When the cash strapped Mayor of Los Angeles asked Michael Jackson fans to cough up the $4 million needed to stage the singer’s memorial, such was the response that, an hour later, the city’s phone and broadband system melted. At the time, the city was $530million in debt. Before meltdown, $17,000 had been donated on the website, and, by the time of the event, over $1million had been donated.

If Liverpool was, say, your favourite tech blogger, or web-cam private dancer, chances are they’d have an Amazon wish list you could peruse, should you want to say thank you with a novelty item.

Micro-donations are an accepted way for us to support and say thanks to the people creating the services that make our lives a little sunnier.

Deliver something of value, and people are more than happy to attach a monetary value on it – even if (or, often, especially when) it’s freely given out.

We know this with our Almanac project. Sure, 10,000 copies were available in town – but 300 or so kindly souls took up our invitation to part with cash for something they could pick up in Leaf for nowt.

Services like Flattr, Amazon’s wish list, or set-amount text donations are a hassle-free way for us to nurture the enterprises that resonate with us. They’re quick, painless, and give an instant kick-back spike of self-congratulatory warmth.

But Liverpool isn’t a private dancer, a dancer for money. So, are there other ways we can show the city our love in times of need? Are there other ways we can help tick off its wish list of safe streets, clean bins and free festivals?

SevenStreets isn’t suggesting that the projected £300 million budget shortfall is gonna be plugged with bucket rattling donation drives, but every little helps, right? And in these straitened times, a few hundred thousand here and there could well prevent arts organisation A, or day centre B facing a very uncertain future.

2012-09-18_08-50-00_324Grand Rapid’s Art Prize (r) is a free city-wide event, putting the Michigan city squarely on the cultural tourist trail. It’s funded by the city and a raft of sponsors. But, last year, its 330,000 visitors were (for the first time) offered the chance to support the event: either as a simple ‘coins in the box’ donation, or by joining the ‘ArtClub’ with a $30 gift that allowed members a grandstand seat to the main events, and a members-only bar.

The scheme’s raised $500,000 so far. That’s an additional revenue stream the city’s never had. And one less financial burden for the cash-strapped Mayor.

Over in San Francisco, Give2SF was created in 2011 to provide an opportunity for individuals or organizations to make donations to a group of city programmes, such as arts, homelessness, parks and recreation and heritage. It’s raised $1.5 million and counting.

Liverpool is a generous city. We have a heart as big as, well, it’s big.

DSC_1995Last summer, in Sefton Park, 150,000 visitors were treated to an August Bank Holiday of free music, sunshine and sparkling wine. The good vibes were tangible. The feeling was of a city – understandably – a little pleased with itself. ‘Phew, we’ve pulled this off,’ the crowd sighed – followed by a realisation that, yeah, we do this free thing bloody brilliantly, don’t we. Isn’t Liverpool ace?

Now imagine a few strategically placed collection boxes – an army of smiley people asking for a donation to the city. Imagine they did that after most of the field (including my family) had demolished aqualungs of cheap pinot grigio.

Now imagine harvesting the feel-good vibe when the Giants were in town? One million people gawped skywards from the city streets. JustGiving estimates that 88% of us put our hand in our pockets – but here’s the clincher:

“Evidence suggests that a number of factors are likely to shape who gives to charity and how much they give: for example, being asked is widely reported to be the most important trigger. Other studies have suggested that fifty percent give cash, on an impulse, when asked…”

We’re not a charity. But the statistics do seem to show that, when asked, we’re very happy to help.

It’s a widely-held misconception perception that corporations and sponsors are the biggest sources to tap for grants and donations. The fact is that four out of five or 80 percent of funds donated to the UK’s museums and galleries are contributed by individuals and bequests.

Individuals are more of a challenge to reach and solicit, but are by far the largest philanthropic resource. Fundraising strategies for parks, arts events and, well, cities, need to consider all sources and how best to connect with the potential donor sources in our midst, and their motivations for giving.

hopestreethotelOne area in which Liverpool is doing very well? Tourism. Figures continue to show, year after year, people are coming to our city in ever-greater numbers.

What if hotels charged a £1 per tourist per night donation? What if we followed other tourist cities’ leads – Rome does it (it charges more for four or five star hotels) The tax raises around £69 million per year, which is used on the maintenance and promotion of the Eternal City’s attractions – which welcome 30 million visitors every year. And, since the tax was introduced two years ago, the city’s seen even more visitors arrive. Liverpool has over 2 million overnight vistitors every year. Crunch those numbers. That could pay for our libraries.

