Covid and the cashless society from the perspective of small charities
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Covid and the cashless society from the perspective of small charities

An conversation with Neil Oliver on his Saturday program on GBNews about covid, the cashless society and charities.

When I was approached to be on Neil Oliver’s Saturday evening program on GBNews to talk about the pandemic and the cashless society from the perspective of small charities my first thought was to ask some the charities I know what it has meant to them.

Although I heard this sentiment time and again one military charity summed it up very succinctly “Covid has been savage for us from a staff morale point of view.”

For smaller organisations a move to cashless has been all about maintaining the interpersonal relationship. Their reliance on volunteers and on informal networks to support the ongoing operation is generally vital. Some charities will take advantage of the opportunities of digital and have also geared up for a return to "normal operation". However, some will be slow to open up. The disruption in viability, or growth, plans, and the need to re-establish or build new relationships with funders, and in a new working environment, will be a challenge for all particularly, perhaps, for those without deep pockets or significant in-house skills.

Some of the recommendations I heard were for small charities set up Facebook Fundraising (if they haven't already) and encourage their supporters to create event themselves, such as Walk 50 miles in May or Swim 20k in June. These challenge events work well on Facebook and a lot of people who take part, don't have a connection to the cause - they just want to take on the challenge. Facebook doesn't charge a platform or processing fee either.

Regarding the cashless society, one residential charity I spoke with told me that there has been minimal impact to how they work other than a positive one resulting from asking their residents during the pandemic to pay their service charge electronically rather than in cash. This obviously reduced the need for personal contact or cash handling during the worst of the pandemic. They also found that the switch from cash to electronic has significantly reduced arrears of service charge payments. They said that this is very important to their clients' ultimate wellbeing, as in order to move on into independent accommodation in the community, they need to demonstrate their ability to handle their money and not rack up service charge arrears.

Covid has meant that many charities have had to adapt services quickly during the early lockdown stages, which for some has had an ongoing positive impact. For example, the development of a webchat system to enable the charity to continue to support their clients remotely rather than face-to-face when they needed to reduce personal contact. Changes like this have, of course, been a challenge in obtaining additional funding to purchase technology such as smartphones and tablets or laptops whether that be for clients or staff who have had to work remotely.

For some other charities the impact has been less positive and has particularly affected small charities championing less mainstream causes or causes that have been particularly excluded from emergency funding during the pandemic, animal welfare charities for example - who might traditionally rely on in-person fundraising - such as events.

It is worth noting that many volunteer-led small charities don’t have a dedicated fundraising person, or a finance person, or even someone qualified to investigate collecting cashless payments for example. One person I spoke with told me that lots of small charities have had issues with registering on online platforms

To sum up. Unsurprisingly, the pandemic has stimulated a large and sustained increase in cashless giving which is likely to stay. This is likely to include:
· More digital and hybrid fundraising events.
· Continued growth of social media fundraising.
· Giving through websites and apps, including crowdfunding sites. QR codes have become the norm for many during the pandemic.
· Increased availability and use of contactless card donation points.

Benefits for charities:
· Online giving encourages Gift Aid.
· Higher donation amounts.
· Data capture to enable stewardship through website and platform donations.
· Donors are getting younger so opportunity to engage Gen Z.
· Contactless can provide charities a uniquely powerful ask – e.g. tap to donate points on charity shop windows.
· Less resource heavy (processing of donations).

Barriers, particularly for small charities:
· Skilling up of staff and volunteers.
· Financial resources needed for set up costs – for example cashless collection boxes, contactless donation points, GivePanel for Facebook data.
· Initial ROI if not investing at scale.
· Contactless donations are anonymous so the challenge of anonymity.
· The move away from face-to-face events and giving limiting the charites ability to engage with donors.