The saga of this blog’s PayPal ‘Donate’ button

January 2, 2012

The last day of 2011 started innocently enough. It was a weekend, and one of the last days of my Christmas/New Year break. I was pretty relaxed…

Then I got an email from PayPal with We’ve limited your PayPal account in the subject line.

Email from PayPal(My highlights: I can’t send or withdraw funds, so in effect they’ve frozen my account, though I can continue to receive payments; they *may* remove this limitation — then again, they may not!; no, my PayPal account is a validated business/merchant account, NOT a registered charity or non-profit — that statement is just plain wrong!)

I glanced through the email quickly, then went directly to the PayPal website from within my browser (I didn’t click the links in the email in case it was some sort of phishing scam).

Once I’d logged in to PayPal, the first page had this:

PayPal request for more informationSo I clicked the Update Now button and got taken to the Resolution Centre page, which had this (my highlights to show what I *can’t* do with my PayPal account):

PayPal's resolution center page

I got angry — this is MY money, and now I can’t touch it!

I went searching on Google for other instances of PayPal limiting people’s accounts and mostly found stuff about dispute resolutions over eBay payments, non-delivery of goods etc. Nothing seemed to fit my situation. So I decided to contact PayPal by phone — they are open for phone contact every day of the week except Sunday, and as this was a Saturday, I gave it a try.

I spoke to Tim in Arizona. He knew straight away what I was calling about and said it was because I’d started using a PayPal Donate button on my website (this blog) recently and that I needed to be a registered charity to do that. What the…? I couldn’t recall a single thing on the PayPal web page where you create buttons where it said you could only use the Donate button if you were a registered charity. However, I did recall a pre-Christmas incident that went viral on the internet about some stuff Regretsy.com did.

Tim agreed that the purposes for which I was using the ‘Donate’ button seemed fine (I use these small donations to pay annual WordPress fees to keep this blog free of ads, use my own CSS etc.) and he said that would’ve been what he would’ve chosen under the same circumstances. However, he said that PayPal wouldn’t lift the freeze until I’d submitted the documentation requested (things such as my Australian Business Number, Certificate of Registration for my business, letterhead giving me authority to act on behalf of my company, and two pages of information about my purposes for using the button, my expected transactions [in dollars] per month, and my company’s mission statement).

Tim also suggested that I use a different sort of button on this blog — still select  the ‘Donations’ category, but instead use my own image. I tried that, but WordPress.com blogs won’t accept FORM code and there was no email code I could use like that of the previous ‘Donate’ button.

I was also to remove the existing PayPal ‘Donate’ button from all blog posts that had it — some 68 of them (how do I know? ‘cos I spent about two hours replacing them with the old e-junkie code I’ve used for much of the life of this blog).


Five hours after receiving the email from PayPal, one phone call later, documentation filled in, scanned, and uploaded to PayPal, and 68 blog post updates later, I get a phone call from Dee at PayPal in the US to tell me that my use of the ‘Donate’ button is acceptable based on the documentation I’ve sent in, and that my PayPal account would be unfrozen in minutes. She also said she’d send a confirmation email and that I could continue using this button and that that was it as far as PayPal was concerned.

PayPal email restoring my account

Note: Nowhere in this email does it explicitly state that I can continue using this button. I only have the account reinstatement and Dee’s word in a phone conversation that I can.

So, with that, I’ll start using the PayPal ‘Donate’ button again. But this was five hours of worry and panic and phone calls and updating blog posts I could have lived without on a holiday Saturday. Plus another couple of hours changing those 68 blog posts back.

BTW, after all this, I went back into PayPal to the ‘create buttons’ area looking for information that restricts the use of the Donate button, and found NOTHING. Here’s the popup for the ‘What button should I use?’ link:

The only information on the use of the Donate button I could findAnd part of the Regretsy saga documented an email received by them from PayPal, which clearly states there is no right or wrong way to use the Donate button or the circumstances under which it can be used.

If PayPal does have restrictions on the use of some of their buttons, then they should make that absolutely clear on their website, in the place where people are going to create these buttons. There’s NOTHING there.

Update 2 January 2012: In today’s email I received a request from PayPal to complete a survey about the limitation process. So I did, and had my 2 cents’ worth to say in the only Comment field they offered. I wonder if anything will come of that.

Email request to complete a survey about the limitation process

Update 23 January 2012: Today I get ANOTHER email from PayPal limiting my account and telling me I have to submit doco again! This time I called the Australian support centre straight away (1800 073 263) and spoke to a nice man in the US (Chris) who looked my history over and said that the limitation would be lifted within 24 to 36 hours, and no, he didn’t know why I was limited again. Unbelievable.

