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Making innovation work for good. T:@inspirechilli

Sunday 4 March 2012

Turning Small Change into Big Change

Last week, I had the chance to meet up with the PenniesFoundation – an organisation which has created an ‘electronic charity box’ for people to donate pennies in private when they make transactions by credit card in retailers linked in to the Pennies platform.

Pennies might be small change for some, but they have a powerful resonance in how we think about things. Just look at the language: ‘waiting for the penny to drop’, or ‘a penny for your thoughts’.  The penny seems to be closely linked to making decisions about something.   Yet, in the world of charity, there is often more emotion than thought attached to how and for what we donate.

The days of people stuffing small change into charity boxes is on the decrease. And in some ways (but not all) that is a good thing: most charities have used the appeals process to perpetuate the ‘disadvantaged thinking’ by which we are traded images of despair in order to secure our donation to the problem.

We are never going to deal with the big issues challenging our world until we can find a different language that engages us in understanding how real future solutions can be invested in.

This requires a change in approach, which is where the Pennies Foundation might help lead the way.

For starters, the Foundation is upgrading the penny box into something more modern in thinking: how we use credit to purchase items for ourselves, and how we can be given the choice to offer some of that credit for the benefit of causes we care about. According to the Foundation, a few pennies a month could add up to millions of pounds for charity. It would take just 8 pence a week (just over £4 a year) from half of the UK’s card-holders to raise £89 million a year. That’s some potential investment.

Of course, just making the transaction electronic doesn’t mean the ‘cruise ship’ charities won’t be lining up their cargo of disadvantaged thinking to trade our credit for.  Small change might still mean small thinking. But the Pennies Foundation is promising to target 25% of revenues on causes directly chosen by its Trustees. In other words, regardless of however retailers promote where our pennies go, at least 25% can be used to grow a new form of giving. A penny for our future thoughts.

 I’m not a Trustee, but I hope and believe that Pennies will show how much smarter it is to invest credit in things more positive, future focused and asset-building, than today’s status quo of deficit stories. That’s what I’d call turning small change into something big. 

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