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Charity At The ATM: The New Way To Give?

Charity Atm

First Posted: 03/31/11 10:35 PM ET Updated: 05/31/11 06:12 AM ET

After a massive earthquake brought a devastating tsunami to the eastern shores of Japan, American bank Wells Fargo decided to facilitate an easy way for customers to contribute to relief. Its campaign may have set a new national precedent for charitable giving.

The company set up a donation option at each of their 9,000 ATMs, the Star Tribune reports. The funds collected are being given to the Japan earthquake and tsunami relief fund set up by the American Red Cross. So far, Wells Fargo customers have donated more than $1.3 million.

The concept of donating to charity at an ATM isn't new, but the practice is under-utilized in the United States, where it has only been used on the local scale.

According to the Associated Press, donating to charity from an ATM has been commonplace in Mexico for years, and the British government is considering boosting charitable giving by making the practice standard.

While the new laws haven't yet been set down on the books, it has been widely reported the Brits are heading toward enacting policies that would require all banks to offer donation options at ATMs at all times.

The plan is one of several proposals that would inject charitable giving options into more facets of daily life in the U.K. The government is also considering requiring stores to offer customers the option of rounding up the cost of their purchases, with the extra change going to nonprofits, according to The Telegraph.

Some think the plans go too far and could backfire by over-saturating consumers with frequent requests for donations.

In an interview with the Chief Executive at the U.K.'s Charities Aid Foundation, BBC radio host Adam Shaw questioned whether using ATMs to ask for donations on a permanent basis might undercut the effectiveness of the program.

Shaw asked:

"Are you not concerned that people might get slightly miffed or even more than slightly miffed if every time they go to the bank and put their cash card into the machine, it says 'Oh would you like to give some money to charity?' It might be counterproductive, it might annoy people."

For now, it appears the program will stay a short-term campaign in the United States, at least as far as Wells Fargo is concerned.

However, the Star Tribune reports Americans might be seeing much more of the tactic in years to come. The success of the campaign signals it will likely be used again in the future by Wells Fargo -- and perhaps other American banks.

"I think we've demonstrated that ATMs are a tool we can draw upon for fundraising," said Jonathan Velline, a Wells Fargo vice president in charge of ATM operations. "Our customers have spoken with their wallets."

Whether or not ATMs become a consistent and widespread national channel for charity contributions is largely up to the public response.

Would you donate at an ATM? Share your opinion in the poll below.

Quick Poll

Would you donate to charity at an ATM?

Yes. Sounds like a quick and easy way to give!

Maybe. Depends on which nonprofit or cause the funds were going to.

Never. I'd rather give in another way or not at all.

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Filed by Erica Liepmann  |