Cash and coronavirus: the implications for charities

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The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the normal flow of our lives and made us question how we go about our day-to-day activities. Alongside how we shop, travel and exercise, the issue of whether we should be using cash has been prominent in the minds of many. As a form of money that passes through numerous hands, concerns have been raised around whether coins and notes can harbour and transmit the virus.
In this post we’ll address these preoccupations with reference to the latest scientific advice, and give an overview of the current status of cash and how it impacts charity fundraising campaigns.

The Science

Cash has long been known to collect and host a range of bacteria. E.Coli, MRSA, and Listeria are just a few that have been identified on notes and coins in circulation.
Yet despite cash’s dirty reputation, the risk it poses with regards to spreading coronavirus isn’t as clear cut; currently, no studies have been undertaken that demonstrate the ability of notes and coins to harbour and disseminate COVID-19 specifically.
To get a better idea of whether we should be using cash in this period, however, there are some useful (if indirect) studies we can use for guidance.
● A study published in the Journal of Applied and Environmental Microbiology showed that more common strains of influenza can survive on banknotes for up to 17 days when in high concentrations.
● Another study, published in Future Microbiology six years ago, draws attention to the fact that the survivability of any bacteria on our cash depends on the material it’s made out of; according to the researchers, bacteria last longer on paper/cotton-based currencies than they do on polymer-based ones (the UK’s notes fall into the second category).

Two charity cash collecting tins on a shop counter

Two charity cash collecting tins on a shop counter

With regards to COVID-19 in particular, the first studies published have concentrated on how long it can survive on different types of surface. Whilst the paper, polymer, and alloy surfaces of notes and coins haven’t been looked at specifically, research in The New England Journal of Medicine may give an indication of the virus’s ability to survive on our cash. According to the study, COVID-19 can survive up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to three days on plastic.
Regardless of how long the virus can survive on notes and coins, a more fundamental point is how easily it can spread through their use. Again, as yet there’s no data looking at physical money in particular – all we know is that transmission occurs most commonly through droplets of saliva containing the infection. If these can survive on money for long enough (which the evidence suggests it probably can), and if those using cash proceed to touch their eyes, noses, or mouths after handling it, then it’s reasonable to assume that the use of cash can indeed contribute to the spread of COVID-19 to some extent. It’s for this reason that the World Health Organisation have advised the public to wash their hands after dealing with cash, especially if they’re holding or eating food at the same time.

The impact on how we use cash

Although the science linking cash to the spread of coronavirus is, as yet, still indirect, the public appear to be taking a cautious approach to how they use money. LINK, the UK’s largest cash machine network, for instance, have reported a 50% drop in cash withdrawals for March when compared to last year.
The latest statistics from UK Finance show that contactless transactions, on the other hand, are on the rise. According to their figures, there were 720 million contactless card transactions in January this year (before lockdown measures were brought in), which represents a 12.3% increase from the same time last year. This trend is only expected to continue, especially given that the maximum limit for individual contactless transactions has been increased from £30 to £45.

Goodbox core with hand-tapping Revolut card

Contactless giving via GoodBox


The implications for charities

The decreasing use of cash need not be an issue for charities looking to raise funds during these difficult times. Despite an uncertain economic outlook, the public’s willingness to donate doesn’t appear to have waned – the monumental achievement of Captain Tom Moore, raising more than £30 million for the NHS is just one example of this.
What is clear, however, is that charities will need to adapt the ways in which they collect donations, moving away from volunteer-manned cash collections and embracing a better use of technology.

Give a tap board in London's Liverpool Street Station

Homeless charity TAP London receiving a donation in London’s Liverpool Street Station

Donations made through websites will take on more importance, as social distancing is likely to continue in some form for a long time yet. Charities, both large and small, will need to consider the user journey and messaging on their websites, as well as turning to software that enables real time tracking of donation behaviour.
A different approach will also have to be taken with regards to fundraising on the street and in public spaces. To reduce the risk to volunteers and donors alike, charities need to consider the potential offered by contactless donation technology. When used in free-standing units or built into installations, tap-to-give tech (like that offered by GoodBox) offers a safe way to receive donations
whilst not requiring the physical presence of volunteers. Just like donations made online, this way of receiving funds also provides a wealth of data to help inform campaign strategy; donation behaviour, locations, times, and engagement are all tracked.
Contactless giving church collection plate

Contactless giving church collection plate at St Albans Cathedral

Whilst this tech-based, data-centric approach to fundraising will prove important in safeguarding the health of volunteers and donors, it will also help to boost donation revenue in what will inevitably be a challenging economic climate. From our experience working with organisations like The Natural History Museum and The Church of England, contactless payment tech generally leads to a jump in donations; so much so, in fact, that the average return on investment for one of our purchased devices is 340%, or a huge 1,384% for free-standing terminals.
Woman and child by £5 tap to donate sign inside the Natural History Museum, London

A donation in action at the Natural History Museum, London

Whilst there are no studies explicitly linking the use of cash to the transmission of COVID-19, current research suggests that notes and coins could play a part in spreading the disease. Regardless, the public are changing their habits, accelerating an existing trend away from cash and towards contactless payment methods. For charities, this signifies an opportunity to experiment with more tech-based fundraising strategies – incorporating a greater focus on websites with tap-to-give terminals and data analysis tools.
Polly Gilbert is the Marketing Director of GoodBox, a Manchester-based company that makes contactless tap-to-give donation terminals and digital fundraising technology, helping charities to increase their donations as physical cash usage declines. The GoodBox membership programme is currently free to join, and offers discounts of up to 25% until April 2021.

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