Round up the Pound: Fundraising in the U.K.

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January 2, 2011; Source: The Telegraph | A discussion paper – and it has certainly sparked discussion – written by the U.K. Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude suggests that banks allow their customers to "round up the pound" when using their credit or debit cards for purchases, with the extra money dedicated to charity. The concept is making the rounds as a recommendation from the Conservative government of P.M. David Cameron.

Maude's "innovative green paper" not only aims to encourage the British to be more charitable by encouraging donations at the ATM, but also having cabinet ministers write personal thank-you notes to large donors, and convincing winners of the National Lottery to donate part of their winnings to charity. It also considers ideas such as developing an app that would have businesses donate to charity every time someone searches for their sites on the Internet. It also ponders whether or not all Brits should give 1 percent to charity.

The green paper has generated a lot of discussion, including criticism from the right and the left. Tory member of Parliament Philip Davies called the credit and debit card schemes a "Big Brother" concept and suggested cutting taxes as a better route to increased charitable giving.

Leaning to the left, columnist Peter Wilby warned that "private charity is never a substitute for public welfare" and noted that charitable giving "doesn't all go to what might be regarded as good causes," noting as evidence the proportions of U.S. giving that goes to religion and to upper crust universities .

United Way of America launched a similar "pennies for charity" campaign to get people to contribute a penny or so to charity for every time they made credit card purchases in 2008.

Maybe Albert Ruesga, President and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, might have criticized the United Way pennies program and Maude's credit and debit card ideas as linking charity to society's unfortunate and destructive drift toward consumerism [, and he'd probably be right. But Maude's paper has sparked debate in the U.K. We can't think of a comparable discussion paper on charity and philanthropy written by a sitting U.S. cabinet official.—Rick Cohen