Small change builds big awareness

publication date: Dec 12, 2012
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author/source: Janet Gadeski
Janet Gadeski photoLoose change has been a mainstay of charity impulse giving for years - everything from the Red Kettle campaign to the airport collection pots where departing visitors drop the last of their foreign currency. Now there's a virtual equivalent: rounding up debit card purchases to create "virtual change," then allocating it to charities through ChangeIt.

Three-way partnership 

It's easy for charities, especially those who are used to working with online gift facilitators like CanadaHelps. After submitting their banking information and being approved, they can start communicating to donors about giving frequently and painlessly with every purchase. 

For donors too, it's simple. They register their debit cards with ChangeIt, set up their favourite charities and begin using their cards as usual, provided they are clients of a participating financial institution. 

For now, the fledgling but fast-growing program is working only with credit unions. "They tend to be able to make decisions faster and have an organizational mandate to be community-focused," explains Ingrid Schiller of Formulating Change, Inc., the organization behind the program. 

"Our plan is to grow the program across Canada with credit unions in various provinces to build up a national footprint of charities from coast to coast," she continues. "At that point we plan on approaching the big banks as well as credit card issuers, with the foundation now laid for their required national market base." 

Formulating Change has shaken hands with credit unions in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, southern Ontario and Nova Scotia so far. 

Program is promising, popular with customers 

Early adopters are more than pleased with ChangeIt's results and potential. For the Children's Hospital Foundation of Saskatchewan, it offers a communications solution as well as a fundraising opportunity. Construction on the hospital won't begin until next fall. But rolling out the ChangeIt program in branches of Affinity Credit Union around Saskatchewan is helping right now to raise awareness that the hospital will serve all of the province's children, says foundation finance and administration director Geri Meyer

"Our resources are limited," she explains. "The province is quite big, and it would be hard for us to reach out to everyone ourselves. This is a provincial hospital, and we really want to pull the whole province in. We need the whole province - just like the Rough Riders!" 

Meyer says the program's financial benefits are secondary to awareness building. A typical monthly report from ChangeIt contains 40 to 50 consistent donors plus others giving one-time gifts. The gifts themselves aren't huge - Meyer says the average monthly take so far is between $30 and $50. But with an eye to the lifetime value of those donors, she's grateful for the chance to build relationships that will lead to a healthy database and greater support in the future. 

"The potential is there for more money," she states. "But awareness is happening now, and that's very important for us."

Community support and corporate values 

ChangeIt's financial partners are equally positive about the program. Affinity Credit Union's Marianne Jurzyniec says her Saskatchewan company found it a good fit with its corporate values of community engagement and volunteerism. 

"We chose ChangeIt because it offered a different and more convenient way for our members and staff to donate to their chosen charities," she explains. "It's yet another way we can support community partners, and it's very convenient." 

Affinity made sure all their staff members were well-trained in both managing the program and understanding the work of participating charities. The credit union's customers have given over $4,000 to community charities through ChangeIt since Affinity launched it in February. 

Jurzyniec highlights the awareness-building opportunities of the ChangeIt program as well. Donors' gifts aren't buried in a line item on their monthly statement. Rather, they're highlighted in a separate monthly email to each giver. 

"That reminds them of their charity each month." she points out. "Getting people to make those regular donations leads to ongoing support, not just one-time, annual giving." And the ChangeIt posters in every Affinity branch remind clients to consider their charitable support. 

There's a potential business advantage too. Any charity can join and promote giving via ChangeIt, but supporters need a bank account and debit card from a participating financial institution.  Though Affinity hasn't yet tracked new accounts from that source, Jurzyniec says it may have attracted some new customers intrigued by a convenient and painless way to give regularly to their favourite causes. 

Administrative costs 

There's no cost for charities to join. When donations begin to flow, ChangeIt levies a 6.9% administrative fee on revenue.  COO Jim Stirtzinger explains that's only a small contribution towards the cost of what ChangeIt provides - things like print and digital marketing assets, monthly donor reports and live support during regional business hours. Most of ChangeIt's costs are covered through a licensing fee that financial institutions pay when they join the program. 

For credit unions and banks, Stirtzinger says, ChangeIt demonstrates their corporate social responsibility commitment. ChangeIt isn't looking for profile, so financial partners can market it as their own program. That, he believes, encourages consumers to prefer the bank cards of participating financial institutions. 

"Our end goal," he concludes, "is to assist charities to raise new, recurring revenue in a cost-efficient way. Our administrative fee compares very favourably to the costs of developing recurring donors through other means." 

For more information, www.changeitcanada.com


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