The recession and lingering financial instability has hit UK charities hard. In a time when people are giving less and government funding is being cut we are all looking for new innovative ways to keep charity services afloat. Traditional funding avenues like charity boxes are shrinking.

According to a poll carried out by Markettiers4DC among 1500 UK adults this month, over half of those surveyed told us that they see these boxes less or barely notice them any longer. Combine this with the fact that we use less cash on a daily basis and the charity box has become in dire need of a makeover, and now it has had one.

Micro-donations have gone digital. By enabling electronic small ad hoc donations charities can harness the twin trends of rising card usage and the increased use of the internet as a shopping channel.

At The Pennies Foundation, we believe that even tiny donations are valuable and it seems that the public agree, with more than three quarters of those surveyed recently believing that making micro-donations will help raise extra funds for charities. Pennies, the electronic charity box, gives customers the option to round up or top-up their purchases by a few pence and, with one touch of a button, to give this change to charity.

Spontaneous micro-donations by card are very affordable and bring both new giving and new givers, increasing the total amount of money that is given to charities. They sit happily alongside other more established fundraising channels, with only 17% of those surveyed making regular donations compared to 67% either already giving on an ad hoc basis or giving donations through a combination of both regular and ad hoc.

Key to the growth of this movement is to remove barriers, making it easy for retailers and compelling for consumers. A one click process that’s quick and private with no staff interaction has been key, as has the fact that a micro-donation is affordable and, via Pennies, a choice not an on-going commitment. All the money goes to charity with retailers nominating the charities they want to support for the majority of donations they collect. The remaining charities cover a broad range of causes designed to appeal to a mass audience.

We are not alone in the aim to capture those elusive pennies for charities. Worldwide a number of similar schemes are arising. For example in the USA, Change Round-Up, allows online shoppers to round up their purchases for chosen charities.

Whilst historically some donors have felt uncomfortable donating small sums of money to charity, being prompted by technology to give pennies seems to be very popular with the UK public. This approach particularly appeals to the under-34 year olds, a hard to reach segment for charities and a core target market for many retailers. A poll last October found that 74% of this group say that this form of giving appeals to them. According to the Office of National Statistics they represent 28.5% of the adult population.

And is it worth doing? We believe so. If the 43 million card users in the UK gave just 1p a day in this way, over £150 million would be raised for UK charities every year. In addition this newly evolved fundraising channel has the potential to encourage a new generation of “philanthropists”.

Orignally written as a blog article for The Guardian online – Voluntary Sector.


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