Fundraising Platform Outage Creates GivingTuesday Crisis

UnitedWay fundraising page on MobileCause

For many nonprofits, GivingTuesday is THE Black Friday to raise funds for their organization. In 2019, U.S. online giving topped $511 million, according to the GivingTuesday Data Collaborative. Estimates of GivingTuesday for online and offline donations totaled $1.97 billion. 

So, it’s a very big deal for many organizations—large and small—that depend on donations as part of their annual budget predictions. 

And many organizations are turning to third-party online fundraising platforms to create a more seamless donation experience for supporters. Especially those with lean staff and leadership capabilities. Some utilize Facebook or GoFundMe, but for those seeking a more secure, certified experience, they may choose Kindful, Classy, Qgiv and Fundly to name a few. 

Unfortunately, for many organizations that used the platform MobileCause, its GivingTuesday outage caused challenges. And it took time to receive information about the service interruption. While the company provided updates via Twitter, starting around 11:20 a.m. ET on GivingTuesday, it released its first email statement to users hours later, after 3 p.m. ET.

Needless to say, enraged users flooded Twitter. 

Organizations and users wondered aloud how the company could recoup this significant donation time. 

And some groups used the opportunity to accept the situation with levity and quickly turned to other platforms.

Communication Plusses and Minuses

MobileCause may want to reconsider its crisis-information distribution strategy. Many users did not appreciate information being relayed through Twitter only. Users were frustrated with the lack of thorough information distribution, as they were kept guessing most of the day on whether or not the platform would hold steady. 

The company’s first email included a short apology, and a link to real-time updates, but left readers without real answers. Had it sent a message earlier, users may have been more understanding. Acknowledging there is a problem, not just on one social platform, but through all distribution platforms is important for reaching various audiences. 

This morning, MobileCause experienced an issue with our systems that caused an outage of the MobileCause app. As a company that only serves nonprofits, we know how important this day is, and that the timing of this incident was particularly challenging. We sincerely apologize for the impact this is having.

Our team is working diligently to get things back to full functionality as soon as possible. We have been posting updates on our website at:, as well as on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. We will continue doing so as we have more information.

We will be investigating the cause of this outage and introducing any necessary changes as part of our normal retrospective processes.

Once we fully investigate and understand the cause of this outage, we will follow up via email with more information.

A second email sent yesterday afternoon (Dec. 2, 2020) fared far better. The CEO wrote a letter, explained in detail what happened to the system as well as technical fixes to prevent future outages. An excerpt:

What happened? We had a bug in our code that created problems when large lists – numbering in the millions -- of mobile phone numbers were uploaded for the sending of outbound (broadcast) text messages. This bug had not previously affected performance, even at previously high volumes (such as Giving Tuesday 2019). On December 1st this bug – triggered by the millions and millions of phone numbers uploaded for text messages sent for Giving Tuesday campaigns – created a recursive overflow that caused problems in other aspects of our platform (everything except Event Pages, which loaded normally). As a result, service was severely impaired for a total of about three-and-a-half-hours.

What should have happened? We had prepared for Giving Tuesday 2020 by separating our Event Pages to a different infrastructure (AWS), thinking that Event Pages would be our biggest risk, given how incredibly popular they have been. Event Pages worked perfectly, but we were unaware of the problem in the list upload texting code. We should have reinforced each and every aspect of the MobileCause platform, not just Event Pages.

Why won’t this happen again? We are separating each component to independent infrastructures – as we have already done with Event Pages – so that if there is a problem in one aspect of the platform, it doesn’t spill over into other aspects. And we are ramping our high-volume testing to increase the likelihood that we uncover – and fix – any errors that only surface at extreme volumes.

The letter also communicated on a human level. Its first sentence said simply: “I am sorry.” The last sentence reiterated this sentiment, and also acknowledged the importance of trust. 

As I said earlier, I am sorry for these performance problems. I hope you give us a chance to re-earn your trust.

While an email cannot recoup lost donations or wipe away a day of frustration, users appreciated Mobile's more-thorough run-through over the previous day’s communications.

Lesson for nonprofits? Always have a backup donation method. Crisis lesson for MobileCause? Over communicate in an appropriately remorseful tone on every customer channel.

Nicole Schuman is a reporter for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal