Making Contact: Experiments with digital donations at National Museums Scotland

Rob Cawston, National Museums Scotland, UK

Published paper: Making contact: Experiments with digital donations at National Museums Scotland

With the rise of contactless payment technology, charities and cultural institutions are exploring new opportunities to raise funds from visitor donations. Coin donation boxes have long been accepted as part of the fabric of museum and gallery spaces, but are there easier ways to support institutions? Can digital technology create new types of giving experiences?

Focussing on three key examples run at the National Museum of Scotland in 2017, this paper outlines the core challenges of creating donation experiences using contactless technology. It will examine the projects’ failures and success, sharing key insights about visitor behavior and exploring how lessons can be applied across the sector as museums look to embrace new ways to generate in-venue support.

Revealing both visitor feedback and the financial results of the trials, a range of key questions will be investigated: How does the positioning of the contactless terminal within the museum space affect the frequency of visitor donations? What types of experience and core messaging can best attract attention and prompt interaction? How does the use of contactless technology for donations differ from commercial transactions—and how can organizations build visitor confidence in new technology, facilitating new ways of giving?

Although supported by one specific technical setup (using terminals supplied by the Dutch company Payter), other types of contactless setups will be considered alongside shifting patterns of consumer behavior and the supporting financial infrastructures across different countries. The trials by National Museums Scotland will also be placed in the context of the cultures of giving in the charity and GLAM sectors, asking how important contactless giving will become to museums and galleries under increasing financial pressure.  

"Pounds, pennies and plastic." Dan Papworth-Smyth,, 19 September 2016

"5 things we learnt trialing contactless." Dan Papworth-Smyth,, 19 July 2017

"Making Contact: Digital experiments with visitor donations." Robert Cawston,, 27 July 2017

Contactless Statistics, UK Card Association, accessed 30 September 2017

‘UK Lessons for US Mobile Payments Adoption’, Karen Webster,, 21 March 2017