It’s that time of year when our shriveled hearts grow three sizes larger, and we are filled, quite against our will, with a spirit of fellowship and goodwill towards our whole human family. So sayeth Dr. Seuss, and he is truly our greatest sage.
But actually, despite that certain special something in the air each December, I don’t really believe that the general public is largely disinterested in the welfare of others 11 months of the year. I see a constant desire to do good in people which is thwarted by ingrained daily habits. Call it laziness if you will. But put a big red button in front of someone that says, “make the world a better place — 10 bucks,” and I think a majority of passers-by would give it a push.
People want to do good things, given the opportunity. You just have to make it easy for them. What follows are my suggestions for charitable organizations and their partners, to make it as easy as possible for people to do good.
The Charity Change Box
One of the great strokes of genius in the history of charitable giving must have been the first check-out counter donation box. Imagine the tens or hundreds of millions of people who are handed their change at retail stores, diners and coffee shops each day. Right next to one’s outstretched hand is a can for the local pet shelter, UNICEF or medical research.
Giving physical money literally can’t get any easier than slightly tipping one’s already well-positioned hand towards a conveniently-located receptacle. The impulse to give a little something is enhanced by the preference of most people to carry less change in the first place.
Version 2.0: With so many paying with pre-paid coffee shop cards, debit or credit, isn’t there an electronic equivalent to throwing our change in the box? Sure there is. That high-priced latte ($4.67, with tax)? Just round up the cost to the next dollar and deposit the surplus in the charity of your choice. Once the system becomes commonplace, the question asked by the cashier (or better, by the electronic screen, itself) will simply be, “Do you want your change?” My guess is a good many will say no. And those nickels and dimes will quickly add up. (Note: the person who came up with this idea is Scott Wu, a fellow writer of mine at Terry, years ago.)
Version 3.0: Much of our purchasing these days is done entirely online. But there’s no reason that an online vendor can’t ask you the very same thing at your final checkout. Imagine a world where everybody’s Visa statements held lists of nice round numbers. Eight dollars at Starbucks. Forty-five bucks on EBay. All that digital coinage could be feeding a lot of orphans/rescuing a lot of endangered species.
Pre-Packaged Food Bank Donations
For the longest time I would see those big food bank donation boxes near the exit to my local grocery store. I would finish getting all the items on my shopping list, pay, and then, on my way out, see that big box, and be torn. Because I didn’t want to pass it by, but there was a reason I’d picked up the food I did, and waited in line and paid for it. I was planning on eating it. Finally, someone came up with the solution. Now check-out counters include pre-packaged food gifts for customers to give to the local food bank. Grab one, pay for it with the rest of your groceries, drop it in the box on the way out.
One thing my local grocery store has just started doing this year is offering different “deals” to entice value-conscious givers. A small food gift is two dollars. But for five dollars, shoppers can get so much more food (owing to a larger grocery discount for the five-dollar package), nearly everybody “supersizes” their donation.
Version 2.0: Online retailers might follow suit, asking purchasers at check-out time to browse their pre-packaged gift donations. Partnering with charities of all kinds, an Amazon customer might decide at the last minute to add a week’s worth of clean drinking water to their order, save some homeless kittens from euthanasia. Retailers online and off understand the power of the check-out counter impulse buy, but the impulse donation is just as powerful, and doesn’t saddle a person with a pocket penlight that they don’t really need.
Clothing and Toy Donation Bins
Gently used clothes and toys sitting unused in closets and attics can be put to better use via these wonderful donation bins. Either given directly to those who need them, or sold at a reasonable price with the money going to a good cause, these are a great idea. But for completely reasonable cost and infrastructure reasons, they tend to only be at a handful of locations.
Version 2.0: How about a donationmobile? A handful of trucks might rotate through local grocery store parking lots throughout a city, at least a few times a year. Setting up camp at each location for maybe a few days at a time, this might get people to pulling together some donation items when they might not otherwise get around to it.
And of course, one of the easiest ways you can make a difference is to sign or start an online petition. Luckily, you’re at just the right place for that.
Photo credit: Mikhail Evstafiev