by Martin French
With some pomp and very little circumstance the National Funding Scheme (NFS) for the arts officially launched the "Donate" initiative at an event held somewhere in the UK and attended by people who couldn't possibly be less important to this particular story.
"Donate", according to the press blurb and the website;
"is a new way to give to the cultural things that inspire and move you. It's been designed to make it easy for you to make donations to cultural causes using your mobile phone."
Ed "manchild" Vaizy the current Culture Secretary was heard to say something about the scheme (the NFS website carries the Cabinet Office logo mind you not the DCMS logo) taking advantage of "new technologies" to fund culture and the arts.
If he's referring to the internet and mobile phones then he's either been locked in a deep freeze in his local butchers for 20 years or he's a bit of an idiot. Take your pick.
The idea behind "Donate" is very simple. It enables you to give money to the cultural charity of your choice using the internet, a cell phone or an NFC chip enabled debit or credit card.
If you don't know what an NFC chip is then don't worry, you're not alone. Also, unless the cultural organisation "of your choice" happens to be one of the 11 "launch" partners then you're out of luck because the scheme is in "beta" mode until the end of the year.
The touted difference of the "Donate" idea, compared to other online fundraising services, is that you can donate using mobile technology like the aforementioned NFC chip in your phone (if you have one).
There are also rumblings about donating at the point of "highest emotional engagement" which means that you can give money just after you have seen a show, or attended a museum, when you're feeling "really emotional" about the whole thing.
No word as yet on a feature to get your money back if you failed to be moved to tears by whatever cultural event you have attended, but we digress.
As with most things connected to the Government's half-baked ideas to stimulate fund raising for cultural institutions across the land it misses one important point by about a thousand miles.
You've been able to do all of this for years.
Websites like Justgiving.com do all of the above (sans the NFC thing and QR Codes). If you choose to do so you can give money to any charity registered with that service from home or on your cell phone from anywhere in the world that has an internet connection.
They will collect the Gift Aid, a government tax incentive for giving to charities, process the payments and basically do all of the heavy lifting for you. You can even give money at the point of "highest emotional engagement" if you wish (stop laughing at the back).
Justgiving also has the added advantage of being available right now to absolutely any charity that wants to use it.
Skimming Off The Top
Another kick in the chest for the "Donate" scheme is that Justgiving will give your charity of choice more money when you donate using them.
Justgiving charges a 5% fee on the Gift Aid from your donation plus a 1.3% credit card fee on the entire amount less their own fee. To be a member of the website you need to pay an £18 membership fee per month but you only pay as long as you use the service so you can sign up for a month and then leave if you wish.
The "Donate" scheme on the other hand charges 4% on the total amount donated (that's donation plus Gift Aid) and an unspecified amount for the credit card charges.
When we asked the PR folk for NFS to clarify the credit card payment charges they told us that the receiving charity would get between 93% and 95% of the total amount donated.
If, over a period of 2 months, you received 100 donations of £100 from individuals all claiming the basic rate of Gift Aid your charity would receive £12,178 if you used Justgiving.
For the same level of donations through the "Donate" scheme you would receive £11,875 (at the 95% figure) or £11,625 (at the 93%) figure. A difference of £303 and £553 respectively.
The more money you raise the more you lose if you go with the NFS "Donate" scheme. If you were lucky enough to be able to grab 100 donations of £1000 over a period of 12 months then Justgiving would return £121,935 after all the fees. "Donate" would return £118.750 (at 95%) and £116,250 (at 93%). A staggering difference of £3,175 and £5,675 respectively.
Essentially, the more money you raise the more you lose as a charity if you use "Donate" instead of a rival service like Justgiving.
When we asked the NFS press flacks to explain why an arts organisation would accept donations using the "Donate" scheme when they would receive less money if they did so using Justgiving the same line about "emotional engagement" was trotted out along with the ability to use multiple methods to donate.
All of which is true if you use Justgiving and has been for years.
Given that not everybody in the arts can use "Donate" just yet and the fact that you ultimately end up with less money if you use it then we have to ask...... what's the point?
There is also a bit of an issue with donating at the "highest point of emotional engagement". Yes, the language is completely ridiculous but there is a more serious problem. Arts organisations do have to ask for money but you have to wonder if right after the show is the best time to do it.
Your audience have already subsidised the company (or whatever it is) through the Arts Council or local government funding, paid for a ticket, bought their concessions and their programme and it's at that point you decide to try and tap them for more money?
At the time of writing the Cabinet Office had not responded to questions pertaining to their involvement. Arts Council England, for once, is not involved in this at all, at least in any way we could find.