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Design, Placement & Operation of Donation Boxes

In designing a donation box, consider the following:

  • Keep it simple, but distinctive enough to attract visitors' attention.
  • Theme it tastefully to your park setting and mission.
  • Keep the donations visible. Seeing the donations directly conveys the fact that others have given and you can too. Use see-through materials such as Lexan, Lucite or Plexiglas. Make sure it is secure from theft and vandalism.
  • Salt the box. An empty box rarely attracts donations. "Salting" the donation box with five and ten dollar bills on top often motivates visitors to contribute like denominations. People are more apt to give larger denominations when they know others have.
  • Capitalize on state pride. Park visitors come from all over. The Rocky Mountain Nature Association replaced their single donation box with one with separate receptacles for all fifty states, providing the opportunity for individuals to represent their home state when they give. Donations increased 100 percent in the following year. Other parks have used this design concept to their advantage. You could also take this approach with international visitors.
  • Use the donation box for a dual purpose. Staff at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park attributes their success, in part, to the fact that their donation box also provides a visitor service. A small, separate box holding free park brochures is attached to the front of the donation box. The brochures attract visitors and make them notice the donation box and its purpose. Staff have noticed that visitors will reach for a brochure and make a donation. Often this donation is considerably more than what visitors would actually pay if there was a fee for the brochure.
  • Make your donation box tamper-proof and durable. Expect a lot of handling. Use durable materials, especially those that are vandal-proof. Don't overlook weatherproofing if the box is to be set outdoors. Consider spending a little more for the right materials and design features that will meet your standards for durability, appearance, and security. Careful planning should help you reduce long-term maintenance and replacement costs.
  • Make it secure. You will need design ingenuity to discourage thieves. Besides built-in design features, take extra precautions such as locating the box where staff are stationed. They can help keep an eye on the box while answering questions and providing information. Do not let too much money accumulate at any one time.
  • Locate the donation box where the visitor cannot miss it. Choose a high foot traffic area yet one that does not unnecessarily intrude upon the visitor's park experience. Often boxes are situated in visitor centers, at entrance and egress points where visitors congregate or wait. Consider that visitors are more inclined to donate right after they have had a great visitor experience in the park.
  • Provide receipts. While donation boxes are designed for small contributions, some donors may be inclined to give more if a receipt for their tax records is provided. Nevertheless, some people will give only if they can get a receipt for their tax deduction records. If staff is nearby and the donor can see that receipts are available, larger contributions may result. At Channel Islands National Park, the donation box is located on the counter in the visitor center. Staff can write receipts upon request.
  • Ensure easy access by staff. Remember that staff will need relatively easy and quick access in order to empty the donation box frequently. Don't make their job harder by over-designing the security features (locks, etc.)

Native Hawaiian Koa wood donation box with park brochures at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Native Hawaiian Koa wood donation box with park brochures at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Converted buoy donation box, San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

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