Tiny Tickets: BART’s Best-Kept Secret?

A few nonprofits, such as the San Francisco SPCA, make tons by fundraising via Tiny Tickets, a charity program founded by BART and the East Bay Community Foundation.

While most BART riders don’t know that their 10- or 30-cent tickets, forgotten in purses and drawers, can be turned into charity donations, a few nonprofits do.

And by staying in the know, they have benefited from a share of about $40,000 worth of donated BART tickets per year.

When the program launched in 2001, more than 150 nonprofits signed on to receive donations in the form of BART tickets. Now, program representatives are only aware of around 50 nonprofits that regularly participate.

“We don’t really know what’s going on out there,” said Carlos Velasquez, operating manager for the East Bay Community Foundation, the organization that cofounded Tiny Tickets in partnership with BART.

The last time many in the public were aware that their small tickets might be worth something to charity was in 2007, when BART promoted Tiny Tickets with a donation drive. That year there were boxes to collect unwanted tickets at the Montgomery and Embarcadero stations.

But riders won’t see Tiny Tickets boxes at stations in the future; according to BART representatives, for legal reasons it can no longer collect tickets at stations. Tickets must be dropped off at a participating nonprofit or mailed to the East Bay Community Foundation.

Velasquez said that in recent years, as nonprofits have fallen on hard times because of the economy and have gone through staff changes, even a fundraising effort like Tiny Tickets has been put on the back burner and, in some cases, forgotten.

He gets calls from organizations’ new staff members asking if they are still part of Tiny Tickets.

Velasquez himself has only been working on the Tiny Tickets program for the last three months. He and BART’s Tiny Tickets representative, customer service manager Carol Walb, have yet to sit down and discuss the program’s future, but in the meantime, a few have benefited.

Between 2002 and 2009, 383,000 tickets were donated, resulting in $260,000 for Bay Area nonprofits either in cash, supportive services or staff trainings.

Formerly, at least 10 Mission District nonprofits were part of the program. Fewer participate now, and some had trouble determining whether they are still collecting Tiny Tickets or not.

Part of the decline in nonprofit participation may be because the organizations have to promote Tiny Tickets themselves to raise money. The only evidence of Tiny Tickets’ existence on the East Bay Community Foundation’s website home page is a tiny link in the footer that leads to a page about the program.

Of the BART riders interviewed by Mission Loc@l, only one knew of the nine-year-old program.

“For me to do it, it would have to be really convenient,” said Alec Ditonto, 25, waiting for a train at the 16th Street BART station. He said he might donate if BART offered prepaid, pre-addressed Tiny Tickets envelopes.

“I could pick one of those up at a BART station, throw all my tickets in it and drop it off in the mail.”

Still, a small group of nonprofits make sure that donors see their drop-off boxes.

In the last fiscal year, the local SPCA has raised $5,600 in tiny ticket donations. “It’s phenomenal,” said Tina Ahn, the SPCA’s director of communications, who says the program has been popular with SPCA visitors because the organization makes donating easy. “Our donors send in them in, they drop them off, they mail them in.”

She laughed. “$5,000 donors aren’t easy to come by, so we’re very grateful.”

Another grateful organization is the Homeless Prenatal Program.

“I love the program, it makes people feel so good to contribute something as simple as a small amount of money left over on a BART ticket, and we have received thousands of dollars in total over the years,” Carol Brennan, the group’s office manager, said in an e-mail to Mission Loc@l.

Others are less successful.

At the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, Tiny Tickets means a little extra cash.

“We get a number of tickets that range from 10 to 25 cents,” said Jason Wallach, the Center’s media and events coordinator. “When they add all up, for the entire year I think it was about a little bit less than $200.”

Once nonprofit agencies collect tickets, the East Bay Community Foundation sends them to BART. BART calculates their worth and sends the funds to the East Bay Community Foundation to divvy up among participants.

“We don’t have any specific plans, but we’re going to do a contest or something to get people energized,” said Walb of the organizations’ next steps.

She hopes the program will bring in useful donations for at least a few more years. “It depends on how quickly people in the region adopt Clipper,” she said, referring to a transit debit card that replaces the traditional BART ticket. Still, “for these agencies, a small amount of money means a lot.”

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  1. The advertising for this program always made me incredibly frustrated, when they used to bother to tell people about it in stations. The ads never quite told you *where* to donate your tickets, and there was never a drop box at the one place people think about tiny tickets: opposite the exit gates, the moment your pass goes from $2.00 to $0.01. They might as well roll the whole thing up now, with the region moving to Clipper.

  2. Liz Berliant

    I recently found out that a great organization located in the Mission but serving communities across the Bay, Education Through Music, is participating in this fundraiser. http://etmbayarea.org/news_and_events/news/tiny_tickets_means_big_support_for_etmbay_area

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