Gloucester Catherdral: Entry by Donation

Published: January 31, 2019


Gloucester cathedral

Gloucester Cathedral has always asked for donations from their visitors but despite improved interpretation and facilities, the average visitor donation stubbornly remains at 50 pence. In total, this provides around £130,000 towards the Cathedral’s c.£2.5M maintenance and running costs – an amount which just isn’t enough. If the future of this beautiful cathedral church is to be secured, they must act swiftly to improve the financial situation.

To that end, they will be employing a small team of paid staff – the Visitor Services Team – to make a direct and personal request for donations from tourist visitors at the start of their visit, with the aim of increasing the average donation to £2.00. This will also provide greater opportunities to generate income from gift aid and integrate contactless donation points. Based on current annual tourist visitor numbers of 256,000 this would increase our visitor income to £512,000 which will have a profound impact on the Cathedral’s finances.

Over the past six months significant research has been undertaken to understand how they can transition to this new approach, including visiting other cathedrals to learn from them and to experience this method themselves. Having experienced entry by donation done well (Lichfield Cathedral being a particularly good example) and not so well, they are confident that they can make it work in a way which feels comfortable and welcoming.

Funding to establish this team has been secured with a £150,000 grant from the Cathedrals’ Sustainability Fund – a scheme which exists specifically to enable this type of initiative.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is the Cathedral doing this? Why now?

Simply put, the Cathedral costs more to run than ever before and currently doesn’t generate enough income to cover its expenditure. This is unsustainable and must be put right as soon as possible. This is just one measure that is being taking, along with reducing expenditure and growing other sources of income.

It’s important to state that no one visiting the Cathedral will be expected to pay, instead they will be asked politely to make a donation.

When is this going to start?

It is planned to launch from 1 April 2019, in time for the new visitor season.

Gloucester Cathedral is a place of worship not a tourist attraction. How can you justify this?

The Cathedral remains a place of worship first and foremost – this will not change. However, almost two thirds of our visitors (c.250,000 people) are tourists who come because they view the Cathedral as a heritage destination. Despite this, less than 5% of our total income comes from visitor donations, an imbalance which must be addressed if we are to become financially sustainable.

The Cathedral receives no state funding and relies on donations and other forms of charitable giving to remain open. It shouldn’t be embarrassing to ask for support, in fact donations have always been asked for; this just makes it more personal and more effective. Other cathedrals using an entry by donation approach have an average donation per visitor between £1.80 and £2.10 whereas Gloucester Cathedral currently has an average visitor donation of c.50 pence… the opportunity is there, it just needs to be taken.

Will I be asked to donate every time I come into the Cathedral? Every time I come to pray?

Not at all! The details are still being working on, but regular users of the Cathedral will not be expected to donate when they visit and there will be a system in place to enter the building quickly without being approached by a member of the new Visitor Services Team. It is worth bearing in mind that it will take time for this new team to get to know regular visitors, including staff and volunteers, so if you are stopped we apologise and ask for your patience.

How much are you expecting people to donate? What if they don’t donate enough?

Whilst there will be a recommended amount for individuals and groups, visitors will have the choice to give whatever they wish. No one will be prevented from entering or made to feel uncomfortable if they don’t give the recommended amount or choose not to donate at all – it is entirely their decision. We already manage group tour donations and have been asking for donations in general for decades.

I already give through the Parish Giving Scheme and the Collection Plate. I can’t afford to give more and I don’t think I should expect to.

We totally agree and appreciate that many of our regular users are already giving what they can.

What does the Bishop think about this?

Bishop Rachel recognises the need for the Cathedral to generate increased income from its visitors and is fully behind our plans. Dean Stephen re-iterates his opposition to charging for entry.

What about vulnerable people who come to the Cathedral for solace and consolation and support? Will they be asked to donate too?

The Cathedral will always be open and free to those looking for a place of quiet contemplation or in need. Our Visitor Services Team will be trained to recognise visitors of this nature and provide them with the support they need, alongside clergy and Honorary Chaplains.

