What do you think "$20 Suggested Donation" means?

Poll to follow.

A local nonprofit organization is having one of those “shred-a-thon” events, where you show up with boxes or bags of old documents and they toss them into an industrial-strength shredder. Their suggested donation is $20, which sounds a little high given that I have only a single paper grocery bag of documents. I’ve patronized similar events, and the suggested donation is typically $5 per box or something like that.

This got me wondering about the unspoken etiquette behind those “suggested donation” signs. I’ve always assumed that it’s “pay what you can afford,” but friends have disputed that. I’m aware that at many such events, the donation box isn’t closely monitored, so it’s essentially on the honor system anyway.

Incidentally, I do not think it means “pay whatever you think this service is worth.” If I do decide to show up at the shred-a-thon, I’ll fork over my $20.

That, which is what I voted.

Maybe I’m behind the times but I figured $5 was more reasonable/expected than $20.

(ack! that damned inflation thing)

To me, it means “we don’t want to keep out genuinely poor people, but that doesn’t include you”.

Having said that, I have paid less than the suggested donation for some things in my life without feeling especially guilty.

Yeah, I’ve definitely picked up that vibe in some of these situations (particularly cultural stuff like museums and concerts). It feels a bit looser for things like the pompon squad’s car wash.

I’ve been involved in some nonprofit fundraising events that actually lost money because they didn’t recover their costs. Those “suggested donation” signs always get me wondering if there was some math involved (cost of the event divided by the projected turnout) or if they just pulled the number out of thin air.

I was a sponsor for a couple of years for a charity group. They did a lot of car washes. They didn’t even post a “recommended” donation; they just asked for whatever people wanted to pay. They never got cranky with people who paid nothing – but such people were actually very rare.

On the other hand, in a rest-stop alongside one of our famous California freeways, a whole bunch of vendors set up, selling sandwiches and sodas and snacks. By law, they were not allowed to charge, so they solicited “donations.” And, brother, if you didn’t pay what they “recommended,” they would actually come at you with their fists. They weren’t even pretending. I know two different people who got into fist-fights with these stinkers, by not “voluntarily” paying.

Eventually, the CHP cleaned out all these pukes, and good goddamned riddance.

for the kids doing car washes to raise money for trips, I feel you should AT LEAST give the donation asked for. FFS, these are kids willing to actually work for the money. That alone is worth the money. If it isn’t worth it to you, skip it altogether.

$20 for a shred event seems like a lot, I recently took 2 boxes of crapola to a free shred event at my Credit Union, which may be influencing my opinion. They were not taking cash donations.

TL, DR kids actually doing something: give them the donation or skip the service, others based on value to me.

A minimum of $20 is what is expected… but $5 is better than saying “…but I can’t afford $20…” and walking away.

A combination of three & four. Or in other words, “$0 is ok if you’re broke. If we were to put a price on it, it would be around $20. And we’re always hoping for more - so, feel free to keep going.”

For me, it’s really uncomfortable when someone asks me to just put in what I think is “fair,” especially when I have no frame of reference. I’m sure that I’ve both over and underpaid people who wouldn’t give me an actual price and I’m not happy with either situation. The suggested donation anchors “fair.”

I’ve been on the other side of many a fundraiser, and there’s math behind the suggested donation. Actually, I don’t remember why, but I worked some yearly fundraiser, and if people couldn’t donate at least $5, they were better off donating nothing. It had something to do with processing all the donations, which most people made by check, and people usually wanted receipts because they were tax deductible, and having someone do the work to fill out the receipt, log the check, endorse it, take it to the bank, etc., etc., somehow it took at least $5 to recoup the processing fee, and still make a tiny profit. This was in the early 90s. I imagine now there is a debit card option, but the swipe company takes a little off the top, and so there’s probably still a minimum to recoup the processing costs. Back then, we could take a credit card donation, but we had to use imprinting machines and tell people we’d mail the receipt (after we were sure the card was good).

We didn’t turn away people who could donate nothing, because our fundraising events were always also community awareness events, and the goodwill was worth it, plus, some potential new client families always came, and they’d see that we integrated clients into the events, both in running the events, and enjoying them as participants, according to their age and level of functioning. And there were always a few people who made $100 and $200 donations, so we’d come out ahead.

