The Power of Suggested Donations


By Brandi Savitt – September 29, 2011

The Price Tag of Paying It Forward

Have you ever been to an event, your place of worship, or even a museum where you’ve been asked for a “suggested donation” that you can’t or don’t want to pay?  This week we’ve had two friends share donation stories that left us thinking… When giving to a cause, does feeling more pressure up your ante — or crush your giving spirit?

Samantha’s Montessori Story

Last week Samantha’s son started first grade in a renowned Montessori school in Chicago.  Tuition is far from cheap, but Sam and her husband feel that this school is the right place for their little guy.  Entering the private school scene, Sam expected there to be a couple fundraisers and donation drives throughout the year to help supplement the growing school.  But as she sat in parent orientation, Sam was shocked when she was handed a slip of paper that said: SUGGESTED DONATION PER FAMILY: $2,000!  Didn’t she just pay a tuition bill?

Sam was not alone in her reaction, but many parents felt pressured to pay so the school didn’t look down upon them and their kids.  Sam didn’t know what to do.  Isn’t a suggested donation just that – a suggestion?  If the school couldn’t function without the extra funds, shouldn’t they raise the cost of tuition?  Or they could at least more politely state the fundraising goals of the school for the year, so parents and kids could plan events and have something to strive for during the school year?

In the end, Sam and her husband gave the school another $300…And even though that was a stretch for their family, she confided in us that she felt cheap for not being able to give the “suggested” amount of $2,000!

Colleen’s Museum Mayhem

Last week, Colleen took her grandmother and four nieces and nephews to Boston’s Museum of Fine Art to see the Chihuly Exhibit.  Every Wednesday evening, the museum opens their doors for free to encourage local patrons to enjoy the arts – no matter their income – and this week it seemed like everyone in Boston came out for a little art and culture.  However, on free Wednesdays, the museum still suggests art lovers donate $17 (the cost of regular admission) to enter, even though it is not required.

After waiting 2 hours in line, Colleen (who was on crutches) and her family were just about to be let in when the museum closed the the Chihuly exhibit for the night because it was at capacity.  However, then museum employees came out to work the crowd and get people to pay to become members of the museum.  If they paid, they’d get into the exhibit.  At that point, many people took out their credit cards and paid the suggested donation to get in the door.   Colleen was outraged and decided that she will not be renewing her membership next year!

Feeling Bullied to Give

Giving to charity is a generous and honorable act.  Those who can afford to give typically budget for the amount they want to donate each year.  However, often times the organizations we love to support make us feel like we can’t do enough – even if we can’t afford to give more.  And when it comes to our kids, the peer pressure of what other parents donate really can weigh on your conscience – rational or not.

| Print

Pages: 1 2

6 Responses to “The Power of Suggested Donations”

  1. Betsy says:

    It is so sad what we are pressured to do so we don’t appear cheap. A donation is just that, a donation. It is IF you want to give extra…you do not have to. Yet, we have to give more (especially for our kids) so we don’t look or feel bad. Forget it!!! Just give what you want to and can comfortly afford. Giving more than you can really afford is nonsense!!!

  2. mimi says:

    The concept of “suggested donation” is coercive and dishonest. As consumers, we need to advise the offending organization that such disingenuous antics have cost them money —specifically, my donation.

    In the case of the museum, if I enjoyed my membership and used it, I would continue to renew. In the case of a private school, I would get my kid out of there. I wouldn’t trust the values, ethics or behavior they were teaching my kid. If it makes you (the parents) uncomfortable, what do you think it’s doing to your kids?

  3. mimi says:

    The concept of “suggested donation” is coercive and dishonest. As consumers, we need to advise the offending organization that such disingenuous antics are costing them money —specifically, my donation.

    In the case of the museum, if I enjoyed my membership and used it, I would continue to renew. In the case of a private school, I would get my kid out of there. I wouldn’t trust the values, ethics or behavior they were teaching my kid. If it makes you (the parents) uncomfortable, what do you think it’s doing to your kids?

  4. Yvonne says:

    I know of a few parents who send their children to private schools where there is a “suggested donation” along with a baseline tuition. In these cases, the amount you give as the “donation” is tax-deductible, and the schools are able to lower the baseline tuition and somewhat rely on a certain amount of donations to support extracurricular funds. And, in return, the parents benefit from getting some tax savings.

  5. Roxanne says:

    This article is great for me and the timing couldn’t be better. I write this because this is an area I have been grappling with FOR YEARS!!!!
    At first, I concluded that one must realize their own budget and abilities to contribute.
    Over 20 years ago, I worked in an organization that raised funds for the community. Perhaps the greatest gift from that job experience, was viewing donors gifts (either payroll deduction or check) and seeing that many people only gave one time and $1 or $2.
    It is still difficult to sit in attendance of an event, and knowing full well what my budget will allow, and hear the speech, speeches, pleas, and also get eye contact. Some pleas are designed to evoke emotion as an attempt to soften and loosen the purse strings.
    However I must conclude that when one doesn’t have it, they just don’t have it. It is still difficult to digest.
    There seem to be social repercussions, whether real or imagined and this treatment is not fair. For example, when passing the collection basket, and I do not deposit an envelope (because maybe I pay on-line), I am not handed the current weekly news bulletin. Most of the time, my paranoia is just me.
    Of my personal experience of having to untangle my emotions and abilities in this arena, I also needed to see the other side. Due to the economy, these entities (non-profits and others) are feeling the pinch or squeeze.
    In their procedures, if they do not target every one, they might miss out. It’s just business, and they are trying to maximize where they can. I beleive this is probably why, they no longer state, “only give what you can or are able” because it seems to be implied.
    Also in these times, some people seek out to volunteer or assist, because they are not able to financially contribute. I try to suck it up and talk directly to the presenter and explain my situation, and ask for materials or an envelope, so that I might later mail it in.
    Thanks for the article.

  6. Amy says:

    I recently experienced the “suggested donation” from a couple of organizations in the area where I live. I don’t have a lot of money to give, but the $2.00 came from the heart. My heart sank (sort-of speak) with the reaction I got from what I gave. Is it really a non-for-profit organization if they have a “suggested donation”? In my opinion…no. Its not that I don’t want to give every once in a while. But I don’t want to be “pressured” in to doing so.

Any Thoughts?

*