“Giving Machines” placed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) in 10 cities across the United States generated more than $3.7 million in material donations as of late December. The full-sized vending machines offered opportunities for individuals to purchase a variety of activities or goods, such as textbooks, blankets, livestock or food or contributions toward physical plant upgrades, on behalf of a variety of nonprofits.
The program ran through the New Year, and while final numbers aren’t in yet as of early 2021, some 265,000 people had made donations through the machines. Each of the 30 machines offered roughly 10 opportunities to contribute to global charities, such as CARE, Church World Service, USA for UNHCR – the UN Refugee Agency, UNICEF, WaterAid, and 20 opportunities to benefit local charities.
As of Dec. 22, the most recent date for which data is available, donors had purchased nearly 1 million meals for individuals and families, more than 529,000 polio vaccines and other immunizations for children, 16,000 packages of education materials and services, 15,000 personal care and hygiene kits, 9,000 boxes of produce, 1,800 water pumps, 800 well installations, 3,600 goats and 2,500 beehives, among other offerings. The LDS absorbs all transaction and maintenance costs, allowing each nonprofit to realize the full benefit of each donation.
Unlike years past, this year the machines were only distributed throughout the United States. The LDS placed between two and five machines at each location, based on anticipated volume.
When people make their purchases (via credit card – the machines do not accept cash) packets picturing the donated items are released, similar to the way candy bar vending machines work. But the donors do not take the packets, which fall into a transparent “Thanks for Donating” collection bin at the bottom of the machine.
The program was launched during the 2017 holiday season. During 2019, they generated $6.2 million from 255,000 transactions. Last year marked a return of the Giving Machine program: in 2020, the LDS suspended the program as the machines, which are considered high-touch, were deemed too risky to use during the coronavirus pandemic.