I need a way for my free courses adult students to donate 1 pound in the classroom if they have. While protecting the ones that don't from feeling ashamed or obligated by me or others knowing it.

I spend on transportation and food to go teach people programming for free. Sometimes it's hard. I thought I could have a total anonymity system that people that appreciate what I do and have extra could help me buy the sandwich and the tube ticket, while not embarrassing, obligating or scaring away the ones that don't.

  • 16
    I really don't know why this is on topic for the Workplace, but I don't know where else it would fit either. I've started a meta discussion here
    – David K
    May 2, 2016 at 12:09
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    Just have a donation jar. Who is going to keep track if someone walked up to the jar or not? I know of number of Yoga classes like that and no one seems to keep track of who contributed or not.
    – paparazzo
    May 2, 2016 at 13:23
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    @Kilisi I don't think OP wants to "make some money"; he just wants to defray his costs (food and transportation). Going to the trouble of procuring and maintaining sponsorship just for that is a bit excessive.
    – Doktor J
    May 2, 2016 at 15:22
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    Does an organization arrange for these classes? Have you checked with them whether this is okay?
    – mkennedy
    May 2, 2016 at 18:23
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is not specific to a workplace environment but rather about social dynamics and group responsibility.
    – Lilienthal
    May 2, 2016 at 21:23

8 Answers 8


I don't know if you need by all means to get it cash but if not, have you tried setting up a page with a donation button? PayPal provides an API to create a donate button.

I'd go for it, it has the benefit of letting you donate from home, where you can do it "anonymously".

  • 3
    This is probably the most secure, and easy option, not to mention appropriate, as this is regarding a development class.
    – AndreiROM
    May 2, 2016 at 14:46
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    Assume for a minute I am a person who doesn't want to sign up to paypal but still wants to donate. Am I more likely to sign up to paypal against my will for a one-off donation or to not donate at all?
    – Pharap
    May 2, 2016 at 17:37
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    @Pharap: Paypal does not require the donor to sign up for an account.
    – David
    May 2, 2016 at 20:56
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    +1 for PayPal. This is exactly what I would have suggested. Another post mentioned that PayPal doesn't make the donations anonymous to you. If you desire that, there are several services that allow this (e.g. gofundme.)
    – reirab
    May 2, 2016 at 21:13
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    You'd lose many, many donations this way due to the inconvenience. People will think "Sure, I'll donate next time I'm sat at a computer, right after I've done these other higher priority things and filed my course notes" and for most people, it'll never happen. They'll forget and/or they'll never not have a higher priority task. May 3, 2016 at 11:07

Tell them in advance and everybody brings a closed, unlabeled envelope that might or might not contain money.

Optionally you might want to hand out empty envelopes while explaining the idea and collect them at the next time you meet. That way the students can "fill" the envelopes in the privacy of their homes but don't have to provide the envelopes. Also this adds to the anonymity due to similar envelops. thx Brandin for the idea

  • 6
    If you use this system, wouldn't it be better to bring the envelopes yourself? Just explain you can choose to donate or not, and leave the unmarked envelopes in a box for example.
    – Brandin
    May 2, 2016 at 12:32
  • I personally would prefer to let them fill those envelopes at home in privacy. But handing them the envelopes at one time and collecting them at the next sounds like a good idea. I'll ad it.
    – Silent-Bob
    May 2, 2016 at 13:24
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    The obvious downside of this approach is that some (most?) people will forget their envelopes at home - even the ones who may have wanted to provide you with a donation. The ones who are not planning to do so are practically guaranteed to forget about them the second they get home. So then the next time you get together anyone who forgot their envelope is automatically feeling singled out.
    – AndreiROM
    May 2, 2016 at 14:44
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    While this would solve the immediate problem, it's highly impractical.
    – Mast
    May 2, 2016 at 19:17
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    I wouldn't do this. The people who aren't going to donate anything are likely not going to bring the envelope back with them to class, or they might forget it. There's a chance they don't care if other people know they're not donating anything.
    – socrates
    May 3, 2016 at 0:39

There is nothing really wrong with just having a PO Box for envelopes or a jar for donations if you make it clear to the class that these are voluntary. Mention also why you are asking for this, and it shouldn't cause any undue issues or pressure.

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    Just hope the jar doesn't disappear :-(
    – gnasher729
    May 2, 2016 at 13:40
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    @gnasher729 I wish you were joking, but that's a real concern May 2, 2016 at 14:24
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    I hope I was joking myself! Take a big glass, like a gherkin glass, that is hard to take away without people noticing.
    – gnasher729
    May 2, 2016 at 15:43
  • @gnasher729 Or glue the jar to the table. :)
    – reirab
    May 2, 2016 at 21:09

You need to consider not just anonymity for people who don't want to donate, but convenience for those who do.

Do you also give out anonymous feedback forms?

If so, also give out envelopes for the feedback forms, and in the 5 minutes at the end of the class when people are filling out the feedback forms say about donations being welcome but not essential and if you want to donate, slip it in the envelope with the feedback forms.

Then have people pile up the envelopes on a table on their way out instead of taking them by hand, if you're concerned about anonymity of non-donors. This is anonymous and you can't feel which have coins or notes in. Don't rely on post as suggested elsewhere, that's an inconvenience, many people with the best intentions will simply never get around to posting it.

For extreme privacy, maybe even bring a cardboard box with a slot in the top for the envelopes, like a ballot box.

This is anonymous and gets around the problem with many other solutions of people wanting to donate but forgetting, finding it an inconvenience, or not getting around to it. You want maximum ease and convenience as well as maximum anonymity - for their benefit as well as yours.

