When cashless hurts charities

The rapid shift to digital banking has hit charities and others who usually rely on the impulsive donation of spare change. But even adopting cashless technology might not help, explain Spencer M. Ross and Sommer Kapitan.

Collectors for the Paralympic Games carried donation buckets ahead of the recent Santa parade in Auckland, asking for gold coin donations. Onlookers shrugged them off: “Sorry, no cash on me!”

To the rescue, a charity volunteer waved a contactless “tap-and-go” machine that could connect straight to users’ bank accounts. But only a few people reached for their wallets to pull out their cards.

This anecdote reflects a global trend. As the Salvation Army reports, the usual American holiday fundraising drive has struggled in 2020, with 50% fewer donations than last year.

Cash is changing hands less frequently than ever before. In the US, it accounted for 30% of retail purchases in 2020, down from 40% in 2009. In the UK, the change has been even more rapid: only 23% of payments are made in cash, down from 60% in 2009. 

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The cashless society from an ethical point of view

The debate about the move towards a cashless society has been at the center of the scene for several years, now. Various angles have been taken by economists, politicians, banking institutions and sociologists. Beyond the technicalities of the debate, lies the question of freedom, of inter-citizen solidarity and of governmental responsibility. The debate cannot remain in the hands of financial specialists, it is first and foremost an ethical, political and societal issue.

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