I paid people to donate to charity and this is what I learnt

I recently gave 40 households £5 each and a letter to encourage donations to the Against Malaria Foundation. I explain why in a previous post here. The following is a post about why this idea, while sounding like a terrible idea, turned out to actually be a terrible idea. Giving further evidence to the annoying theory that sometimes things are just common sense. 

In the early days of Youtube I enjoyed videos by a man named Ze Frank. In one of his videos that has always stuck with me Ze talked about the concept of brain crack.

To me brain crack is that idea that you’ve had bouncing around you head for ages, you know its great because its in its perfect form when its in your head. You keep accessing the idea in your brain over and over again, each time you do you get a little hit from it. You feel good about yourself for being so smart to have thought of such a good idea. One day you’ll do the idea, but not today, today not the day for that, today is the day for feeling good about your idea.

After a while you start thinking:

“Maybe I’ll tell someone else about my idea and they’ll tell me its a good idea and I’ll get a taste of the sweet sweet brain crack again, not actually do anything of course. I mean why would I? The idea is perfect the way it is, doing something would mean reality getting involved, and reality always spoils my fun.”

For me this experiment was brain crack for a while. I would think about it when I zoned out on the tube. I talked enthusiastically about it to a few people down the pub, freaked them out a little due to a crazy intense look in my eye I get when explaining what is clearly a genius idea, and they agreed it was a very good idea indeed and that I should definitely do it (in fact they said it was such a great idea that there wasn’t a moment to lose and I should leave and do it right there and then! How cool is that!).





I’d gotten all I needed to get out of the idea for the time being. But after a while I’d start thinking about who else I could tell about my idea next time I needed a hit. Then I would remembered brain crack.

“Dammit this idea’s going to be taking up room in my head not doing anything, I need to get past this so that I can get on to something else otherwise I’ll turn into that boring person down the pub that talks about all the things that he’d do to change the world but somehow never gets round to doing anything.”

So I did it, I went to the bank drew out £200 in £5 notes and set to work filling envelopes with the letter (an adapted version of this) and a note. Until I had 40 all set up ready to go (see picture at top of post). I picked a street near where I live in Muswell Hill (London) and set about posting one through each letter box down one side of the street.

It was around then that reality got involved and made everything a great deal more real, as is often the way with reality.

All in all this was the outcome:


Two out of the 40 households donated (or at least followed the instructions that I gave e.g. adding the code 528). As predicted those that did donate donated more than the asked for amount (£5.28). Sadly a system where putting in £200 and getting £31.25 out just isn’t good enough.

That said I do love that these two people did this. One of the most under appreciated resource of the 21st century is attention and these two wonderful people were kind enough to give me that and much more.

Where to go from here?

Well I’m definitely off the crack now. This idea, in this form at least, is dead to me. I will not be able to reliably use my money to generate more donations than I can by donating it myself. Nevermind I still think it was worth a try.

Lately I’ve been thinking that I’ve deeply underestimated what it takes to move people to donate to charity. So next I want to look a little more deeply at two things; first I want to talk to people that donate a sizeable proportion of their income to charity in order to get at their reasoning for making this move in the first place, and second I want to start looking at how successful charities are able to generate a greater income. Those chuggers can’t actually be a good way to do this, can they!?

Actually before either of these things I should really do some work on my PhD. Upgrading is just around the corner and it would be nice to at least give the illusion that I know what I’m talking about.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s