If you don't, consider it and it might solve two common problems (donations and feedback).

  • Feedback forms will need to be handed out potentially daily which will be a problem.
    – cst1992
    May 3, 2016 at 12:04
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    Only if the form is long. I'd assumed the asker gave 1-day workshops, but if it's a multi-day course, you'll get better feedback on day 3's class from a short form given out on day 3 than you would from a long form given out days later at the end of the course. May 3, 2016 at 12:07

I'm not fond of PayPal for this purpose because it doesn't offer anonymity against you; you will see the name and email address of everyone who makes a PayPal contribution. Furthermore, some people don't have a PayPal account but may still wish to contribute. Even if you've made it clear that these are just voluntary donations, some may still be concerned that you will treat them differently or otherwise judge them if they don't contribute; this is why I feel it is important to keep the donations opaque to you as well.

To combine and clarify some of the other ideas, you could have a locking wooden box with a slot in the top as your donation box; for security, use a cable lock to chain it to the table or something similar that will discourage it from "walking off". Next to the box, have envelopes, and encourage students to take an envelope on their way out.

Leave the box sitting there for the duration of the course (empty it periodically of course). Some students may take an envelope and come back the next day with it. Others who forget might not bring the envelope in for a week or two, but sooner or later they'll remember if they're really serious about making a donation (or having the appearance thereof).

  • The envelopes allow for empty "contributions", for those who feel social pressure but do not have the means or desire to donate.
  • A coin in an envelope makes less noise dropping into a receptacle than a bare coin; even more so if the envelope is folded in half.
  • For those who are really concerned about appearances but who do not wish to contribute a full pound, a 2p coin should be similar enough in weight and diameter (yes I know it's lighter and larger... but ~2g and ~3.5mm shouldn't be noticeable to the casual observer when concealed in an envelope)
  • The wooden box makes it impossible for anyone else to see how many envelopes are in the box or try to eyeball whether a recently-deposited envelope might have money in it or not.
  • Leaving it available over the duration of the course adds another layer of anonymity; unless someone's staring at the box day in and day out, studiously writing down the names of everyone who puts an envelope in, no one's going to be able to keep track of who put an envelope in or not.

NOTE: I advise not emptying the box daily unless the setting absolutely demands it (e.g. classroom is shared with others, room does not lock, etc). Daily emptying may make those who aren't donating feel as though you're "checking up" -- if three people put envelopes in on a particular day and you check every day, then if all three envelopes are empty you know that all three people made fake contributions.

  • 3
    I get the feeling this box + cable lock will cost more than the likely donations.
    – reirab
    May 2, 2016 at 21:10
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    @reirab $5 (or 5GBP) cable lock at WalMart, wooden box from a thrift store and a bit of elbow grease, done. And the box/lock can be reused for the one-time investment.
    – Doktor J
    May 2, 2016 at 22:21
  • It's also probably worth pointing out that 1 GBP is a coin, not a bill. It would be pretty easy to tell if there's one in an envelope or not. Much easier to just use one of the myriad of websites available specifically for this purpose. Some (most?) allow anonymous donations. gofundme is an example.
    – reirab
    May 2, 2016 at 22:51
  • For those who don't have a credit card (or don't want to go around entering it into random sites)? All the websites in the world won't help that issue. A coin in an envelope is not going to be visible to others as you're putting it into a box, especially if you're holding the envelope around where the coin is (or would be, in the case of an empty envelope).
    – Doktor J
    May 2, 2016 at 22:56
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    PayPal account point is invalid because an account isn't required on a donate button...
    – Insane
    May 3, 2016 at 5:35

The best solution is not to ask for donations in room, because it will simply make people feel that it is not as free as previously thought, and you will make them think about cash while they should actually be thinking about programming.

Now, I don't have much information about your courses, so I am just going to assume.

If your course is one class only (e.g. only Introduction to Programming) then just let them know at the end of the course that you do accept donations to cover your expenses. Provide them with a note with a link to your page. If you didn't waste their time and they can afford it, they will donate. If this is the case ask for $5-$10 or more. If is not worth to just ask for $1 as about 40% will go to fees, and for 60c don't bother them.

If your course is made up of several classes then maybe the people that are attending already know you and have signed up with their email address weeks in advance. When sending the schedule and other information, mention about donations and a link. Say that those who can afford it can contribute so other people in the future can also get such opportunity. In this case ask for something $5-$50 per course. You may want to mention it again at the end of the course. I'd suggest to check out Coursera's method, as they do something similar. They offer free courses, but for a fee (which covers expenses) you can get a nice certificate.

As for payment, I'd suggest accepting Stripe/PayPal/BTC page, thus allowing better anonymity for those who want it.


The best solution when people is physically present is a bag/box where people can provide the money they both can spend and feel appropriate.

Of course, this should either be opaque, or obscured with the envelopes as suggested by Silent Bob (but do bring them yourself).

In addition of leaving the box there, it can simply be passed through the concurrence, and people simply put their hand and drop its contents there (either some money or nothing). The most knowledge gained would be some sound in case there were coins dropped (which could perfectly be a few pennies). However, that would pressure some people on giving something.

OTOH, I wonder if your adults are really concerned on not disclosing whether they give something or not (as opposed to the actual amount).


Maybe you want to use PayPal and a jar/bag/box at the same time.

  1. The classmates will not be able to notice if someone gives nothing or uses PayPal.
  2. You will not be able to notice if someone gives nothing or uses the jar (if you don't look at it).

The only downside is, that you will be able to track if someone donates via PayPal, but if you don't treat that person special, that shouldn't make anybody feel bad.

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