Many charity commercials end the same way: with the person narrating the ad asking viewers to sign up to donate $19 a month. Whether the organization supports shelter animals or children in need, that oddly specific figure usually comes up. There are several theories as to why the philanthropy world landed on this number, but the most likely explanation is the simplest: It's the highest amount the most people are willing to give.
Charity commercials and websites give $19 as the default recurring donation amount for the same reason that stores list certain products for $9.99 instead of rounding to $10. According to the News & Record, keeping suggested donation prices in the teens tricks people into thinking they're giving less than they actually are. Where a $20 expense might set off budget alarm bells, $19 feels more acceptable even though it's only one dollar less.
It's also easier to convince donors to make recurring payments of $19 rather than $20 a month. If the standard donation amount was a nice round number like $20, people could quickly calculate that that adds up to $240 a year—which may sound like a lot. Twelve payments of $19 come out to $228. While that's only slightly less, some people may not bother calculating the annual cost at all because the math is harder to do in their head.
If charities want to entice potential donors with a seemingly affordable number, why don't they ask for even less? According to Marketplace, $19 is around the minimum that makes sense from a budgetary standpoint. Running charities and advertising them cost money, and organizations don't want all the funds they raise to go into these additional expenses. Donors also want to feel like the money they're giving will make a difference. Nineteen dollars is a big enough figure to feel significant for many people without making a noticeable dent in their wallets.
One theory attached to the $19 figure ascribes more cynical motivations to charitable organizations. The IRS requires charities provide receipts for annual contributions of $250 or more, and individual donations of $19 a month amount to less than that. But organizations likely aren't trying to get out of sending receipts. No matter the donation amount, most big charities send out proof of donations automatically, and donors still have to provide personal documentation of their own to deduct the contribution from their taxes regardless of whether they have a receipt from the charity.
Even if organizations aren't trying to cheat you out of a tax deduction, they are using subtle tactics to convince you to donate the most money you're comfortable giving. And after hearing the same song played on a loop throughout a one-minute commercial, your brain may be highly suggestible.
[h/t News & Record]