More and more of us are carrying less and less cash. So much so that increasingly, when we see a charity collector, pat our pockets apologetically and mutter that we don’t have any money, we’re actually telling the truth.

The world is going cashless thanks to contactless payment technology, with countries such as Australia, Poland, Singapore and the UK among the trailblazers. Whether it’s cards or mobile phones equipped with contactless chips, people are increasingly tapping to pay rather than handing over money.

According to Visa, the world’s largest payments company, three billion contactless transactions were made using its cards in Europe over the last year, meaning that one in five in-person card purchases were contactless.

So as we abandon notes and coins in favour of contactless payments, what are charities going to fill their coffers with? The obvious answer, of course, is that they need to make the move from cash to cards along with everyone else.


Chipping in

Acutely aware of the challenge, charities have been exploring contactless collection for some time but it is only recently that the idea has been trialled on a large scale. Collectors, armed with rattle-less e-tins, have begun trying to persuade us to give with our cards rather than our coins.

In the UK, the concept was originally pioneered by The Royal British Legion which in 2013 tried out a very limited contactless giving scheme for its annual ‘Poppy Appeal’ in aid of members of the armed forces and their families.

In 2015, Visa and TCS teamed up with Save the Children and a select group of innovative tech companies in a pioneering project to explore both the technological challenges of contactless charity boxes, and the psychological impact on potential donors: how would people react when asked to present their card?

The 100-day trial saw design students at the Royal College of Art create a new charity box which incorporated contactless technology. The tins were based on the traditional ‘shakers’ with a reader plate on top. And just in case that wasn’t modern enough, the students made them with a 3D printer.

Source: TCS /Visa

The boxes were used for both street collections in London and unattended collections in the world’s second biggest coffee chain, Costa Coffee. The trial was received well by users who found the service fast, easy and intuitive to use.


Please swipe the dog

Since then a series of other successes has reinforced the potential of contactless giving.

Sue Ryder, a charity which runs hospices, introduced ‘tap to give’ in its charity shops, hospices and charity sales. Static boxes were set up for donations of £16, the cost of an hour of care in a Sue Ryder hospice, while mobile tins let donors give £2 per tap.

Source: Blue Cross

Animal welfare charity Blue Cross has taken contactless giving one step further with its ‘Tap Dogs’ scheme. Here, the contactless terminals became canine wearable tech, integrated into specially-designed jackets for the dogs of Blue Cross fundraisers. Donors could simply pat the dogs’ jackets with their cards to make a payment.


Street sales

At The Big Issue magazine, the impact of people carrying less cash has been felt strongly.  The magazine is sold by homeless and unemployed people in town centres across the UK for a small profit, which they get to keep. Over the last 15 years, the Big Issue has seen its sales decline, in part due to the growth in card and phone payments.

One seller in London got so frustrated that he invested his own money in a card reader and connected it to his smartphone to take payments. He has recently added contactless functionality and Apple Pay to his payment options.

In early 2016, the Big Issue Foundation, which publishes the magazine, announced it was working with technology partners and banks to install a system for contactless payments, to be rolled out nationwide.

One of the largest trials of contactless charity payments in the UK was carried out by Cancer Research on World Cancer Day in February 2016. Collections took place in 16 locations across four of the UK’s biggest cities - London, Glasgow, Leeds and Liverpool. Donors could give a £2 donation to Cancer Research by tapping their cards on a specially designed reader.


No cash is no excuse

There are some obvious practical advantages to making contactless donations. As well as blowing the ‘I haven’t got any money’ excuse out of the water, it enables donors to give the amount they want rather than just scraping together whatever loose change they have left in their wallet. An electronic charity box is also of little use to potential thieves as it has no significant value.

The primary benefit, though, is simply that it keeps charities in the same financial space as almost all retail outlets meaning they are not forced to cling to the ever more outdated currency of cash.


The jury is out

It is still early days. The charities that have trialled contactless payments are assessing their impact. Save the Children found in its initial proof of concept trial in 2015 that given the choice, around 70% of donors still preferred to give cash rather than using contactless cards.

Some of this could be explained simply by the novelty factor – we have been pressing coins into tins for generations. But data security concerns may be another factor at play. A survey by Which?, a UK consumer magazine, found that nearly three-quarters of respondents acknowledged the convenience of contactless cards, but seven in ten were also concerned about card theft and abuse.

As the retail and banking industries innovate to address such concerns, the use of cashless payments will continue to increase and as it does so, the appeal for charities will also grow.  We may not all be ready to wave our card at the charity collectors just yet, but charities are making sure that when we are, they are ready, willing and able to accept our donation.