We commend Liverpool for believing in offering culture that’s accessible to all. But let’s not kid ourselves – our rich calendar of shindigs and spectacle costs real cash.

Maybe now’s the time we need to face up to the facts – a giant don’t come for free. In this massive year of Biennials, nationally-important memorials, summer festivals and cruise passengers, we might be pleasantly surprised at how valuable that lesson could be.

Next year, all three Cunard beauties line up at Princes Dock. And more than 50 million day trip tourists will visit the city. Let’s get those tins rattling.

(pic three © Mark McNulty)

16 Responses to “Ways for Liverpool to make money: 2) Ask For It”

  1. Alan Creevy

    I love the idea of the hotel/tourist tax. Problem is, we’ve all been brainwashed by certain politicians into believing that taxing people is wrong, which is weird when it is the single most effective way of generating money for the public purse.

  2. Yvette Green

    I commented on your budget article last year about the hotel tax. I sent my calculations to the Mayor but was advised that the council is not permitted to impose local taxations in that way. Pity really.

  3. Mark Walsh

    Hotel tax is a great idea. It works for places like New York where its something ridiculous like 14% per night. Constant event chugging is not a great idea, if I was asked persistently at any event to give money to charity, I’d be put off it in future. Taxing students for a small living contribution wouldn’t be a bad idea, if you’re living in a cheap city with all of its advantages I don’t see anything wrong with a £10 contribution per year. Council probably couldn’t enforce this since I think its out of their hands.

  4. david_lloyd

    Yeah, definitely, it’s about balance isn’t it? And, also, about how it’s done. The chuggers of Bold Street is a textbook example of how not to do it. Anything less abrasive than that would be a bonus.

  5. Yvette Green

    Here is the response I received from the Mayor’s office in November:

    “Dear Yvette,

    Many thanks for your recent e-mail and your suggestion that we could raise additional income through adding an additional £1 charge to hotel guests or rooms in line with practice adopted by many International cities.

    Your idea certainly has merit however. Current UK legislation does not allow us to adopt this practice in this country and therefore, the model of Business Improvement Districts has been used to date. Additionally, in Europe in particular there is more support from the Hospitality Sector as the levels of VAT are significantly lower than the 20% paid here in the UK so accordingly visitors to the UK pay nearly 3 times as much in VAT than you would in France or Germany and twice as much as in In Italy or Spain. However, despite intensive lobbying from the private sector UK Treasury have not been supportive of making a change here which could if implemented unlock your idea.

    However, your idea is one that should not be forgotten or dismissed because of the current difficulty in implementing it and we will therefore, continue to look at ways in which a model like this could operate.

    Best Wishes, Joe Anderson, Mayor of Liverpool”

  6. Nik Glover

    I’d worry about scaring away developers and/or tourists if a hotel tax was imposed. Also, who in the Council is going to enforce it? And is it even legal in the UK? Local authorities have a hard time creating taxes, particularly business taxes. Not saying it’s a bad idea, just a difficult one to float politically.

  7. Steve Astbury

    taxing students is a terrible idea the most students get a year is around 7500 pounds with at least 3500 of that going on rent a year in what world dose it make it afordeble to tax the other 4000 when the base tax bracket is 9000 a year it would be much more practical to increase council tax on band c and d houses where the people there taking the money from can actually afford and to add a point you would be better off taxing some one on the dole as even on the dole with housing benefit the annual income is higher than the value of a student loan which may i add must be payed back to assosiacions related to the same organisation your suggesting they pay a tax to

  8. Steve Astbury

    no im saying it would be unjustified to target students when there are plenty of wealthier targets who wouldn’t even notice the impact

  9. I believe Vancouver taxed alcohol when Olympics were on. Could bring in a few bob here. Think we could ask for money for festivals etc but basic services, looking after people , are a right, slippery slope etc. yes to hotel tax, explaining to visitors what it pays for.

  10. A tax on hotels per night stay has been applied in France for nearly 100 years now. It’s called ”taxe de séjour”. Hotels , B&Bs etc. collect it and pass it on to the local councils, money is used for maintain tourism infrastructures, promoting events, maintaining public spaces etc…

    It’s often written on your hotel receipts and is usually between 0.20E to 1.50E depending on type of accommodation. It works great and make a significant impact locally, we should definitely have something like this here.

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