I think there was a sign that said there was a minimum of a $5 donation to use a check and get a receipt, and there was a tub, or barrel or something for people who donated change and dollar bills. A lot of kids donated quarters, and we thanked then just like anyone else. There was also a sign that said something along the lines of “A donation is not required, but if you would like to make one, please consider at least $5 to cover processing costs.”

So a lot has changed with how you can make your donation, but I imagine the fact that there is some basic processing cost has not changed.

Interesting, because that’s exactly how I interpret it. You have a grocery bag of documents to be shredded. The next guy has four contractor bags full of them. Should you both pay twenty bucks?

Obviously there’s nothing wrong with paying $20 to a charity to securely shred a grocery bag full of documents, but I equally believe that there is nothing wrong with paying $5 for the same service. I doubt that there’s any incremental cost to them, so what’s the harm? If you’re going to ask for a receipt for five bucks cash or write a check for five bucks you’re an asshole, but dropping a fin in the bucket for a small amount of service from a charity you wouldn’t otherwise support is fine, in my opinion.

I’ve been to a lot of these fundraiser car washes; hell, I tend to stop whenever I see one, whether my car is dirty or not. I’ve never seen one where the suggested donation was more than $5. A car wash for five bucks is a bargain! It’s hard for me to imagine anyone assholish enough to cheapskate their way out of paying for a car wash from kids, but I’m sure it happens.

Those are interesting points about cash vs. checks and the incremental costs of running a shredder. I’ve always assumed that “$X Suggested Donation” implies “we need at least $X from you to cover our costs and make a little money,” but $20 cash for shredding one bag is completely out of whack with market forces.

I’m beginning to think that this is a case where the suggested donation threshold was the result of some half-assed ballparking (maybe working backwards from a fundraising goal) and not something rigid (as I’ve tended to assume in the past).

Number 3, since you phrased it in the form of not being able to afford to pay. If you can afford it, you are expected to do so–at least up to $20. Beyond that, it’s your choice.

This is my thought. A “suggested donation” is because, if you just say, “contribute whatever you think is reasonable,” a lot of people will be uncomfortable because they won’t have any idea what that is.
$0 is seriously uncool if they’re spending effort and/or resources on you (like if they’re giving you food or washing your car), but I don’t think that’s the case here. (Though I could be wrong; I’m not familiar with “shred-a-thon events.”
My general rule: if the point of an event is to raise money for the sponsoring organization, it’s uncool to contribute so little that they’re losing money on you being there, or otherwise worse off than if you hadn’t attended.

If the point of the event is philanthropic—to provide a service or benefit for people—and the purpose of the donations is to recoup as much of the expense as possible, it’s fine to donate little or nothing if you genuinely can’t afford to donate more and if you actually are benefiting from the event.

When I was a teenager in New York, all the major museums had suggested admission prices but would take less, as long as you paid something.

Back then, if I put in two bucks, nobody gave me a dirty look. As long as you made a good faith effort to pay what you could afford, everything was cool.

But if you CAN afford the twenty bucks, I think you’re a cheapskate to pay much less.

Give them $20 if you can afford it, less if you can’t. It’s not that big of a deal, they would make it a required fee if it was that important.

They ask for $20 knowing some people will come and pay $20, others will pay nothing, or less than the $20. Give something, but it doesn’t have to be $20. Unless you have four or five large boxes. Then I’d say $20 is the minimum you should (but still aren’t required) to donate.

You could see some of your friends have papers they want to shred and spilt the cost with them.

What happens to the shredded paper? Are they able to sell it to a recyclers?

The charity has arranged for a local shredding company to show up with their on-site shredding truck. I don’t know what kind of financial arrangement the two parties have (if any), but I would assume that the shredding company will keep the shredded paper and sell it to a recycler.

I didn’t really intend for this thread to be a discussion of paper shredding; I was more interested in the meaning of the phrase “suggested donation,” and cited the shred-a-thon because their suggested donation seems a bit out of line with the market value of the service. However, the remarks in this thread motivated me to check the shredding company’s website. They do accept drop-offs at their facility, and the price is $5 per box. They also have a page on their site listing upcoming community and charity events they’re participating in, and most of these are either free or $5 per box/bag. The event I cited in the OP seems to be an outlier.