Skip to main content
Recurring donation processing

Understand the nuts-and-bolts of how recurring payment plans are processed-by and managed-in NationBuilder

Updated over a week ago

How a recurring donation is processed

You can accept monthly donations from your donors through your website. These transactions must be handled by a payment processor that supports recurring subscriptions, and each processor handles recurring subscriptions slightly differently.

📌 Note: Third-party payment processors are only available to accounts created before January 2019, and to those outside the support area for native processing

If you are using a third-party payment processor, you can give your donors the option to pay in installments. Installments are processed like monthly payments, but have a set end date. All existing installment plans in your database are listed under Finances > More > Installment plans

If you own multiple nations, we do not recommend using the same third-party payment processor across accounts. If you do so, you risk tracking all recurring payments (regardless of origin) in every account. Further, if you have existing subscription payments in your PayPal account specifically, it is expected that upcoming payments will be integrated into NationBuilder. By contrast, you can safely enable NationBuilder’s integrated payment processing in multiple nations without fear of crossover.

NationBuilder payment processing

NationBuilder securely sends credit card information to our payment service provider for validation. Once the transaction is successfully validated, the donor’s credit card is charged for the initial payment. The same amount of the initial payment is charged to the donor’s credit card on a monthly basis starting on the date of the initial payment. An autoresponse receipt can be sent to the donor for each recurring payment (based off of the donation page settings).

Third-party payment processing

PayPal Express validates and charges the donor's credit card for the initial payment before attempting to set up recurring payments. Even though these actions are completed separately, both the initial payment and subsequent payments will be included as part of the recurring subscription in your records on PayPal and within your control panel. Remember that a donor must complete her monthly donation on PayPal's website when using PayPal Express.

With PayPal Payflow Pro and, your nation communicates twice to set up a monthly donation. First, we ask the processor to authorize the initial payment. When we receive a successful response, we ask the processor to setup a recurring subscription and charge the initial payment.

Keep in mind that the transactions are handled differently by each provider after the initial payment is communicated from your control panel. does not associate the initial payment as part of the recurring subscription. Therefore, if you login to and look up a particular monthly donation, the initial payment will not be listed. Instead, it will be listed as a separate transaction.

On the other hand, using PayPal Payflow Pro, the initial payment and subsequent payments will be listed as part of the monthly donation both on PayPal's website and in your control panel. Within your nation's control panel, all payments will be listed as part of the monthly donation.

When a recurring donation is charged

A recurring donation has an “active” status when a payment processor is actively charging the donor on a monthly basis. The donor is automatically billed by your payment processor on the the same day every month. This is determined by the day the initial payment was processed in your nation. If the date falls on a weekend or holiday, the charge will be processed on the next business day.

You cannot modify the date in your control panel, as the transactions are handled by your payment processor. If you need to modify the timing or amount of recurring donation, you will need to cancel all future donations in the series and start a new recurring donation.

Recurring donation status

In the Finances dashboard, you can filter for if a recurring donation is active, completed, or canceled.

All monthly plans are listed under Finances > More > Monthly plans. The status of each recurring donation will be included in these listings. The status will be either pending, active, or canceled.

  • Pending (third-party processors only): Pending is the default status when a recurring donation is created. If this status persists, it means the first donation attempt in the series resulted in a failure.

  • Active: When a recurring series is actively being processed, the status will be active.

  • Failing (NationBuilder Payments only): When the most recent donation in an active recurring series fails, the status will be failing. The status will return to active if an attempt to process the charge succeeds, or switch to a failed status if 5 attempts fail consecutively.

  • Failed: When the maximum number of retry attempts (varies by processor) on a payment method have failed, the status will be failed. No future charges will be made to a recurring donation with a failed status.

  • Canceled: A series is considered "canceled" when no further attempts to process charges will be made. Unless the series was canceled due to failures, the status will be listed as canceled.

Recurring donation data for third-party processors is placed in the queue to be updated every night at 9pm UTC. Recurring donation information for NationBuilder Payments is updated in real-time.

Notification when a recurring payment happens

When a monthly donation or installment plan is created, an initial payment is charged to the donor's credit card. Then, the recurring donation is activated. The next bill date will be the same date of the following month.

NationBuilder payment processing

Your donors’ profiles will be automatically updated when a payment has occurred, and track whether the donation is part of an existing recurring series or the start of a new one.

If no existing profile exists in your database with the information your donor has provided, a new profile will be created.

Third-party payment processing 

Your payment processor will send a notification to NationBuilder when the next payment occurs. sends a silent post URL, whereas PayPal requires IPN integration. NationBuilder recognizes the transaction as part of a particular recurring donation by matching the payment profile ID. Usually, this process creates a payment transaction on an existing recurring donation in your nation.

If a recurring donation doesn't exist in your nation with that particular payment profile ID, a new recurring donation will be created on the donor’s profile.

If no existing profile exists in your database with the information the donor has provided, a new profile will be created.

