January 15 2016

Image of 7.5p

Picture: Telegraph

That's the amount that, on average, visitors put in the National Gallery's donation boxes.

7.5p! What a stingy lot. 

The National tells me that the average amount raised annually from their donation boxes is £450,000. Nice - but that's from over 6m visitors a year. I do think museums in the UK (which generally are free) should be more muscular about steering visitors towards the donation boxes. But how to do it? At one extreme we have the Met in Ny with their mandatory 'voluntary' donations. While in the UK our boxes, though placed by the door, are too easy to ignore amid the hustle and bustle. Perhaps they should be moved to within the galleries themselves. And rather than say 'Please give £5', which let's face it not many people will, should we aim for a smaller target that's more likely to succeed in getting people to cough up - just £1?

Do readers have any other bright ideas?

Update - a reader writes:

Perhaps a few signs simply stating that the average donation is (an embarrassing) 7 1/2p, together with a succinct statement saying why donations are needed, would improve the takings.

Update II - another reader writes:

Given the perverse nature of human psychology, publicising that there is a very low level of donation (7.5p average per visitor) will never encourage people to donate more. They're more likely to think 'Well if they can keep this establishment going on such a low level of contributions, clearly I've been over-donating with my £2.50 in the past - I won't put in anything this time..'

However, publicising what has been donated does encourage visitors to donate more - you promote the positive behaviour you would like to see more of and lo, it happens. 

So a museum or gallery could publicise one of their favourable figures or percentages and ask all other visitors to follow suit. For example '75% of our visitors donated £1 this year - thank you to every one for their support. Be part of supporting our arts/exhibitions #every£1counts - donate just £1 today'.

Update III - a reader adds:

I would try a sign saying “THANK YOU. Your donation helps to keep this museum open and free”. And put a poster of a favorite painting just above the box to attract attention.

Second offer an optional one pound donation added on in the café and the bookshop.  When people are already spending a little they might add a pound.     Have vouchers conveniently available that they can hand to the cashier to add a one pound gift to their purchase. 

Finally, have “Thank You for your gift to the museum” signs in other languages such as Chinese, Arabic, Japanese. In these cultures making a gift adds face to the donor. The word gift has a materially different meaning than does donation.

Confident that none of these suggestions will be undertaken.

Update IV - another reader writes:

You make a good point — why not donation boxes in some, at least, of the galleries where we really see the art, not just at the entry?  Rather “commercial” in some eyes, I am sure, but would it really be going too far?  In addition, of course, to better, more pointed, pleas — shaming? — at the usual spots; perhaps target notices at the majority who can easily afford donations?

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