Cracking the Code: The $19 Mystery in Charity Donations

Sarah Walsh - Author

Dec. 19 2023, Published 1:28 p.m. ET

A woman holding money
Source: Getty Images

Woman holding money

The Gist:

  • Charities regularly ask for a $19 donation.
  • This has left many people wondering, why they don't round it off to $20.
  • It turns out there are psychological reasons for the number.
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Have you ever wondered why, when those heartstring-pulling commercials come on, they always ask for $19 a month? Well, you're not alone! In this entertaining exploration, we'll unravel the secrets behind the peculiar number and discover why charities seem to have a soft spot for $19. Get ready for a journey that involves a dash of psychology, a sprinkle of financial strategy, and a whole lot of fun!

What’s with the odd charm of $19?

Charity Organization
Source: Getty Images

Charity Organization

Ever noticed how charities are always shooting for the stars with $19? Turns out, this seemingly random figure is anything but accidental. First things first, let's debunk the myth that it's all about dodging IRS receipt rules.

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Sure, the $19 contribution falls below the $250 threshold, but that's not the main act. According to the maestro of personal financial planning, Russell James from Texas Tech University, charities didn't just stumble upon $19. It's a result of a sort of financial evolution, where this number emerged victorious in the battle of the charity ask.

The secret sauce lies in the oddity of $19. It's not a neat, round figure like $20, which might make you think twice about parting with your hard-earned cash. The oddness of $19, however, makes you pause. It's a mental game!

If it were $19.90 – we'd all round up to $20, right? But $19 multiplied by 12? Well, that's $228 a year, and the trick is, it's not as easy to calculate on the fly. So, by focusing on $19, you're less likely to stress about the yearly total, and voila – you're hooked!

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Many people are wondering why it’s not $9 or $29?

Now, you might be thinking, why not $9 or $29? Great question! According to Rick Cohen, the chief communications officer and chief operating officer for the National Council of Nonprofits, it's a balancing act. A $9 request is like asking for spare change – too low to cover the costs of the charity's programs, the ad itself, and those pesky credit card fees. On the flip side, a higher amount, like $29, might scare off potential donors.

Charities have to hit the sweet spot where the amount is enough to make a difference but not so much that you start questioning your life choices.

So, why not $19.90 then? Well, as we discussed earlier, it's all about the mind game. Make it too complex, and viewers might start doing math gymnastics in their heads, ultimately losing interest in the act of giving.

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Charity sorting
Source: Getty

Charity sorting

And there you have it, dear readers! The $19 mystery is not just a number - it's a carefully crafted dance between psychology and financial strategy. Charities have cracked the code on what gets people to open their hearts and wallets.

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