Change For Change

Today I have a little story followed by an idea that I want to share with you all.

A few weeks back I stepped out to go and grab a coffee. I headed over to my local independent coffee shop where I get on well with the owners. Like many small businesses, they have been struggling in the economy and I like to show my support for them, so I am usually in there buying coffee a few times a week. Although they are always chirpy and friendly, they are regularly sharing how they wish things were a little busier. I finished nattering to them and then wandered back home, latte firmly in hand.

Like many towns, mine has a few homeless folks who are kicking around. There are three guys in particular who are always chirpy, respectful and pretty passive to passer-bys and each of which sells those newspapers designed to help homeless people earn some money. On that day I walked passed one of these guys and although he didn’t ask whether I wanted to buy his newspaper, I felt like I wanted to give him something. I grabbed $5 from my wallet and offered it to him. He was absolutely overjoyed. His eyes literally lit up when I handed it to him and he told me he had only earned a few bucks in the last few days and he was so excited. He tried to give me a newspaper, but I wanted him to keep it as I was unlikely to read it. I walked off feeling pretty pokey about making that guy’s day and musing on the fact that such a small contribution in my world could be so huge to his.

Later that day I was getting some laundry together and was emptying out the pockets in my jeans and shorts. In each there was a pocket full of random loose change, not amounting to much –just some pennies, dimes and quarters– and I put them on the dresser table…with the existing pile of loose change. I now had a pile of loose change combined from three smaller piles and I didn’t particularly want to carry it around with me. Then the dots connected. On that day I had experienced (a) a business who wants more people in there (b) local homeless folks who could use some support (c) a big pile of loose change.

This got me thinking of an idea which I have nicknamed Change For Change. It runs a little like this:

  • A local business will choose to be a Change Collector. Up front in there premises and near their till they will have a big plastic jar and some signs that encourage local residents and passer-bys to throw their loose change into to contribute to a local charity or good cause.
  • Said passer-bys and residents will soon know that they can get rid of their lose change there. Some may walk into the business to deposit their change and happen to pick up a product (such as a coffee in my local independent coffee shop).
  • When the change jar is nearly full, the local business will take it to the bank to change it into notes and then donate the money to a local organized charity that helps local people. This charity could be a soup kitchen, support group, library, hospital or whatever else.
  • The final step which I would love to see but I think is essential, would be that they Twitter (or maybe SMS) the gathered amount from the jar and a website will aggregate the total from all the tweets/messages to show a rolling total of all the money going to good local causes as part of the Change For Change scheme.

So that’s the plan. I think it could be incredible to have a scheme such as this in place, and it would be awesome to have a Change Collector in every neighbourhood. Just imagine the opportunities this could bring for local communities. Although I doubt most Change Collectors would be gathering oodles and oodles of cash, I think that the contributions that they do gather for charity could be enough to (a) justify their time and effort in helping a local good cause and (b) have a marked difference to the local community. Just imagine what only $100 gathered in change could mean for a soup kitchen: that could feed quite a few people. Imagine what the change could mean for a local kids charity: that $100 could buy Christmas presents for disadvantaged kids and really put a smile on their faces.

The good news is that I don’t think it would require a huge amount of work to put a plan such as this in place. It would need a website, plenty of positive advocacy to encourage people to set up as Change Collectors, and lots of awareness for people to deposit their change.

Unfortunately, I don’t have time right now to kick off another project, but if someone is excited by the idea and would like to get it into motion, I would be more than happy to weigh in and offer my input and assistance where I could. Whaddya think, Internet friends?

  • Jono Bacon (jonobacon) ‘s status on Saturday, 01-Aug-09 13:35:58 UTC –
  • Jesper Jarlskov

    It’s a really cool idea. I know McDonalds does something similar, where they collect change at the counter and spend the money for homes for ill children around the hospitals.

  • onli

    At least in Germany, things like that exists already, they are even quite common. Maybe not always with the focus on “local” charity projects.

    I think the title of the idea is quite misleading. You don’t change society to the better if you organize soup kitchens and collect money for something like that. You change society for the better if you change the system in a way you don’t need something like that anymore.

  • Tom

    Yeah, in Germany with we those big “Herz für Kinder”(Heart for children) boxes that are in a lot of bakeries etc.

    They also ask for your change on the box and get filled quite fast from what I can tell.

  • Tim

    I think this is already done to some degree atleast where I live. There may not be a central organization, but we have local shops around town that collect money for the local food pantry or big brothers/big sisters or individual people who need some help.

    The one thing that holds me back from usually pulling out my extra change or stuffing a dollar or two in is that you never quite know whether its a scam or not. A central organization supporting it with standardized buckets and fliers would give it more credence.

    Perhaps a central list of which local shop owners are supporting which charity would allow people to make a decision between McDonalds, Starbucks and the local coffee shop.

