Turning Virtual Change® into Real Change
By Leah Kellar
One Canadian company is revolutionizing the way you can give to registered charities. The company’s tag line immediately gives us an idea what it is all about; “Turning Virtual Change Into Real Change In Your Community and Around the World.” The essence of the program, and the basis of its North American patent, is to mimic the purchase behavior of giving your spare change to charity when paying with cash into the electronic payment age. This means that customers in the ChangeIt program can give their electronic spare change from every debit card or credit card purchase to their preferred charity. While the process alone creates a revolution in charitable giving, what is engaging for its customers and charities is that the individual customer can direct those funds to the charities of their choosing and receive tax receipts for the full amount of every donation.
The ChangeIt program is aimed at individual consumers and small businesses to provide a convenient way to give to the charities of their choice. The genesis of ChangeIt came to Founder and current Chief Philanthropy Officer, Dave Beaton, as he witnessed someone pumping gas and trying to get the pump to an even dollar amount – even though the individual was paying with a credit card. Consumers, regardless of age, still live in a dual world of cash and card based payments, so the idea of changing the paradigm of giving spare coins to charity into giving card based payments was created.
“We’ve all had the opportunity to put money into those little bins at the counter checkouts in the past, but they tend to be disappearing over time because of the increased use of electronic payments,” said Beaton about one of the new and significant challenges facing charities today.
Beaton’s solution to that challenge in creating ChangeIt, a virtual change donation program, seems to be heavily verified by the statistics. Simply put, a Polaris Strategic Insight Survey in 2013 found that about a quarter of research respondents indicated that they would give more if there were more convenient ways to give.
“While a lot of charities will support multiple forms of payment, such as via credit card, a lot of them are still in the old age of cheques and door-to-door solicitation. The common thread is that charities are asking their donors repeatedly to give instead of creating interesting ways to provide support on a regular and recurring basis. Unfortunately there has been limited innovation in the charitable giving space,” reflects Mike Kitchen, CEO of ChangeIt in a recent interview with Business Elite Canada. Beaton and the company’s board of directors elected Kitchen onto the team as CEO in January of this year, after spending 17 years in the payments business most recently as the Head of North American Payments at BMO Financial Group, when he was approached by an investor to take a look at the company.
Kitchen, as a senior leader running BMO’s Credit Card business, had seen countless business pitches trying to leverage payment cards, including numerous Affinity Cards that had a small amount of money going to the charity or organization. While Affinity Cards are popular, these programs lacked the ability to engage the cardholder as the customer never knew the impact they were making nor did they receive tax receipts for the program. For other concepts, they often fell short on delivering core value to the Bank or were simply too expensive to implement. Kitchen, upon his first meeting with ChangeIt’s founder, knew that this highly engaging customer model could deliver real benefit for banks, charities, and had the potential for a painless implementation. He was highly interested from the start and was soon on board, bringing his expertise in payments and large network in the financial services arena to ChangeIt.
The business model for this revolutionary giving program is to offer the program through a customer’s bank. For the banks, Kitchen sees this as one of a very select number of programs that can concurrently deliver business value while also enhancing a Bank’s corporate social responsibility initiatives. Banks are typically well regarded for their philanthropy, however Kitchen adds that too often these programs were disconnected from the core business and even from the organizations that their customers might support. For Banks, Kitchen believes the benefits are clear across a broad set of areas; customer engagement & advocacy, cardholder retention, an incentive for bank card use over cash, while also delivering a very positive brand position. People registered in the program, through the nine Credit Unions, have reported higher favorability of their financial institutions that enabled enrolment in the ChangeIt program after registering than they did prior to joining the program.
Falling in line with ChangeIt’s mission of incubating philanthropy, the company recently received recognition as a Certified B Corp, or Benefit Corporation. The designation of a ’B Corp’ is to business what the Fair Trade certification is to coffee, in that it is a certification declaring that a company has undergone a third party audit and met rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.
“Really at the essence of the B Corp is the concept of the `triple bottom line`, so you are in business to be commercially successful, and there’s no question we’re in business for that, but you’re also in business to make a significant social, environmental and economic impact overall,” said Kitchen.
The impact of ChangeIt lies in its ability to make a difference in large urban centers and rural communities. Because of this the company was selected in 2013 for the recognition of Best for Communities, and in 2014 the company moved up in the award ranking to receive Best for the World, sitting among the top 10 per cent of Certified Benefit Corporations worldwide in terms of impact score – largely based on its revolutionary business model.
“It really reflects who we are and who we want to be. As we grow and get numerous banks on board in this program and start seeing it widely available, we think we can turn that impact score into real impact throughout North America in terms of helping charities becomes more successful,” said Beaton of the recognition.
“It’s really consistent with our mission and vision as a company right from the get-go. It’s great validation to receive this award. I think that we can discuss our mission more broadly based on the fact that there’s now a third party accreditation to it,” added Beaton. “Really this is what we’re all about. It’s in our DNA. We’re proud to be recognized for it.”
A major technical integration agreement in 2013 with TSYS, a leading credit card provider in North America that processes over 70 percent of all MasterCard and Visa transactions in Canada, provides ChangeIt the ability to grow rapidly and achieve its goal of making a difference in communities throughout North America.
