In the UK, a handful of banks are starting to let people give to charities directly through an ATM. Sounds like a good thing. Having new, easy ways to be charitable is, indeed, good. What’s not good about it? People can only give to very few charities.

For example, the Bank of Scotland has 8,000 ATMs, but people can only give to eight charities. Tesco Bank has seven charities on “offer” for their 2,200 cash machine users.

Charities on the list to choose from include Cancer Research UK, Oxfam, Save the Children, Together for Short Lives, among others. They’re all big charities, likely with healthy fundraising budgets. Smaller charities – which generally make up the bulk of any charitable sector – lose out.

Unfortunately, this is often how the charitable sector works – in Canada as well. Stats show that the 1 percent of organizations that have annual revenues of 10 million or more receive 59 percent of all donations made. * It’s a sad state when the old adage of “the rich get richer” even applies to charities.

There’s hope that some smaller charities may find a mass audience through ATM donations in the UK. One ATM operator, Bank Machine, is getting a panel of experts from the charitable sector to choose 30 charities to include in their system. But considering there are approximately 168,000 charities in the UK, it’s hardly a democratic choice.

Of course, letting people choose from all 168,000 charities at an ATM would be a nightmare. But why not rotate through various charities so more could be included? Or let any charity submit an application to be included as one of the options?

Or even, why try to direct the money towards a specific charity at an ATM at all? An ATM doesn’t try to direct the money you deposit or withdraw otherwise; instead it could just give you the ability to set the money aside for a charitable donation later (i.e. move money from your savings or chequing account to a charitable account).

This is actually where the main benefit of Chimp comes in, because it acts like this charitable bank account. It’s the great leveler in the charity sector, because every single registered charity in Canada is in the Chimp system. If you want to support the usual biggies, you can. But if you want to find and give to smaller charities – the charities that aren’t already getting millions in donations – you can do that, too. Small charities get an equal chance to receive charitable dollars, and donors get the ultimate choice.



* Statistics Canada, 2003 National Survey of Nonprofit and Voluntary Organizations

Giving through ATMs is new and good – but limiting

Category: Charity Matters