Why You Should Be Thinking About Round-Up Donations

Over the last few months, I’ve noticed an uptick in the frequency of round-up donation functionality at a number of online retailers. If you’re not already familiar with how round-up donations work, it’s a fairly straightforward micro-fundraising method; during the checkout process, buyers are asked if they want to round-up their purchase to the nearest dollar and donate that difference to a participating charity.

There are a number of third party providers who make connections between retailers and charities as well as take care of the technical details (usually for a fee or percentage of donated funds) but there are a few additional options arts groups can pursue based on whether or not they have direct control over online transactions.

You Have Direct Control Over Online Transactions

Although each system will have its own respective programming challenges, the simplest solution is to code the functionality into the checkout process. It’s already common to include a “would you like to add a donation” field to the process but it would be interesting to set up some A/B testing between one shopping cart path that includes the traditional option and one that forgoes that in favor of the round-up option.

Based on the results, each organization could begin to refine their shopping cart process so as to maximize donation up-sell.

In a number of ways, the round-up option could potentially be more attractive to particular segments such as infrequent single ticket buyers. Likewise, if coding challenges aren’t prohibitive, offering a quick dropdown selector for where the patron would like to see the micro-donation [sws_css_tooltip position=”left” colorscheme=”rosewood” width=”450″ url=”” trigger=”applied” fontSize=”14″]i.e. programming, general fund, debt payment, education, etc. [/sws_css_tooltip]  is another influence oriented possibility. If nothing else, it would be fascinating to see if any patterns emerge.

You Use A Third Party Provider To Process Online Transactions

There’s nothing wrong with talking to your third party provider to see whether or not they are willing (and capable) of implementing a round-up donation feature. They will likely want a cut of the donations and/or a one off development fee but that’s not very different than jumping into the other option, which is to explore existing round-up providers who work with traditional retail outlets (as opposed to focusing on your own shopping cart).

I’m not comfortable recommending any specific providers nor am I comfortable providing a generic list without knowing more about the respective providers; but if anyone has direct experience here (and there’s no conflict of interest); feel free to mention it in a comment.

Another interesting option here is to use the notion of a round-up campaign as a vehicle for approaching your local Rotary Club and/or Chamber of Commerce to see about building support for a neighborhood micro-donation effort via local businesses that conduct online sales.


Although micro-giving has yet to be fully explored throughout the orchestra field, the round-up option could hold some intriguing potential, especially if related programming efforts aren’t [sws_css_tooltip position=”left” colorscheme=”rosewood” width=”450″ url=”” trigger=”prohibitive” fontSize=”14″]As an aside and speaking from a professional perspective as someone working in that sector, related coding shouldn’t be terribly difficult. If your provider makes a big deal out of it or quotes huge development fees, it might be an indication of another issue. [/sws_css_tooltip].

It’s also conceivable to imagine that if something like round-up donations were successful enough, orchestras could begin reducing or even removing online ticket fees as micro-donations offset any drop in fee based revenue. And the potential PR benefits surrounding something like that could provide a twofer effect by way of increased levels of patron good-will (happy patrons are donating patrons).

As of now, I can’t think of any orchestras that employ a round-up donation option but if anyone out there does, I’m sure we would all love to hear about your experiences so please feel free to share!

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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