'Administrative Error' Causes Charity to Take 100 Times More Than Donors Pledged
Concern Worldwide, a humanitarian aid organization based in the U.K., was in scramble mode last week after it mistakenly charged 25,000 monthly donors 100 times their normal giving amounts.
The charity didn't provide dollar figures, but some quick math reveals a multimillion-dollar mistake. If each donor pledged $52 a month—the amount Network for Good cites as the average recurring monthly donation—that total would be an astronomical $130 million, with each donor's bank account hit for $5,200. Even if each donor had pledged $1, the total would still be $2.5 million.
In a post to its website, the charity took full responsibility for the mistake, calling it an "administrative error," and offering instructions and updates for affected donors. It also outlined its plan to notify supporters and issue refunds. Via the site:
As an immediate priority, Concern Worldwide is using all possible methods to contact our affected supporters—by email, by post, by telephone and through social media—to alert them to this error and to reassure them they will be completely refunded. We are contacting supporters using all the data we have, so it is possible some supporters may be contacted multiple times as a result of our efforts to ensure everyone is communicated with as quickly as possible.
We are working closely with the banks to expedite the process of identifying affected supporters and processing refunds.
Complicating matters, though, was a U.K. bank holiday that delayed communication between Concern Worldwide and the banks, and made it impossible to reverse the transactions. Adding to the confusion, the charity initially said donors should contact their banks to reverse the charges, but later said refunds would happen automatically.
By May 5, the majority of donors had received their refunds. But it had been almost a week since the debiting error, and many donors had incurred overdraft charges or reported difficulties paying bills with their accounts drained. Concern Worldwide assured donors their financial information was secure and said it would refund all bank charges.
Concern Worldwide handled the situation admirably. It acted quickly, contacting affected donors and working around the clock on a plan to issue refunds. It apologized profusely, individually responding to donors on social media and updating its website with information as it became available. And it willingly took a potential hit to its finances.
"We are aware that a number of donors may receive a refund twice," the charity wrote. "This is because of timing issues in getting information back from the banks regarding which accounts had already been corrected. We knew this information would not be available until May 5, but decided that our priority was to get the money back in your account and therefore accepted that there would be some double refunds."
But the damage was done:
@Concern absolutely not on - an admin error causing a £400 direct debit from my account? To save future issues I will no longer be donating
— Hannah Boulton (@HannahLBoulton) May 3, 2016
— Sarah McDonald (@Skillexx) May 3, 2016
These were monthly donors whose credit cards were on file with Concern Worldwide. Even if their personal information wasn't compromised, there's still a breach of trust and additional hassle. It's no surprise that some donors would feel uncomfortable continuing their support.
How will the charity bounce back—and how many more donors will it lose?
“We are conducting a full investigation into this matter and want to reassure the public that we are putting robust measures in place to make sure this does not happen again," U.K. executive director Rose Caldwell told The Guardian. "Without the support of our donors, Concern would not be able to deliver its life-saving humanitarian work to vulnerable people worldwide.”