In the early 2000s, our Co-op rolled out a program called the Community Partner of the Month. The concept was simple. We placed plastic bins at the registers and featured an Upper Valley nonprofit each month. Then we collected loose change donated by shoppers.
The Community Partner of the Month was a popular program that worked well for many years. But over time, something unexpected happened: people stopped carrying change. Credit and debit cards replaced cash. Donations dwindled, and we needed a new system.
After more than a year of planning, our Co-op rolled out Pennies for Change in June, 2016. Pennies for Change is a charitable-giving program founded on an innovative approach to collecting money at the registers. Shoppers go to the registers, check out, and have the option to round up their grocery bill to the next dollar. Then we donate the difference to community nonprofits.
My colleague Emily Rogers helped coordinate Pennies for Change from the beginning. When the program first rolled out last summer, Emily told me the goal was $10,000 per month, or $120,000 by the end of the first year. We were all excited, but nervous, too. At that time, no one knew what might happen.
Last month was the one-year anniversary of Pennies for Change. This month we counted the totals.
From June, 2016, to June, 2017, members and shoppers donated $264,406.11 to Upper Valley nonprofits through Pennies for Change.
How do the donations work?
At the register, Co-op shoppers can round up their bill to the next dollar by telling a cashier or by answering a prompt on the keypad. We then divide the donations among two groups: community partners and food access partners.
Of the funds collected each month, 60 percent goes to our food access partners: LISTEN Community Services, Upper Valley Haven, and Willing Hands. These partners change yearly.
The remaining 40 percent is split between two community partners. These change monthly. Partners receive 30 or 10 percent based on annual revenue, number of employees, and ratio of funds used for administrative purposes.
With permission, we post thank-you letters from our partners. One of my favorites is from Larry Daigle, president of Friends of Veterans. In a letter dated this past spring, Larry wrote:
These funds were used in May to financially assist two veterans, one living in Vermont and the other living in New Hampshire. These donations assisted one veteran to re-connect his electricity after shut-off and the funds for the second veteran were used to pay his security deposit when he had to relocate because of a disability.
It’s a moving experience to read these letters and see the difference a little loose change can make.