‘Just writing a cheque’ has become a disparaging remark in philanthropy. Terms like ‘beyond chequebook philanthropy’ are used to describe more strategic and involved forms of giving. The assumption is that writing a cheque is a thought-free act. But giving money as a one-off donation does not necessarily mean that the donor has not thought long and hard about their gift. In fact, they may have come to the very thoughtful decision that: they don’t want to set up a separate trust or fund; that they do not have the time to be actively engaged, and instead, are following a careful plan of significant donations.
The other factor in this situation is that a cheque can be exactly what is needed. A recent survey demonstrated that unrestricted funds are exactly what charities want. It means they can direct the money to wherever it is needed most – often core salaries – and it frees them from detailed reporting and having to negotiate with a funder every time things change. Cheque recipients will still want to thank the donor and inform them of the difference they have made with the money, but it is more an exchange than a contract.
Recently, I have met with a couple of charities who have received significant anonymous sums by cheque. And they certainly did not describe it as ‘just a cheque’. The money was needed and much appreciated and the cheque provided other benefits. It gave a boost to the staff – that someone had valued their work so much that they had written a cheque. And it also, like any donation, saved the time needed to fundraise and took some immediate pressure off the fundraising team.
Philanthropy comes in many forms. The humble cheque may not get as much press as donating bitcoins or impact investing but it is still a welcome member of the fold. The physical cheque itself is disappearing as a payment method, but we still use over 500 million cheques a year in the UK. Imagine if they all went to charity …