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Editorial | Make charitable giving a planned priority

Perhaps you’ve seen the television commercials in which, at a coffee shop, lunch counter or other retail outlet, dozens of people shop in perfectly choreographed unison, each paying with the swipe of a debit card as catchy music plays.

Then, horror of horrors, someone actually tries to buy something with cash. People crash into each other and the music stops as the clerk, a look of disgust on her face, counts out change and hands it over. When the clueless shopper is out of the picture, the cashless, upbeat shopping frenzy resumes.

Yes, we like our debit cards and credit cards, even more so now that we can use them just about anywhere. Really, a person probably could go weeks without handling a bill or coin — even parking meter fees can be prepaid on a credit "key."

But our convenient, cashless society might be causing a decline in charitable giving.

How many times this holiday season have you walked by a Salvation Army kettle, only to realize that your pockets were devoid of spare change? It’s possible you even reached for your wallet, only to find no bills in it — just plastic.

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So you smiled, said "Merry Christmas" to the half-frozen bellringer, and went shopping. Perhaps you vowed to make up for it next time, but odds are your pockets will be just as empty then.

You’re certainly not alone — the U.S. Mint has noticed that people are carrying fewer coins. In 2007, the Mint cut production of pennies by 11 percent, nickels by 21 percent, dimes by 27 percent and quarters by 10 percent. That’s just one year’s reduction; compared to 2005, the cuts in coin production are even larger.

We believe this trend, not a decrease in generosity or the tightening economy, is the biggest reason the Salvation Army in Rochester is well behind its goal of $500,000 for this year’s red kettle campaign. This annual effort relies almost entirely on spur-of-the moment, opportunity-based philanthropy. People don’t stop to write checks for the kettle, and those slots are meant for coins and bills, not plastic. If people don’t have real money in their pockets, they can’t give.

This situation isn’t going away, and the Salvation Army’s fundraising strategies doubtless will have to evolve. As that happens — and probably after it happens, too — we’ll need to change our mindset about how we donate.

Where we used to toss coins into a red kettle, or put change in the Ronald McDonald House box, or literally empty our pockets into some other worthy organization’s coffers, we now need to make giving a planned priority, not an afterthought or an impulse.

And that’s where our cashless, plastic-based economy can help. Anyone with an Internet connection and a credit card can donate to the Salvation Army, Ronald McDonald House and a variety of other worthy causes. You’re probably shopping online anyway, so take five minutes to help make the holidays a bit brighter for people you’ve never met.

But if you’ve got a change jar stashed in the cupboard, don’t forget to take it with you the next time you go to the mall. The bellringer could use some encouragement.

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