How to encourage customers to donate money to a charity without embarrassing them

Charity begins at home.  Many believe this proverb means that you should look after your family and friends first, but I would argue that it means that charity begins in the home where your children learn what charity really is. One of my daughters, a student, sent me this photograph a couple of days ago:

Charity box in restaurant
Wish for Water Mexican restaurant called Ojo Rojo, where customers can donate to the charity

She explained that small boxes have been placed on each table at a Mexican restaurant called Ojo Rojo, where customers can donate to the charity ‘Wish for Water’. She told me that she and her friends put their loose change into the box. She said that she was happy to donate because although she could only afford to give away her loose change, she did not feel embarrassed at not being able to donate more.  There was no pressure to donate – just the opportunity.  Our conversation inspired me to write this post.

We’ve all been out shopping and had buckets of change thrust into our faces and if we decline to donate we invariably feel guilty. Please don’t get me wrong, I admire the vast majority of volunteers who venture out in all weathers trying to raise money for good causes. My aunt was one of these people collecting money for the RNLI for many years and she had a heart of gold.
But – we may already have donated or, more importantly, we may not have the money to give. After all, 14 million people live in households below the poverty line in the UK (Households Below Average Income).

Furthermore, some people are unhappy with the percentage of money collected by charities that actually reaches those it was intended for.  Apparently approximately 60% to 70% of charities’ annual spending provides the services or fulfils the duties that the charity exists to provide for (Channel 4 FactCheck). The amount spent on charitable activities varies, with one so- called charity spending just 3% in 2014-2015.

charity spending in the UK

The salaries and benefits enjoyed by some staff working for charities also fails to impress some people.  Here I recall the conversation I had several years ago with a good friend of mine. Following the death of his brother, he decided to fundraise for a charity – I won’t name the charity.  He spent a lot of time fundraising and raised a substantial sum of money, in the thousands, and was looking forward to giving the cheque to the charity in question. He travelled to London to present the cheque to the charity but returned crestfallen. His arrival at the charities’ headquarters coincided with the arrival of a fleet of brand new Land Rovers for the staff working for the charity!  Fortunately this did not deter my friend from fundraising in the future – but he now checks the financial records for the charity concerned with the Charity Commission.

There has also been some criticism of JustGiving, the website used by a large number of individuals and organisations to collect money for their charities. The website takes a cut from most donations and some of the money taken is used for maintenance, product development and charity training. An investigation by The Daily Mail in the summer found that it has taken more than £20 million from fundraisers and paid staff up to £198,000. However, its’ website does make its’ charges clear.

Ways caterers ask for donations 

There are a number of ways that caterers can encourage their customers to donate to charities without embarrassing them, and also ways they can themselves help others in their communities. One example being the case restaurant mentioned in my first paragraph. All the examples below are showcased on ‘Caring Caterers

SuspendedCoffees
This is the advance purchase of a cup of coffee for someone who needs it.

Food Vouchers/ Pay It Forward
Customers purchase a voucher to provide a snack or a meal for someone who needs it, in some cases the cafe ‘tops up’ the voucher to provide a larger meal.

Surplus Food
There are a number of ways that caterers are diverting surplus food from landfill to those in need e.g. food banks, community fridges. For more information click (link to last blog)

Displaying Art
This is where art created by homeless people is displayed in cafes, at no cost to the cafe, and the prospective purchaser meets the artist in the cafe over a cup of coffee.

Free Christmas Meal
There are some caterers that offer a free Christmas meal to the elderly and homeless so that they do not have to be alone at Christmas.

Social Enterprises
By donating to these, in some cases 100% of the profit goes to those in need and they often employ those who have previously been considered unemployable.

£1-on-the-bill
The campaign ‘Help a Hungry Child’ is running in London until the end of December. Customers are invited to pay £1 on top of their bill and this money then goes to The Felix Project . Currently 380 restaurants in London are participating in the scheme.

Fundraising
Throughout the year some caterers fundraise for charities close to their heart. They often encourage their staff and customers to give their time as well as money to their chosen charity.

Should we give money to charities?

There are a number of reasons for not giving to charities (BBC ‘Arguments Against Charity’):

  • Charitiesoften target the symptoms and not the causes.
    Combatting poverty requires political, cultural and social change whereas giving to charities does not solve the cause of poverty.
  • Charityaccepts the injustice and attempts to mitigate the consequences of the injustice.
    The American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, wrote “We have previously suggested that philanthropy combines genuine pity with the display of power and that the latter element explains why the powerful are more inclined to be generous than to grant social justice”
  • Charitybenefits the state rather than those in need.
    We give to charity to solve a problem. In the case of poverty in the UK, wouldn’t it be better to pressurise the government to bring about much needed change?
  • Charitymay lead to favouritism and not fairness
    People donate and fundraise for causes that appeal to them – they may not be the causes where there is the greatest need.
  • Charities and Tax
    Tax incentives for charitable giving can worsen social inequalities. Charities do not pay tax on most types of income, so this reduces the revenue available to the government (thereby reducing the money available for state projects) and accountability for spending the money rests largely on the charity.
  • Charities may have high administration costs
    I referred to this earlier.

Whilst I agree with the above points, there are people who need our help now. In an ideal world rich people and large corporations would pay their fair share of tax and the government would redistribute resources. There should be no need for charities. I appreciate that it’s difficult to feel enthusiastic when charities have to step in because successive governments have failed, and the situation is getting worse. But we have to help – don’t we?

As caterers we are in a fortunate position in that our customers may be willing to donate to a charity of our choice if they are given the opportunity. However, pressurising customers to donate could lead to loss of business and an embarrassing experience for our customers. You cannot always tell by looking at someone if they are struggling financially. The examples I have given showing how some caterers encourage their customers to donate, exert no pressure upon the customer – just the opportunity to donate. We are also fortunate in our profession in that the commodity we have, namely food, is one of the most basic of human needs. Surely, if we have surplus food then we should ensure that it goes to those in need.

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