Checks: A little old-fashioned, but still the best way to make a donation

Q: I generally write checks to charity instead of paying with a credit card, because I have wanted to save the charity the credit-card fees. But does it cost more for the charity to process and deposit the check than it would if I gave them my card number? Do the costs increase or decrease with an online donation?
J.A., via e-mail

A: The vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of nonprofits in the US are small local charities. Some don't take credit cards because, as you figured out, there is a cost to set up and process the charges.

These fees can run up to 5 percent of the amount charged, depending on volume, says Glenn Kautt, a certified financial planner in McLean, Va. Besides, handing a check to small nonprofits such as a neighborhood volunteer fire department is easy since they are generally in personal contact with donors.

On the other hand, national charities usually take credit cards. Many of these nonprofits rely on national mailing campaigns or telethons, hoping to get people to pay immediately as the urge strikes. For them, says Mr. Kautt, credit cards are a necessity and they build the fees into their overall budget.

Ultimately, paying with a check is almost always better for the charity. As for online donations, they're generally made with credit cards, so it's pretty hard to escape the fee that comes with using plastic. Of course, you might ask a nonprofit which method it prefers.

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