I’ve experienced this at another Cathedral and it felt awful

It is recognised that if done badly, entry by donation can feel like it is charging and leave a sour taste. But it is also know that if done correctly, it can enhance a visitor’s experience and leave people feeling positive about supporting the Cathedral. During the research, both good and bad were experienced and the Cathedral are confident they can find the right balance to ensure Gloucester Cathedral remains as welcoming and accessible as possible, whilst increasing the contribution made by our visitors.

What will this do to our visitor numbers? If they go down won’t that mean less money coming in from donations or through the Gift Shop and Monk’s Kitchen?

The research shows that introducing an entry by donation approach has no negative impact on visitor numbers. Furthermore, at other cathedrals both donations and other visitor income sources (gift shop, café etc.) have increased when an entry by donation policy has been introduced!

The Cathedral recently received £6m from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Why isn’t that enough to stop this?

The £6m received from the Heritage Lottery Fund was awarded for a specific project, Project Pilgrim. The nature of the Cathedral means that the majority of the charitable income is restricted in this way which is what makes visitor donations (which can be used for general purposes) so important. The Cathedral must increase its general income if it’s to balance the books and ensure the Cathedral is to remain open and accessible to all.

You said Project Pilgrim was about keeping the Cathedral free to enter. What has changed?

The Cathedral categorically remains free to enter as no one who does not wish to make a donation will be forced to do so or made to feel uncomfortable if they choose not to.

Pilgrim has helped to improve the experience of visiting by conserving and enhancing key areas of the building. That alone will not help to make the Cathedral financially sustainable, but it does mean that we’re in a much better position to proactively encourage visitors to consider making a donation to support the life and work of the Cathedral. This new initiative would not be possible without our renewed infrastructure.

Is this the first step towards charging?

Absolutely not. There are no plans to introduce an entrance fee in the future. But that doesn’t mean the cathedral should shy away from asking for donations most effectively. On the contrary, the Cathedral is a charity, and like all charities it requires funding from supporters to achieve its aims. This is a chance to have a conversation with visitors about why they might like to give and where their donation goes, as well as taking advantage of gift aid and contactless giving.

What does this mean for volunteers? Aren’t they needed anymore?

Volunteers will continue to be as important as they ever have been to the Cathedral. Whilst a small team of front of house staff will be employed to help run this new approach, the initial welcome that visitors to the Cathedral receive will still be delivered by our Volunteer Welcomers who are specialists at what they do.

What does this mean for staff? Will these new jobs mean someone will have to lose theirs to pay for them?

There are no planned redundancies or job losses at this time.

The cost of the new Visitor Services Team will be covered by a grant received from the Cathedrals’ Sustainability Fund for the first two years of operation. After that, it is confidently expected that the income received from visitor donations will generate significantly more than the ongoing running costs.

Thank you for your support and for sharing in the life of your cathedral here in Gloucester

2 thoughts on “Gloucester Catherdral: Entry by Donation

  1. I visited today, this stubborn 50p donation you talk about is by people giving to one of the largest landowners in this country. I am local and used to visit here as a place of quiet reflection. This brazen, heavily advertised £5 donation made me feel uncomfortable and guilt tripped and I’m disgusted by your decision.

    Jesus would not have agreed with this or your attitude.

    Sell some land to pay for your maintenance don’t bully visitors like this. These churches were built on the blood sweat and tears of poor people and now those poor people cannot enter without being bombarded. Horrified you have gone the way of other cathedrals. You’ve lost a visitor from your greed.

    1. Hi Kelly, I went in there a few days ago and just said to them “I’m here to pray if that’s ok” and there wasn’t any hesitation in letting me in; they were very welcoming. I think considering the number of toursits who visit the site purely for the architecture (or because it was in Harry Potter …), it’s a fair attempt to make sure the cathedral’s looked after long-term. Selling land would be fine as a one-off thing, but once it’s sold, that’s it; it’s not a long-term or sustainable option.

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