‘Tis the season for impulse donations

Yesterday in the Green Bay Press Gazette I saw something I had not seen before — a local charity placed an ad in the paper inviting readers to donate via a QR code.

I have a “dumb” phone, so I’ve never actually used a QR code, but for the uninitiated, QR (standing for “quick response”) codes are square barcodes that can be scanned by smart phones.  You’ve seen them, I’m sure:

Scanning the QR code takes you to text, information, a wireless network…or in this case, a site where you can quickly and securely donate to the charity.

I’ve seen several organizations use text-to-donate options, but only up until now for national charities.  For most, it goes like this: text “HAITI” (or whatever) to a number, and the cellphone provider will add $10 to your bill to donate to the charity.  Text donations have been extremely successful — an estimated $3 million reportedly was donated to the American Red Cross within 24 hours after the earthquake in Haiti.

It’s relatively easy to get a QR code – several sites including KaywaQurify and Delivr will turn a website into a QR code. The Google URL Shortener will also create a QR code file from a shortened link — just click Details to see the image file.  Setting up text donations is also a relatively simple process, requiring only the cooperation of a mobile provider.

But the question for fundraisers is, should we be using these methods to fundraise?  According to Charity Navigator, there are understandable concerns about the safety of quick donations.  Donors should still do their homework before giving, and nonprofit organizations should do everything they can to ensure the safety and privacy of donated funds.

My question, though, has to do with efficacy.  Who are the donors who use this kind of technology, and are they the kind of donors who will give to the arts?  I asked my fundraising class yesterday, and they (like me) are of mixed mind on this.  They surmised that many donations that come in via text or QR code would come from younger, tech-savvy donors, and these are people that all arts organizations covet.  But they were unsure that these donors would respond to this kind of impulse donation without the urgency and emotional tug of a situation where someone needed help right away.  Several class members thought the holidays were a good time to get donations for charities who serve the homeless and hungry – taking advantage of everyone’s natural impulse to be generous at this time of year.

Do arts organizations need to hop on the impulse donation bandwagon?  I’m not sure yet.  What I do know is that we can’t be impulsive ourselves in trying new technologies just for the sake of trying them or because they seem to be the new hot thing.  As with all fundraising, the most success will come when the campaign is strategic and meaningful.

What about you?  Have you used quick donations?  Under what circumstances would you try them?

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About Ellen Rosewall

I am Professor and Chair of Arts Management and author of Arts Management: Uniting Arts and Audiences in the 21st Century (Oxford University Press, 2013). I believe that arts and culture are undergoing a profound change in the 21st century, and I love talking with people about how we continue to bring arts to our communities and individuals give the brave new world of social media, technology and economic changes. Join the conversation!
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2 Responses to ‘Tis the season for impulse donations

  1. Betsy Tanenbaum says:

    Since you posted this, I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around the questions that you raised and consider the implications. I really love the idea of the quick, impulsive decision to donate. These are typically in the $5-10 range and we all know that a lot of a little can add up to…a lot! It helps and it may get new individuals involved. We recently hosted our Holiday Preview for our Gallery Shop, which along with fabulous handmade gifts by local artists, also includes free coffee, tea, hot cocoa and cookies made in the kitchens of our board members and I. This is far from high tech, but because of our location in the Clinic, I decided to put a free-will donation jar and sign on the food table that read “These refreshments are provided by New Visions Gallery in celebration of our annual Gallery Shop Holiday Preview. Proceeds from the event support the non-profit mission and programming of New Visions. If you do not plan to visit the Gallery today, we ask that you provide a free-will donation to the gallery…” (or something along those lines). We were surprised to find that we had to empty the donation jar halfway through the day because it was brimming over with cash. I’m not sure whether people just enjoyed the homemade treats or if they were in the holiday spirit, but pulling $10 bills out of the jar, I think there was a bit of impulse there. And the jar solved a problem from last year when patients waiting for appointments stuffed pockets full of cookies and downed 5 cups of coffee to feel like they were getting their money’s worth at the clinic….

    On the flip side, there is something very special about building relationships and a membership base for your organization. There are members at the Gallery who, despite this tough economy, reached a little deeper into their pockets this year to increase their annual donation. Why? Because they feel we are important. There is a sense of loyalty and trust that if they support us, they know that we will try that much harder to enrich the community. I think the more time we spend with digital media, the more there is a longing for personal connection…the feeling that they can contribute and know that at our next event, someone will be there to shake their hand and say “thank you, this is happening because of your support”. These donations take more work, but I think it pays off in the end. The impulse givers may not be there next year…or they may find another cause that they feel is more worthy and direct their text somewhere else…

    Maybe this is a bit too warm and fuzzy, but I think the answer is the same as so many other things in life, “everything in moderation”. A healthy mix of planned and impulse givers might be the best way to go!

    • I do agree, Betsy, that a mix of impulse and more strategic donations is a good way to go — we never want to let an opportunity go by for our loyal patrons to show their support, and everyone wants to participate in different ways. Not too long ago at a board meeting, one member announced that an artist was having trouble coming up with enough money to have a reception and immediately, all of us opened our wallets and contributed – more than $200.

      You’ve presented a good example of an “impulse opportunity,” after patrons have participated in the good that the organization does and are feeling positively toward you. We need to look for more of these!

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