For example, you can sort for Donations that occurred in the last 30 days.

In the Finances section, transaction filter criteria include:

  • Transaction date is within last month

  • Donation type = Monthly 

Using these criteria, you can find all recurring donations within the last month.

Updating credit card information on a recurring donation

You may want to update credit card information when the card attached to a monthly donation expires. NationBuilder’s integrated payment processing automatically updates credit cards when they expire, but if you are using a third-party processor, you can update the card on file via the payment processor’s dashboard. Your payment processor’s customer service and online help articles should be able to guide you through this process.

Changing details of a recurring donation

Within your nation, you can update the payment method or billing address associated with an active or failing recurring donation. Once a series has failed or been canceled, no further transactions can be processed through it.

To update the payment method or billing address of a series:

  1. Go to the Finances section of the donor's profile

  2. Click Recurring

  3. Hover over the series you want to modify, and click Edit

  4. Click on the "Payment method" tab

  5. To update the credit card, click the checkbox labeled, "Select to change payment method". This will open a credit card field where you can enter new credit card data.

  6. To update the billing address, simply modify the billing address details of the form.

  7. The billing address displayed will reflect the address on file for that charge, and will not necessarily be the same address on file for the signup under Location > Billing.

    To store the new credit card address information as the signup's Billing address. leave the "Apply changes..." checkbox checked.

  8. Click the button to Save settings for future donations to apply the credit card and/or billing address changes to the series going forward.

If you want to change the amount of a recurring contribution, you will need to first cancel the recurring donation. Then, your donor can re-add their credit card details through the front-facing site. This means there will be two separate recurring subscriptions for the donor: one in canceled status and another in active status. The new recurring donation will start on the day it is created in your nation rather than continuing on the date of the original recurring donation.

Encourage your donors to update their own payment method details

If you enable the supporter portal for your nation, donors will be able to use their website login information to see their active recurring donations and update their card and billing address details.

By default, recurring donors will see a link to your nation's portal (once you've enabled it) in the autoresponse email they receive following each donation.

How to cancel monthly donations

The best way to cancel an active recurring subscription is within your nation. This works seamlessly for NationBuilder’s integrated payment processing. For third party processors, you can cancel an active recurring subscription within your control panel in most cases.

Cancel future payments within your nation

Go to the donor's profile in the People section of your control panel.

To cancel future monthly donations, from Finances > More > Recurring plans, hover over and click Edit next to the active monthly donation you wish to cancel.

This will take you to the dashboard of the recurring donation. Click on the Settings tab.

Click the Cancel future donations button.

Allow your donors to cancel their own payments

If you enable the supporter portal for your nation and enable the setting to allow donors to self-serve cancelation requests, donors will be able to use their website login information to see their active recurring donations and cancel future payments.

By default, recurring donors will see a link to your nation's portal (once you've enabled it) in the autoresponse email they receive following each donation.

Modifying recurring payments

You are not able to modify the amount of someone’s monthly donation from within your control panel. If one of your donors would like to increase or reduce the amount of their monthly donation, you will will need to cancel their current monthly series from within the control panel and request that they start a new monthly payment at their desired amount from your website.

You can also start a new donation on their behalf through the control panel.

Donors cannot cancel their own monthly payments through your website, so make sure that you provide a way for your donors to contact you about their contributions!

Cancel on your payment processor's website only if you cannot complete the cancellation on NationBuilder

If you cannot see the button to cancel future donations as described above, you can cancel it on your third-party payment processor's website. This method is less ideal as it may cause a discrepancy between the transactions expected on each platform.

First, log into your payment processor's website and find a monthly donation or installment plan using a recurring subscription ID (found in the “Attempted transactions for this donation” section of the donation). In the detail page for the subscription, you should see the option to suspend or cancel it. Please contact your payment processor's customer service for step-by-step instructions.

Keep in mind, when you cancel a monthly donation or installment plan using a third-party payment processor, there may be data inconsistency between your nation and the payment processor. The status will be consistent within 24 hours if you cancel a subscription on or PayPal Express Checkout.

Automatically updating the status is not supported by PayPal Payflow Pro. Please contact [email protected] for help updating your nation's data if you cancel directly on PayPal Payflow Pro.

Payment profile ID

A payment profile ID is a unique identifier used to recognize a monthly donation or installment plan. This ID is generated by the payment processor when your nation submits a recurring subscription request. It is only generated if the payment processor successfully establishes a recurring subscription. It may be called a subscription ID or a profile ID by a particular payment processor.

Your control panel stores this ID as "payment_profile_id" on the recurring donation and marks it as active. This ID is required to determine which monthly payment is associated to which recurring donation in your nation's database.

Migrate Recurring donation from another platform to NationBuilder

Did you know you can seamlessly transition your recurring donations from third-party payment processors to NationBuilder Payments? This is a service NationBuilder offers, to learn more please read more.

Did this answer your question?