There are high hopes for cash machine giving, but of 495 million transactions on RBS machines in the past six months, only 8,000 were donations. Ian Griggs finds out why it has started slowly
Last autumn, Link, the company that provides the network behind most of the country's 66,000 cash machines, announced that it had successfully put in place a system that enables people to donate to charity at the push of a button at any machine. The government was delighted - ATM giving had been a key proposal in the Giving Green Paper of December 2010.
The Royal Bank of Scotland Group quickly installed the system on its 12,500 machines - less than a quarter of the total. Barclays, Lloyds Banking Group, TSB, Santander and the Co-operative Bank have not yet installed it, and HSBC has not assimilated it into the system it set up independently in 2006 that enables its own customers to give to charity at its own machines.
The RBS Group, which accounts for about 25 per cent of Link transactions annually, is bullish about the system. But of the 495 million transactions on RBS Group machines in the six months since the system was activated, 8,051 - 0.002 per cent of the total - have involved donations to charity. Donations have averaged 44 a day in that time and totalled £347,000, which gives a relatively high average donation of £43. RBS says the high average is partly because some donations have been made in error. In theses instances, it says, it has refunded the customer, but honoured the donation.
A slow start
ATM giving is clearly experiencing a slow and confused start and has not yet lived up to some expectations. When his company's 4,000 ATMs at shops and garages were activated for charitable giving last October, Ron Delnovo (right), the former managing director of Bank Machine, said: "If 1 per cent of transactions through cash machines were accompanied by a £5 donation, that could raise £150m a year."
Bank Machine will not say how much has actually been raised on its machines until a full year has elapsed, but says that donations of £1 are the most common, with frequent donations of £30 and one of £250.
"We're pleased to say that the roll-out of the initiative has gone without a technical hitch and consumers up and down the UK are using ATMs to make donations to charities," a Bank Machine spokeswoman says.
"In order for the scheme to really take off, it is important that card-issuers and banks get behind the initiative to raise awareness and make it as easy as possible for people to donate."
Link says the launch of its system has been a success and that the average cash donation so far is £5, but it appears to be frustrated at the slow take-up by the banks. Graham Mott (right), head of development at Link, says: "We have made the service available to all of our members since 2012 - it is up to them to make it available to their customers. In the long run, we would like to see charity giving become as widely available as other ATM services, like mobile phone top-ups, and we look forward to working with other Link members as they roll the service out."
As a result of the Link system, says Barclays, its customers can make donations at ATMs that have been enabled - in effect, RBS Group or Bank Machine cash machines. But Barclays has no plans to adopt ATM giving at its own cashpoints. "We will not go into why at this stage," says a spokesman. "This is the only statement we can provide you with."
Lloyds Banking Group, which includes HBOS, gives a similar response, adding that charitable giving is "of significant importance" to its customers. The Co-operative Bank says it has not signed up, partly because its customers are confused by ATM giving. "Despite the best efforts from the ATM providers to make the process as transparent as possible, customers are often confused as to who is donating - the bank or themselves," says a Co-Op spokeswoman. "Customers have selected the service in error."
This may reflect the RBS experience of errors.
The Co-Op is leaving the door open to joining later, but says it would like the government to offer Gift Aid on ATM donations. Santander says it is committed to introducing ATM giving, but has yet to "implement the required software" to do so.
HSBC has run its own ATM giving service on its 3,400 ATMs since 2006, and this has so far raised more than £1.3m for charities. Every year it chooses six charities that will benefit, and employees vote for those they want to be supported - but only HSBC customers can use its ATMs to give to charity. "While we would not rule out any changes to our ATM giving scheme, HSBC and the charities we support are happy with the way it operates," a spokesman says.
For the Link scheme, 30 charities in six regions across the UK were chosen as first-year beneficiaries by an independent panel chaired by Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations. These charities say they are happy to be supported but all feel unable say how much they have received until a full year has elapsed.
The Marine Conservation Society was one of six charities in Scotland to benefit. "We were interested in trying something different and connecting with potential supporters in a new way," says Katherine Stephenson (right), head of corporate fundraising at the charity. "Our conservation work in Scotland is in need of support, so we were delighted to be chosen."
Whatever donations the MCS is receiving are being passed along promptly, the charity says, but it wants the government to do more to make the scheme more effective.
"Perhaps the government could lend support to help launch Gift Aid on ATM charitable giving," Stephenson says. "This would increase individual donations by 20 per cent for basic rate taxpayers."
Macmillan Cancer Support says it is delighted to be a beneficiary, but hints at frustration that the scheme has not been fully adopted.
"While the service is available only through selected ATMs and bank cards, there is still scope for better results," says Lynda Thomas, fundraising director at Macmillan. "The wider the scheme is rolled out and promoted to the public, the more people will benefit."
A consultation on digital giving methods was recently launched by the Treasury, and it is likely that Gift Aid on ATM donations will be one of the subjects raised. "Cash machine giving is a new and simple way of encouraging people to donate to good causes," says a Cabinet Office spokesman. "We are working to encourage more banks to offer the service in 2013."
A PSYCHOLOGIST'S VIEW: 'THE EMOTIONAL APPEAL IS MISSING'
Heather Kappes (right) is a social psychologist and lecturer in marketing at the London School of Economics who studies questions of motivation. "In general, I think people are unlikely to give through ATMs because no emotional appeal is being made," she says. "Studies show that people are more likely to give when they feel they are having a positive impact on individual people. The fact that potential donors might be in a queue with people behind them exacerbates the pressure on them to act in an automated way - this could be bad for giving because people are not tapping into their deeper values. To make this method work, you have to lower the barriers and make it a standard thing that people do, with advertising telling people how to do it and making it as easy as possible."