Cashless Innovations - keeping up as cash goes digital

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Cashless Innovations - keeping up as cash goes digital

What does an increasingly cashless society mean for charities, and how can they adapt in this changing environment?
Claire Bennett

With over 108.4 million contactless cards issued in the UK spending on average £3,913.3m[1] a month, it is no wonder that people talk about a ‘cashless’ society. Over the years, living without physical cash has become easier, especially with the widespread use of contactless payment cards and virtual wallets, as well as fingerprint and face recognition payment features on phones. No longer do we have to queue up outside cash machines in the cold when you can just point your card or phone at a monitor and, like magic, everything is paid for.

Whilst this easy to use technology is fast becoming an everyday feature in all aspects of our life, what about charities and fundraisers who have historically relied on people carrying loose change? Are they missing out? Do they rely on physical cash? Is the phrase ‘any spare change’ dead?

Well the answer is both yes and no. Undoubtedly, there is less physical cash, but there are also new opportunities to generate more income than the traditional cash collection box ever did – but is this risky?

No Cash, No Problem?

Some not for profits have already started addressing this concern by working with organisations such as goodbox, Tap ‘N’ Go device, PayaCharity and the Tap Foundation who have developed contactless devices that charities can use for fundraising. Since 2017, some charity collection boxes have been issued with a QR/NFC technology which means that they can simply be scanned by mobile phones with free apps like SnapDonate and the user can donate online as well as adding gift aid (if eligible). Now, next to the ‘donations encouraged’ box in your local museum, nature reserve, church or gallery, you are likely to find a contactless donation stand with minimum payments.

In addition, given that one of the most common reasons people give for not buying the Big Issue is a ‘lack of cash’, technology is being used to address the problem. In 2018 the Big Issue announced it was going to pilot distributing card monitors to some Big Issue vendors in London, Bath, Birmingham Bristol and Nottingham. Whilst it is too soon to know if this has made a difference in income, adapting to the change in circumstances is the only way to address the no cash problem. Perhaps this has also influenced the decision by the Mayor of London to support the roll out of 35 Tap London terminals across the capital which accept £3 donations for 22 homeless charities.

Adapting to new technology is not cheap, and charities need to think about whether this is a worthy investment. So what do we know that can help you with your decision? Our own research indicates that changing donor behaviour is difficult. Certainly online donations have not proved to be as popular as online shopping or banking, with only 16% of the general public who gave to charity stating they donated via a charity website in 2018[2] (a fall from 19% in 2017[3]). Similarly, only 11% of people say they donated via text messaging/SMS in 2018, a figure which has remained consistent with the previous year. So what about cashless? Early indications are that contactless donations are looking very promising, which suggests that not going down this route could come at a huge cost to your charity. Our research consistently tells us that street cash donations are still one of the most popular forms of giving, although like other methods this is slightly on the decline.

In 2018 our data revealed that 40% of people who gave to charities donated via a street cash donation (down from 45% in 2017). Therefore, there is nothing to suggest a street cashless donation would prove any less popular. More and more charities are piloting or using this technology which is generating interesting findings. NSPCC research[4] revealed that their contactless face-to-face fundraising was raising three times as much money as cash donations. This has also led Barclaycard to predict that charities will lose out on £80 million if they do not adapt to the contactless society.

This is clearly an area that needs further research and nfpSynergy will certainly be tracking how this develops in the future. What we do know is that how donors interact with charities is changing, and there is a likelihood that this will mean that how people donate changes too. Technology is constantly being developed in order to make donating to a charity more fun and interactive. For example, Give DIFFerently in Cardiff installed interactive donation points in their widows. This allowed people to simply tap on the window or scan the QR code to make a donation, which was followed by a celebratory rugby goal visual display. Blue Cross have been installing technology on their dogs coats, so when you pat your Blue Cross pooch, you can tap a donation. Cancer Research UK have introduced 10 contactless donation benches across London which also include wifi and phone charging points encompassing more of an experience.

From our work with charities, we know that giving is not always a rational experience and contactless payments can really capitalise on this. If people like your message and if there is the means to donate easily and spontaneously, they will. So, if you are not already, we suggest you look into cashless donations and get as many contactless points set up as possible.

Is your charity using this technology or thinking of it? If so tell us more about it in the comments below, we are keen to learn from your experience.

[1] April 2017

[2] CAM sector data April 2018 – have you donated to a charity in the last 3 months and how did you donate?

[3] CAM sector data May 2017 – have you donated to a charity in the last 3 months and how did you donate?

Submitted by Stephen Noble (not verified) on 8 Feb 2019


The arguments for investing in contactless giving are compelling, but there's an underlying issue very similar in nature to availability of super-fast broadband. In short: urban areas good, rural areas bad.The charity for which I work exists to support people living in (often the most remote) rural areas. Consequently, much of our fundraising occurs in these same communities - where contactless giving will be unreliable at best. And I'm not convinced there's any indication this will improve quickly.

Submitted by Angela Glynn (not verified) on 5 Mar 2019


We are going to trial cashless giving at our Urban Peregrine Project, which is at Norwich Cathedral. We have a watchpoint equipped with high quality scopes and binoculars. Members of the public can then watch as the Peregrine family live on a ledge fixed to the spire, 400ft above ground level. We have typically had collection boxes and ask the 25,000 visitors to donate. So you get a pound or two from some who have cash. We are having volunteer tabards with QR code installed to give a minimum donation of £2.50. I will let you know how we fare, but I estimate that turning all volunteers into donation 'boxes' is going to work well.

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