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How charities used to raise money

Here’s the situation. It’s 1913 and the owners of the Crystal Palace need to sell it. Lord Plymouth has agreed to temporarily save it for the nation by ponying up the asking price (£230,000 in 1913 money – £46m in today’s if you convert to and from gold.) The deal is that if a fund can pay him back then the Palace will be “saved for the nation” and if not it will be saved for the builders.

The City of London and the nearest councils to the Palace have agreed to pay for half of it. Now, it is up to the general public and The Times. And this is how they are going to get people to cough up: the subscription list.

The Times, 2 July 1913 page9

The Times, 2 July 1913 page9

It’s rather clever. Whether you think preserving the Crystal Palace is a good idea or not, if your peers do, you’d better pay something. And it had better be a reasonable amount or else they’ll think you’re a skinflint. This is a very common way of raising money. My mother tells me that this is how they used to raise money for her local church. One wonders why the technique fell into disuse.

The necessary funds were secured in slightly less than a fortnight and the Crystal Palace continued to stand in Crystal Palace until it was wrecked by fire in 1936.

24 comments to How charities used to raise money

  • Brian Micklethwait (London)


  • RogerC

    Could this sort of thing make a comeback with the advent of crowdfunding sites? The advantage of these is that you can commit to a donation safe in the knowledge that the money you’ve pledged will only leave your account when the stated target has been met. Publishing the list of donors (as long as it’s done with their permission) would seem to be a stroke of genius, though.

  • llamas

    Ah, the dear, dead days.

    When I lived in Sydenham, I used to teach people to ride motorcycles in Crystal Palace park, using the long, straight road that ran along the West side of the foundations of the building. The remains of the base piers of the structure were still present. Is any of this still there? I guess I remember that there was a plan to remove the radio mast and the hideous iron water tank and develop that whole end of the park into (something else).

    The Crystal Palace was an absolute engineering marvel, the entire thing being constructed on a module system which allowed it to be taken apart with hand tools and removed from the Hyde Park site to the Sydenham site at a cost that made it economically-viable to do.



  • llamas: Everything you describe is still there, along with the remains of the statues, the maze, various ponds and assorted other ruins of what once was. It’s a fine place for a walk, in truth.

  • RAB

    Talking of the Crystal Palace…


    My grandfather used to be a member of a Welsh speaking Bethal Chapel. Each member was given packets with their name on, one for each week of the year. So when the plate came round the vicar knew who had given what. A league table was then put up in the church around Christmas time.

  • AndrewWS

    RAB: something similar still happens in churches that have Gift Aid Schemes with envelopes that you write your name and address on and sign. Fortunately, the one I go to and contribute to doesn’t have a (public) league table.

  • Paul Mclaughlan

    I find it sad that particularly so-called Christian organisations act in such a way. This clearly flies in the face of the principle that the left hand should not know what the right hand is doing (as Jesus taught with regard to giving). It is abuse of the giver and a lack of faith on the part of the receiver. With regard to secular organisations I find that sort of thing pushes me away from giving I don’t want people to pass judgements on how much or little I give.

    But then I guess I don’t have a problem with others doing it, I will just exercise my will and not take part.

  • Andrew Duffin

    University fund-raiding nag campaigns work the same way; your name and donation are published in the Alumnus magazine. They dress is up a bit by describing the various levels as “club”, e.g. all those who are listed as belonging to “The Principal’s Club” will have given at least £5K, or whatever.

  • RAB

    Yeah I thought the League table was deeply unchristian too, but it was more the fear rather than the love of God that the fire and brimstone preachers were working on back then.

  • PaulH

    This depends on an element of public shame, which is also an important element in Cameron’s internet filtering scheme. In at least one proposed implementation customers would have to contact their ISP to have the filter turned off, which means explaining to another person that you are (by implication) an evil pervert with no more right to live on god’s clean earth than a weasel. Of course there’s a difference between community-sponsored shaming and state-sponsored shaming, but both are unappealing.

  • llamas

    Brings it all flooding back . . . .

    When I was in ‘infants’ school, you could see the Crystal Palace tower from the playgound of the school. One of our number insisted it was the Eiffel Tower, and we were all duly amazed at how far you could see on a clear day.

    Rode past it every day on the way to work. Fun to think it’s still there.



  • Antoine Clarke

    Destroyed by Nazis.

  • RogerC


    Of course there’s a difference between community-sponsored shaming and state-sponsored shaming, but both are unappealing.

    Hence it’s important to only publish names of contributors with the consent of those published. Thos who do not give their consent in this way should not have their names published. This gives people the ability to brag and possibly to serve as encouragement, while not allowing those who contribute smaller amounts (or not at all) to be shamed without their consent.

    This is *really* important to do, or as Paul says, it can become just another bully-boy tactic. It’s also a basic privacy issue, something that the “if you have nothing to hide…” brigade just can’t seem to get their heads around.

  • Mr Ed

    In Polruan, a small seaside village in Cornwall, the quay was restored by public subscription in 1966. In Southwold, Suffolk a monument in the town hall square was paid for by public subscription in, I think, 1893. From sludgy sea to shining sea, this was the norm.

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    RogerC: crowd funding sites do indeed do this, though the lists tend to be rather long. Buying the T-shirt is another way to brag.

  • Mr Ed

    There’s a Vulcan bomber flying thanks to voluntary donations and some Lottery funding. Well worth catching the howling beast if you can.

    You can also pay to have a name inscribed on the bomb doors, one way to raise funding, and many other vintage aircraft are kept going by charitable donations, as much heritage as anything the National Trust does, but with no risk of PC nonsense.

  • mike

    A very similar subscription list is used to fund the construction of Taoist temples in local neighbourhoods in Taiwan; the contributors names are published alongside their particular sum of money on a noticeboard outside the temple during construction. However, the motive for contributing funds may be ambiguous since the temple associations are also bases for organized crime. Local residents may therefore be paying for something more than just a temple.

  • Julie near Chicago

    RogerC, that does sound like a very good solution.

  • PaulH

    The flaw with RogerC’s suggestion is that there’s still the shame of not appearing on the list, which could be every bit as bad as being too far down the list.

  • Paul Marks

    Public subscription is indeed a good idea.

  • Pat McCan

    Here in Cleveland (I don’t know if it is done elsewhere) The “Rock & Roll Hall of Fame”, the Science Center and other places were funded in part by buying a paving brick with your or your family name on it. As this was many years ago, I forget how much a brick cost.

  • Julie near Chicago

    PaulH, if it’s made clear that not all contributors are listed, there would be no public shaming. –Though an individual might feel ashamed of himself for not contributing, but that’s his problem.

    All: How is “public subscription” different from the method of publicizing donors’ names (with or without the amounts)?

  • Mr Ed

    ‘I note that you haven’t made a public contribution to our fine charity, why not chip in? We wouldn’t want you to feel embarrassed Mr Geldof’.

    Is that a serious fundraising strategy?

  • Rich Rostrom

    1) Are there any charities which do not publish lists of donors? The lists are not in the newspapers, but they are public. So this is neither old nor new.

    2) Many donors prefer to remain anonymous, to avoid attracting further solicitations. Give once, and every institutional beggar in town will be at your door.

    3) I note that half the funds for this “worthy cause” were provided by government through taxation.