The Green Sheet Online Edition
March 23, 2015 • Issue 15:03:02
Embedding generosity in the fabric of payments
A community is a unified body of individuals, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. A community could be you, and it could be the earth's population. In either instance, unity emanates from some shared belief or understanding, a concept that is entirely plausible for the former and profoundly inconceivable in the latter. Yet we exist in many different communities in our lives, and the continuation of each is predicated on our acceptance of at least a minimum level of shared belief.
Our partners (in each sense of that description), our families, our neighborhood, our schools, our work environment, our business associations, our faith, our governance and our social involvement depend on an investment of time and resources to be what we want them to be, or to become. In return for our investment, we gain satisfaction in being part of something – a community.
In the sense that we give for these communities to thrive, it is the endeavor to give back that connects the dots and perpetuates the community. These relationships enhance our lives, and we owe a debt of gratitude and many times more.
Why does Myanmar out-give us?
If you, perchance, read the article "Growing in giving" in the Nov. 24, 2014, edition of The Green Sheet, you are aware that the United States, as a nation, maintains a constant giving level of 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and as the leading economy in the world, the United States gives more total dollars to worthy causes than any other country. The rate of individual volunteerism is exceptional thanks to the advances of technology that provide us with the available time.
Yet Myanmar, a country of 51 million people with a domestic output more than 300 times less than the United States, boasts a giving ratio of 91 percent of its population. In a Gallup World Poll conducted in 2013, Myanmar tied with the United States when volunteerism and helping strangers were factored in. How does the poor Southeast Asian nation achieve its remarkable position? Heavily influenced by Buddhism, the country's dominant religion, Myanmar's culture was shaped by surviving continuously difficult times as a unified body of individuals; its people embody and share generosity as a survival skill; it is a truly giving community.
Myanmar's, case illustrates how we, as Americans, can do more. Today fundraising in the United States is all about the "ask." We get a request, we think about it, we act, or more importantly, we don't. Donor fatigue is real because the methodology never changes. What if our giving became a daily thing, an embedded practice that extends more of our abundance across the boundaries of our lives, in all of the communities that we inhabit? As consumers, we can benefit the places we shop and make each instance an act of giving. Our top-of-mind philanthropy becomes second nature, just a part of our daily routine.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that U.S. GDP for 2014 approached $18 trillion, helped by an improving economy. The United States is historically a nation of 2 percent of GDP givers; 2014 may have generated $354 billion in donations and contributions. To elevate that level by a full percentage point, an additional $177 billion would be required resulting in over $500 billion dollars total of giving, an astounding number.
From a 2013 study by the Federal Reserve System on noncash (that is, electronic) payments in the United States, the total value of transactions in 2012 was $79 trillion. From an entirely too simplistic view, if each payor in the chain requested that 25 basis points (.25 percent) of value from each transaction be donated to charity then $197 billion could be raised.
Alternatively, the U.S. Dept. of Commerce reported that retail sales (retail, food service, auto) in 2012 totaled $5.77 trillion. A pledge of slightly over 3 percent of that value would also move the giving needle one full percentage point. But simple on paper hardly ever transfers to reality, at least not without reasoning, commitment and change.
How can we make giving automatic?
So how does this practice of subconscious giving get created? The premise – that shoppers buy, businesses give and charities receive – is a modest concept. It occurs in the marketplace today. But the challenge is to take this premise and blow it all out of proportion so that every bag of groceries, every tank of gas, every cell phone bill, every sporting event ticket, every meal eaten out, every medical treatment, every manicure, every utility bill, every music download, each and every time we spend money a worthy cause benefits – the worthy cause we choose, because we spend, and we want what we spend to help our communities.
The triumvirate is this – consumers, businesses and charitable organizations. Imagine a Venn diagram in which these three circles intersect. The sweet spot is the place where the three circles overlap, the premise – customers buy, merchants give and nonprofits receive. The goal is to enlarge that intersection until the circles share an overlaid symmetry. The challenge is reaching out to the merchant base, to all of the businesses where we shop, and engaging ownership and management to join this community.
Here is where the electronic transactions industry can move this mountain. ISOs, agents, processors, card companies, banks – any and all industry members – become a community to effect the change.
The technological infrastructure to accommodate this change is in place. The development path includes integration that, in a perfect world, would include the donation in the transaction itself, although cash purchases can be a part of the program and giving would be handled at the POS. Reporting can keep all parties apprised; social media can transmit the achievements. Texting can immediately rally participants to donate in the event of catastrophe. And ISOs can construct targeted campaigns for their local communities.
$500 billion in giving provides solutions, gives hope and reduces pressure on governance. While it is a challenge to add the 1 percent, the power of our everyday spend is formidable. And adding any amount of giving is a measured success.
Thom Aldredge, Managing Director for The Give Back Campaign Inc., has been a payments industry member since 1999 with World Gift Card, BAMpay and SignaPay. Giving back to the community is important, and he hopes The Give Back Campaign will energize the payments industry to help "add the 1 percent."
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