You may not know it, but Americans have a long historical tradition of donating their loose change to causes they care about it. Chronologically, historians of the coin (which I fancy myself) trace the roots of formally donating change to charitable causes back to Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee. In 1891, legend tells us – and I believe it – that Captain McFee couldn’t sleep on Christmas Eve trying to find a way to feed a Christmas Dinner to the many homeless of San Francisco.   That morning, McFee arrived at his solution. He thought back to his days as a sailor, when passing through England’s Stage Landing, he witnessed sailors depositing coins into “Simpson’s Pot” to help London’s needy.   It was a short coin toss from there. Later that afternoon, McFee borrowed a crab pot, placed it on a tripod at the Oakland ferry landing and first called out “Keep the Pot Boiling,” rousing passersby to donate their change. Again, coin historians (aka me) refer to this as the “coin drop heard around America.”

Soon thereafter the Salvation Army formalized this practice that continues as a holiday tradition today. And, we were off to the coin races – literally. Americans found more and more ways to donate their change. Non-profits solicited Americans to donate their change – and a veritable country-wide cacophony of coins ensued.change boxes If you’re a member of my generation (I’m not telling), do you remember the makeshift milk carton change boxes you brought home from school? Did you too search for change in the couch cushions to be the first to bring your carton back to school full? Even the American icon, Ronald McDonald, embraced the change box as a primary funding strategy for its wonderful Ronald McDonald House charity. The next time you go through a McDonald’s drive through, look for the worn vestige of this approach. Even when charities did not directly ask you for change, they pitched their requests in terms of change. You can’t forget Sally Struther’s: “For 70 cents, the price of a cup of coffee (again showing my age), you could provide an impoverished African Child with a meal for a week.” For you young whipper-snappers, you should watch this video (Sally Struthers Video). Very powerful stuff.

Stage direction: [Insert ominous music]

But, all good things must come to an end – or reinvent themselves. With the advent of credit/debit cards and soon thereafter PayPal, iPay, Upay, WeAllPay, maybe NoBodyPays (as in the recent mortgage crisis – I digress…), leukemia quarter collectorchange began to fall silent. The pot was no longer boiling. Change went somewhat dormant. You no longer walked out of your grocery store with coins jingling in your hand. You didn’t get the quarter back from the register to place in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Quarter Board.   A coin Dark Ages – quoted by change historians – ensued. Change was threatened to go the way of the telephone booth and bubble TV: items you tell your kids about when they’ve Netflixed (yes it’s a verb) old Spiderman episodes.

But, if you remember your European history lesson, you know that an Enlightenment followed the Medieval Dark Ages. Enter our hero – virtual change. By rounding your transaction to the nearest whole dollar, change can be created, and subsequently donated. Exhale – it’s going to be okay. Change is back.

But, the freedom of your virtual change is now threatened by the forces of virtual and brick/mortar check-out counter coercion.   When checking out, many merchants are providing you with their preferred charities to donate to.   For example, Amazon provides you with a nice list of 10 charities you can donate your change to. But these causes may not be yours. And your tax benefit? Claimed by the merchant.

At CaringCent, we’re purists. We believe that you should maintain the right to virtually drop your change in the kettle of the non-profit organization – charity, church, school or, gulp, even political candidates – you care about. Make whatever pot you want boil!

As I’m sure Captain McFee – coin GodFather – would concur, you should not have to choose from a short list of options forced upon you. You donate your time and thinking to non-profits you care about. We want you to have the option to support these efforts at the check-out counter.

But, we don’t stop there. The world has changed since the first kettle container. We want to provide you with a secure, fun and rewarding donation experience that leverages the best features of the technologies you use every day.   Some folks may find the change kettle boring.   Although aghast at this supposition, we understand that we live in an environment where entertainment is ubiquitous and immediate. So, you won’t merely be donating your change, but engaging in a clever, enjoyable and worthwhile donation platform.   So, join your colleagues and help us write the next chapter in American change history: make your kettle boil….virtually!