The Royal Australian Mint’s Donation Dollar is the world’s first $1 coin designed to be given rather than spent, donated rather than collected. It’s a concept that may seem unusual to collectors. My first impulse upon hearing of the new coin was of course, where can I buy one but Australia’s Donation Dollar is designed for a higher purpose than accumulation.
Think of it this way, if every Australian gave one Donation Dollar from their pocket change each month, this initiative has the potential to raise over $300 million dollars a year for those who need it most. The expectation to share the responsibility coupled with the freedom to choose your recipient make the perfect combination allowing a society to band to together in their own way for the common goal of alleviating the hardships ingrained in their own population.
The development of the Donation Dollar began in 2013 when the Royal Australian Mint’s Creative Director, Frederica Heacock first presented the concept as a means to get people to stop and think about the role of coins in society other than from just a cash transaction perspective.
“I wanted people to contemplate the good and bad that comes from having either too much, or not enough coins,” Heacock explained, “and how much good can come from donating a small coin to those who need it.”
At the time RAM attention was focused on building its numismatic business line, so the Donation Dollar idea was tabled for later development. In 2015 the ANZAC centenary celebrations stirred support for veterans in need and the Donation Dollar was again discussed, but other roads were taken.
When Saatchi & Saatchi, one of Australia’s leading ad agencies, knocked on the door in 2018, Heacock was elated. “It was serendipitous. Two organizations with the same concept, passion and vision, bringing their collective skills together to make a world-first coin designed to donate, rather than spend or collect” said Heacock.
Charles and Maurice Saatchi began business in 1970 with the motto “Nothing is Impossible” and 50 years later the firm continues to operate on that concept. The partnership of the Royal Australian Mint and Saatchi & Saatchi provided the spark that moved the Donation Dollar project forward.
Physical concerns of design were addressed early on as Heacock explained; “The challenge to design such a coin was a difficult one. All of the recognizable symbols associated with donating were either too cliché or too intricate to work at a small scale on a coin. We also had the added challenge of designing a coin that could be cost effective to produce on a large scale for many years to come so we worked closely with the Mint’s engineers to eliminate the design elements that could come back to bite us.”
“The coin design also needed to be interesting enough to stand out in someone’s change, but not interesting enough to collect as the concept relies on the coin remaining in circulation. Giving away coins is the exact opposite approach many of our core collecting supporters would entertain. Around 24 percent of Australian adults collect coins in some way, presenting a significant hurdle to the Donation Dollars being put back into circulation.”
Getting past these hurdles required research so the RAM engaged the specialist firm of Mentally Friendly, to test three design prototypes and observe citizen reactions to the donation dollar concept in a retail setting. In this way they hoped to inform the coin’s final design, concept awareness and scalability. The research sought to answer two key questions; Do people notice the coin in their change? and; Will people understand what to do with the coin when they receive it?
Over two days the team observed whether people were compelled to donate the coin and which coin design was the most persuasive. Once they had the best design, the next hurdle became executive approval.
Getting an enthusiastic “buy-in” from the Royal Australian Mint’s senior executives, CEO and board gave the team a big boost. When Mark Cartwright, Executive General Manager of Marketing, Sales and Innovation and Frederica Heacock presented the Donation Dollar concept, “the CEO and Senior Management team gave it a big round of applause” Cartwright said. “They could all see how powerful this simple idea was, which could do a lot of good in Australia and help a lot of people.”
The second achievement was getting the Mint’s responsible minister to back this world-first idea. “He got it straight away,” Cartwright said.
To widen the geographic footprint and spread the coins across Australia, the Mint worked directly with banks to achieve the best possible circulation. Banks loved the concept and the Mint received orders for Donation Dollars leading into the launch. “There was motivation and goodwill from all banks,” said Cartwright.
On Sept. 2 the Royal Australian Mint released 3 million Donation Dollars. During the launch Royal Australian Mint CEO, Ross MacDiarmid, said: “The Royal Australian Mint has a rich heritage of producing coins to meet the needs of every Australian. So we’re extremely proud to introduce the world’s first Donation Dollar and tap into the Australian spirit of generosity. Like any other one dollar coin, the cycle of a Donation Dollar is ongoing, as is its potential for positive impact. If every Australian donated a Donation Dollar just once a month, it has the potential to raise an additional 300 million dollars annually for those who need it most. So with Australia’s support, we believe [the] Donation Dollar has the power to make a real difference.”
As part of its annual release program the RAM intends to distribute millions of these Donation Dollar coins into circulation over the coming years – one for every Australian. The public should quickly recognize the coin in circulation as it features a green center with a gold ripple design symbolizing the ongoing impact each donation makes to those who need it most.
Once received in change, a Donation Dollar can be used to give wherever cash donations are accepted; the power lies in the hands of the receiver to decide where their coin will make the most impact. For example, they can donate it to their charity of choice, to a struggling business, or to anyone in need.
The Donation Dollar program has received plenty of attention with over 1,000 positive media stories having been published. Community support has come in from every corner of the continent.
Chair of The Community Council for Australia, Tim Costello, shared his praise and support for Donation Dollar and the difference it will make for those who need a helping hand: “Our immediate reaction when presented with the Donation Dollar was ‘finally an idea that unites every Australian charity, but also every Australian, in a common good.” Costello went on to say that, “there’s no doubt in my mind this is a gift that will benefit those who are most vulnerable in our nation.”
Charities can find out how they can benefit from Donation Dollar by visiting www.donationdollar.com.au. Australian businesses can show their support for the initiative by downloading “accepted here” signage from the website.
As one can see from the long road the Donation Dollar concept has travelled, current events are clearly not the direct motivation in its creation. But 2020 has been a tumultuous year for Australia as the continent faced a bushfire crisis, an ongoing global pandemic and an economic recession, so the RAM has high hopes for the Donation Dollar to have a significant impact today and into the future.
The RAM ambition now is to produce 25 million Donation Dollars, that’s roughly one for every Australian, and slowly release them into circulation. “Translating a really good idea into a complex, dynamic environment and with the backdrop of a pandemic has certainly presented its challenges,” Cartwright said. “We’re reasonably confident via the research we did around giving and altruism of consumers that when these flow into the economy, Australians will donate them.”
The next immediate steps in the life of the Donation Dollar program will come in early 2021. The Royal Australian Mint plans to complete an evaluation to see how effective the program has been. Given that the lifecycle of a coin is 30 years, they anticipate a long life for this initiative. Once momentum has built, the RAM hopes that the Donation Dollar concept becomes a cultural norm and goes on to have a beautiful impact on their country.