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Asking for charity donations with a card machine…

In 2019, more than half of the donations made to all UK charities were in cash. Just two years later and times have changed, in that few people carry cash on their person nowadays. The Covid pandemic has normalised this situation even more, as people have been even more averse to using bank notes/coins that have been handled by others in case they spread the virus.

Whilst it’s no great shakes (in fact, it just makes things more convenient) to pay for your shopping with a debit/credit card, or use these details to book something online, there are some scenarios that may suffer from a cashless society—charities being one.

From tin rattling in town centres to standing by a bucket as you pack bags at a supermarket till…for years, charities have asked for cash donations. No matter how small the gift, every coin given soon added up, providing an income source for organisations of all sizes.

Larger charities may not be hugely affected if they were to no longer receive cash donations, given how many different sources of income they attract. However, small charities may suffer greatly, as a significant portion of their annual turnover may derive from the general public donating cash at events and fundraising drives.

Everything has gone digital now. Savvy buskers, who have always relied on cash gifts from the public, have taken to displaying wireless card machines on their pitches, with a pre-set amount of £1, for example. Given that most people simply flung their coppers into the busker’s guitar case or hat as they passed, this new system may result in fewer people tipping.

However, of those that do, if paying £1 a time, the entertainer may actually make more money this way than they did before the pandemic. Card readers, nowadays, are not expensive and need not be part of a monthly rental agreement; you can get machines like SumUp, Paypal Here and Zettle for a nominal price and without a contract.

Could charities use the same system? Would people used to putting their loose change in a bucket feel the same about donating to an organisation with their card? Would they need extra reassurance surrounding the security of their card details, i.e. would this present an additional hurdle when asking for donations?

At this point, it’s worth having a rethink of your fundraising strategy; if your typical donors no longer carry cash, it may be time to address what, how and when they may donate with their cards.

Many charities have followed the buskers’ example and made it easy for the general public to ‘tap and go’. This may not be as successful an approach to use if bag packing or general tin-shaking, but it may convince donors at events to give more than they may have, had they relied on the cash in their pockets (which, admittedly, has been dwindling for many years now). If this proves to be the case, why would a charity put their efforts into traditional fundraising efforts, such as bag packing/tin shaking…wouldn’t it make much more sense to adjust your fundraising calendar and overall strategy so that the types of events that yield a greater level of donations occur more frequently? And, don’t forget, whilst the world turning ever more digital may have dampened the amount of cash donations, it has introduced us to the world of virtual events. Virtual raffles, tombolas, virtual casino nights, virtual race nights, virtual comedy nights…all of these are easier to organise than offline events, which means they could be held more often.

The National History Museum trialled cashless charity boxes. Their ‘tap and donate’ podiums raised an extra million pounds for the organisation. That’s certainly not to be sniffed at. This technology has been incorporated into church collection plates and even within working dogs’ jackets, too.

With a change in strategy needs to be a change in message and in operations. People using their cards to donate need to be reassured that their card details are safe with the organisation using them. Digital donations create paper trails that cash wouldn’t have encountered, for both the donor and the organisation, and handling/transaction fees are difficult to eliminate.

It’s not that charities can’t adapt to card donations…indeed, if they wish to continue attracting donations from this point forward, they will have to. Smaller charities are luckier in this respect, though, as they are typically more agile and resilient than larger organisations; they can overhaul their literature, introduce new processes, and ensure every marketing message says what now needs to be said. A cashless society may not have been something they would have wished for, but it doesn’t have to mean ‘game over’ for charitable donations.

If you’d like help to tweak your policies, processes and priorities in respect of digital gifts and donations, give me a call.


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