Update 24 January 2012: Some 28+ hours after limiting my account and me making the phone call, the limitation was lifted.

See also:

[Links last checked December 2011]


  1. Wow! That’s an eye opener. I’m glad you got this resolved though it befies belief that you had to go to so much trouble to do so.

  2. Paypal are quite an evil corporation. We had a customer that sells stuff on the net, we set up their website to accept paypal payments (by their request) and after several months got a frantic call. Paypal had locked their account because they are ultimately a partnership (something that they didn’t hide at all during the registration process). So we quickly changed to using eway – and after several months of wrangling, the customer managed to get their thousands of dollars out of paypal. But since then, we have recommended against paypal to all our customers.

  3. How very horrible :-(

  4. I was doing a shoot recently for a national company based out of Perth and had to wait a few minutes while the CEO blasted the PayPal contact with what essentially became: resolve the situation on your end or we go to court. The situation was resolved, the company opened a merchant account elsewhere to process credit cards, and closed the PayPal one.

  5. Thankfully i saw something about this just before i was about to add the donate button on my site, as im a band not a business at all, and wanted a button where fans could donate to help us pay to record an album. The date is May 11th 2012 and they have still not put any onformation on their site that the donate button is primarily limited to registered charities or proffessional busineses. If anyone know where i can however get a button for the purpose i mention above, please get in touch via wearealienband@yahoo.com cheers

  6. I’ve been using Paypal very successfully over the years for business, and recently added a donation button to my personal blog. After seeing your article (and others like it), I called them directly to find out one way or another whether this is acceptable use or not, explaining that I am in no way a non-profit organization nor do I claim to be on my blog. The representative I just spoke with reassured me that my use of the donation button is perfectly acceptable—I don’t have to change the language of the “donate” button, offer any disclaimers, or do anything else differently or specially in order to use the button freely on my site.

    Still, what I do know from business payments I’ve received through them (a client’s payment was recently frozen and investigated for fraud, even though that client has made several payments to me in years past that went through unencumbered) is that Paypal uses an algorithm to flag suspicious activity on accounts, the parameters of which are unbeknownst to, well, just about everyone, as far as I can tell. So, no matter how legit your use of Paypal is, you just never know when your account activity is going to offer just the right combination of elements to set off that magical and mysterious algorithm…and cause you a good amount of frustration (to say the least) in the process. Their excuse for our potential inconvenience is “playing it safe,” ensuring that their service isn’t abused and therefore remaining available for all of us to continue to enjoy.

    After the aforementioned episode with my long-term client, I looked around at other payment solutions and decided to stay with Paypal, with the understanding that there may be times that payment is held up for a day or three, for whatever reasons their algorithm deems necessary. Truth be told, most other payment solutions hold your payments for a time anyway…maybe without the hassle/panic, but many hold your money for much longer, charge more fees, and have much more restrictive use policies (read: NO donation button unless you are a registered non-profit).

    Long story short, my advice to anyone who wants to use the Paypal donation button (or Paypal in general) would be to go ahead and do so, but allow for the possible delay of a day (or few) in access to your funds. IMHO It’s not really that big a price to pay in exchange for the opportunity to collect donations just for doing something you enjoy doing and from people you most likely wouldn’t have been able to collect those donations from otherwise.

  7. It does say you can’t use the donate button if your not a non profit…it very clearly says it when you go to create the button. I almost put it on my website until I read that..and since I am not a non profit I didn’t use it.

  8. use a buy now button instead , change image to your own donate image and modify code to allow end user to input the amount they wish to pay and remove or set shipping to zero

  9. also if you prefer to sell an actual product, just to keep paypal happy, you can simply offer an image, maybe your sites logo, and sell that as a digital download, but at which the end user decides the price they want to pay, that way they are actually purchasing something from you rather than donating so paypal can never say you are accepting donations, simply ask website viewers to help out by purchasing your logo, instead of asking for donation.

  10. I’m having same trouble with limitations. I have sent all the documents required to PayPal and have been told there is a wait of 10 days to clear the limitation. In the meantime we are trying to fill Christmas orders and cannot touch the $3000 which is increasing daily. Should I go to Consumer Affairs or Fair trading?

  11. This is for Marilyn. If you sent the require documents, call them up immediately to discuss with them and get it lifted as soon as you can. Sometimes you can speed up the process and explain to them fully your situation. Do not wait their allotted time as they can take longer then that just to get back with you.

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