How Small Changes Could Make Huge Differences

LIVE Aid, the famine relief concerts of 1985, raised £150 million. The Republic of Ireland gave the mostdonations, despite suffering a serious economic recession at the time.

LIVE Aid, the famine relief concerts of 1985, raised £150 million. The Republic of Ireland gave the most per capita donations, despite suffering a serious economic recession at the time.

Red Nose Day 2011 achieved an 'on the night' record-breaking £74.3 million; Children in Need can expect £20 million this November; Oxfam received over £100 million last year from donations and legacies alone.

People give generously to good causes

In recent years, however, there has been a large fall in the amounts given to charities through receptacles on shop counters. Dropping coins into the one where I bought tobacco today, I heard the same hollow echo in its stomach as last week. And the week before and the month before.

The reason is obvious: plastic: the material which has not only replaced the tin of the collecting container, but also the cash in the pocket. Only when we make purchases with hard currency are we likely to consider chucking a few loose coppers into a charity box.

I can't be the first person to have considered the potential for a plastic card equivalent of the collecting tin. The setting up of an organisation called Small Changes requires only a couple of influential figures and an act of faith from some major retailers - Tesco, Boots, Mark & Spencer would do for starters - for the rest will surely soon follow out of a sense of noblesse oblige.

Anyone purchasing goods by credit or debit card is asked by the cashier the simple question, "Small Changes?"

"Yes," indicates a wish for the amount payable to be rounded up to the nearest 10p.

For example: a book on sale at £8.95 is sold to the purchaser for £9; a basket of supermarket items totalling £34.56 costs £34.60. The 9p change from these two transactions is initially credited to each store's Small Changes account and transferred from there to a national account at the end of the day, week, whatever. The scheme requires only a simple adjustment to existing software.

Once a year, a panel of citizens, chosen at random and assisted by an impartial team of advisers, would meet to decide where to allocate the funds raised.

According to statistics available from BT, there are half a million credit/debit card transactions per hour in the UK. If only one card-holder in three regularly supported Small Changes, the panel would have £50 million a year to give to worthwhile causes of their choice. The average donation per household would be about 4p a week.

The sums that could be raised across Europe, or globally, are too large for my small brain to calculate.

But if you have the ear of somebody famous who's popular with the British public, or of a leading company director who'd like to be awarded that elusive gong, please do email them with a link to this page.

Marcus's recent blogs here.

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