Allow for electronic donations or fall behind, charities warned

Debit card payments in general became more common than cash payments last year, and Rick Lay, head of fundraising at Sue Ryder, says charities should sit up and pay attention

Card payments now outnumber cash payments
Card payments now outnumber cash payments

Charities must consider enabling people to donate electronically or risk "dropping the ball" on their ability to receive donations, the head of public fundraising at the care charity Sue Ryder has warned.

Rick Lay made the comments in response to the news today that for the first time payments by debit card have become more common than cash payments in the UK.

The 2018 UK Payment Markets report, published by the banking trade body UK Finance, reveals that in 2017 UK consumers made 13.2 billion debit card payments, compared with 13.1 billion cash payments.

The popularity of contactless payments was a key driver of debit card growth, the report says, with contactless payments on debit and credit cards increasing by 97 per cent during 2017 to 5.6 billion.

Lay told Third Sector: "This is something that charities need to sit up and be paying attention to, if they’re not already. The trend is obviously towards people not carrying cash and, fundamentally, if charities that rely on cash donations aren’t thinking about this already, they’re going to be massively behind the curve."

He said that staff at Sue Ryder had noticed the trend and were considering options, such as the introduction of contactless payment cards, to make up for any fall in cash donations, particularly at funerals, to which the hospice charity is often invited to seek donations.

"We’ve been talking about taking contactless payment machines to funeral collections because people don’t have cash with them any more but would clearly like to make donations in memory of someone," Lay said. "So you can have a laborious process of filling out their details on paper forms or they can swipe or tap and donate."

But he added that donors might take time to adapt to the new technology, which they saw more commonly in commercial settings, and card machines could be perceived as more callous than the collection buckets donors were used to.

But ultimately, he said, the move towards card payments could present charities with an opportunity, in the same way that direct debit systems, which were designed for utility companies, had revolutionised charity payments, offering predictable monthly income.

Not considering the introduction of new technology, he said, would risk "dropping the ball".

In response to the UK Finance report, an Institute of Fundraising spokeswoman said: "It’s clear that across society the way people use cash is changing, with fewer cash payments reported and a growth in card, contactless and online payments.

"Fundraisers are thinking a great deal about the ways in which people can give money and how different fundraising campaigns and activities can inspire donations. Cash is still important, but our members see the growth of online and contactless payments as more of an opportunity than a threat."

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