronger for the next issue we face.

Some days it all feels like an uphill struggle, but if we look carefully there are many small victories incrementally smoothing our path forward, even in areas like gambling reform and refugee policies.

As charities and community advocates, we are more effective when we acknowledge and celebrate our small victories, draw on what they teach us, and remember that big achievements are usually the result of many small positive changes along the way.


Read on Pro Bono News: smoothing-the-way-forward