“Working with TSYS really opened us up to a tremendous share of the Canadian-U.S. market with nominal technical integration for a partnering bank. It’s been a huge watershed moment for us because it opens up the entire marketplace by making it easy for Banks to say yes to enable their customers to give to their favorite charities,” said Kitchen.
Another one of the long-term and ongoing benefits that makes the ChangeIt program unique is that it moves charitable giving into a recurring monthly space in the everyday lives of the customer. From a charity’s perspective, finding a way to get their donors to provide ongoing support in a simple and painless way has huge appeal.
“Once a person signs up for our program and picks the charities that they want to support, the virtual change from every single daily purchase is accumulated, and then at the end of the month, a single donation is charged to the customer’s account and forwarded to their preferred charities. Learning from our customers, we have also added the ability for our customers to set a minimum and maximum donation amount,” explained Kitchen.
ChangeIt effectively has revolutionized giving in this way to accomplish its ultimate mission: To make charitable giving a part of every person’s everyday purchases.
“So suddenly we’ve moved charitable contribution from needing a prompt to donate, such as someone asking you, or some attention-grabbing event occurring, to something that you sign up for once and it stays with you each and every day as long as you stay in the program,” added Kitchen.
And to date, he says people have remained in the program. A remarkable 94 per cent of customers that have registered in the ChangeIt program said that they would recommend it to friends and family.
“It’s a powerful program that people like to talk about because it’s about doing the right thing, and doing it in an easy way. To me that’s fundamentally different from anything that I’ve ever seen in the charitable space,” said Beaton. “It really is a revolution in that space to make giving more engaging and, more importantly, a daily occurrence.”
He explained that the automatic and convenient way in which ChangeIt provides customers with the ability to donate empowers them, and eliminates the pressure-some hassle of being approached or approaching people for donations, often to give to charities of which they have never heard of before.
Beaton acknowledges this is a daily dilemma that interferes with the free spirit of giving to a worthy charity.
“We’ve all been approached at the cash register at some point while making a purchase to give to a charity that we often haven’t heard of, and must make a quick decision about giving, for which there will be no way to receive any tax benefit – although users of course feel good about donating something. This happened to me one time, and I saw it as a great opportunity to talk about the ChangeIt program to the cashier. She was very intrigued by it, and told me that she disliked asking people and they didn’t like being asked. This is a classic example that most North Americans can relate to.”
On the tax side of things, there is a real benefit in the ChangeIt system for donors and charities.
The 2013 Polaris study also indicated that 71 per cent of Canadians said they donated money to charity; however there was an alarming statistic published from the Canada Revenue Agency suggesting that less than 24 per cent of Canadians file charitable donations as part of their annual tax return process.
“For me, there’s a massive gap which asks, ‘Are Canadians being as financially responsible as they should be when they make charitable donations?’ A lot of people may give a dollar here or there at a cash register to a charity they don’t even know about, you give it, but you never get tax benefit for it, other than the heartstring moment of feeling good at the time,” said Kitchen.
Addressing this issue, ChangeIt is in alignment with the Canadian Governor General’s campaign to encourage Canadians to give even the smallest amount of time or money to charity. The campaign announced last year, called My Giving Moment, and was established to help to address the same alarming statistic that the number of Canadians who are claiming charitable giving on their taxes has been dropping steadily each year to the point where it is at a low of less than 24 per cent.
“Our program gets right to the heart of this problem and deals with the fact that people can give the small amounts of money, but because we issue or aide through the charities each of our donors is able to get the tax receipts from each of the charities that they support through our program. Through those tax receipts they will be able to file appropriately the donations they have made and get the tax benefit for that,” said Kitchen.
“So much of our program is built on doing the right thing for communities and having our customers and bank customers feel good about what they’re doing. Why not also layer in making sure you’re being as tax efficient as possible when you’re doing good? This means the customer wins emotionally and fiscally. Charities gain a highly efficient and effective way to raise funds and concurrently build up a donor base,” he said.
ChangeIt’s short-term goal is to secure at least one or two large Banks in Canada in 2014. In the U.S, ChangeIt is seeing lots of interest in their ChangeIt America program, and hopes to secure a number of regional or national banks in the next 12 months.
Moving forward in such a short time period since its founding, ChangeIt’s business model is backed up by research and a modern technology approach that will ensure its sustainability, adaptability, and continued leadership in the charitable space in the future.
“One of the things we uncovered through Angus Reid market research is that ChangeIt really resonated with a broad demographic, but particularly strong with the younger demographic (18-35). Charities are seeing that the younger demographic does not respond positively to the more traditional ways of giving, yet they are very socially responsible, so there’s got to be a better way for them to connect and give, and so charities are looking for tools that resonate with this younger demographic. Feedback from our users and market research indicates that we have a tool that does just that,” said Beaton.
Kitchen, having experience in the field from his previous employment with BMO is familiar with the changes in many sectors to move from cash to electronic transactions.
“People aren’t carrying the same amount of cash and spare change on them anymore. We’ve heard that those sources of funds are drying up for charities. Our program becomes completely technology adaptable. As banks move to mobile wallets for purchases, the way we’ve designed our program means that it can support today’s card based purchases as well as any form of payment connected to the credit or debit card. We will continue to be relevant regardless of how a customer uses their cards. We’re here to stay and deliver on our mission and provide value to consumers, charities and banks.”
For more information about the ChangeIt Program, visit: https://changeit.com/