  • Santiago Zarate (foursixnine) ‘s status on Saturday, 01-Aug-09 14:11:53 UTC –

    […] @jonobacon’s change for change […]

  • No’

    Since 1990, in France, the former president’s wife is running a yearly charity, named “Opération pièces jaunes” (yellow coins). People are collecting tiny euro coins (from 1 cent to 50 cents) and it goes to the “Hôpitaux de Paris” foundation.

  • Kurt von Finck

    Time runs out like a pocket full of change. Life runs out like a pocket full of change. Rain Tree Crow – Pocket Full Of Change

  • Billy bob

    Nearly every small shop and most of the larger ones have at least one charity box here in the near-North, doesn’t that happen in Birmingham? Aren’t you just asking businesses to have local charity boxes rather than national/international boxes that some have?

    My 2p worth of stop energy.

  • Glubbdrubb

    Like the posters before me have said, there are already operations similar to the one you mentioned, but I like your emphasis on keeping It Local.

    These centralized charities are very good and all, but “donors” like to see the effect there contributions are making; and this is why making it local is important.

  • Paul W. Frields

    Most of the businesses in my hometown do this — up through step 3. (They don’t seem to microblog about it, at least.) The coordination and publicity part would be a nice way to prove how generous the surrounding locals are, but the traditionalist in me hopes that people are giving without needing a pat on the back. Notably, during the recession, charitable giving has not decreased dramatically in my neck of the woods. A few places report upticks in gifts, in fact. Not sure if this is a local phenomenon…

  • Frank

    Whichever way you look at it – great idea man.

    By the way a credible “here is how we used the money” would encourage me to drop off a few more coins…

    So +1 for the post giving communication program.

  • KingPing

    OK. I’ll say it. I run three coffeehouses in my town, employ about 25 folks, donate quite a bit of both product and cash to local groups, and have a fairly progressive culture around the cafes. Although I feel that this is a great idea–I too generate too much coin at the end of the day–week–month–I see one flaw. My staff, mostly students, absolutely rely on the generous TIPS our customers bestow upon them. This idea, I feel, would heartily remove a big chunk of their untaxed take-home $$. Now, in our defense, we pay folks a little over scale, and we do provide a (minimal) health and dental policy for our full-timers. Anyway, as right-minded as the idea is, I guess I feel it would have to be initiated by staff–if they went there, then fantastic. I could imagine some in-kind support from us offsetting reduced tips, but in this economy we feel we’re already doing all we can to keep it going. My .02c….

  • Ahmad Tarek

    We have similar idea in some fast food shops but it is not very popular (in Egypt).

    I will start convincing people to use these boxes.

  • Peng’s links for Sunday, 2 August « I’m Just an Avatar

    […] Bacon: Change for Change. Jono’s got a great idea for some of the loose change we keep finding in our pockets and […]

  • daniels

    Dude, people have been doing this for decades, or more, all over the world.

  • Chris

    I don’t know (but am interested in hearing) how to justify charity like this to the local area, when there are 25,000 people dying from hunger or hunger-related causes each day in the world. Isn’t this another form of -ism, but for nationality and locality? Shouldn’t we direct our charity to the people who need it the most? I don’t mean to dismiss the problems of homelessness, but homeless people in the UK aren’t in much danger of dying of hunger or an easily-treatable disease.

    (The question of whether to direct charity locally is pretty different to the question you’re trying to ask in your post, of how to do it best, so sorry for being somewhat off-topic.)

    • Chris.
  • Beth Lynn Eicher

    “Make a Change” meters implement 1-3. They are in a lot of cities. The #4 part isn’t done because the charities aren’t too technical.

  • Adam Williamson

    Kingping’s objection was the first one that occurred to me, though if memory serves, having tip jars in coffee shops is rather less common in the UK than it is in North America.

    Am I the only person who still has a piggy bank? This post is making me feel bad about keeping my own spare change…I take anything below a quarter out of my pocket and put it in the piggy bank, and once a year I take it to a bank and cash it up.

  • Adam Williamson

    BTW, you can tell from this post that Jono’s a geek even if you know nothing else about him:

    “The good news is that I don’t think it would require a huge amount of work to put a plan such as this in place. It would need a website…”

    Yup – to a geek, the first thing any project needs is a web site 😉

  • Tanya

    This is exactly what I have been doing to raise money for cancer research! It’s been working out wonderfully, and I’m expanding into other businesses.

  • Fahad

    people have been doing this for decades, or more, all over the world.

  • Raegan Bellenger

    If you want to help the coffee shop, why not just have people put their change in the tip jars and let the homeless use the change to buy coffee from the shop?

    Thinking of doing this with our family each year. Planning to put all of our spare change in a jar and at the end of the year let the kids help us find a worthy local charity to donate the money to.

  • Hogan3219

    This is a great way to help donate to funds without asking too much from people. The funny thing about change for change is I had this same idea, name and thoughts. I just decided to take a look online to make sure I was not stealing anyone’s idea. Good thing I checked, I guess great minds think alike. I am still interested in this & I would like to talk to you,(whom ever the creator may be), get your email because I would like to keep this going because it seems like such a great idea. If you would please contact me at I would really enjoy talking to you. :)