Monday, December 31, 2007

Coinstar your Change - to Help Change the World!

Recently I emptied the change from several of our family's Tsedakah boxes. Tsedakah loosely translates as charity, and a tsedakah box is basically a piggy-type bank where you donate loose change for worthwhile causes. I like to think of them as a non-piggy bank.
The obvious problem is how to convert all those coins to dollars to an actual donation. I balked at the CoinStar approach, because while CoinStar coin collection machines perform a valuable service, they charge 8.9% of it. Of course it's worth the time and hassle, but I felt guilty about wasting almost 1/10 of a charitable donation on just the processing of it.
Some banks provide Coinstar as a service, but not mine.
I was delighted to discover that you can use the CoinStar to donate directly to a host of charities, including UNICEF, one of my all time favorites - all you do is follow their prompts, pick which charity, and dump in your change. Then Mr. Coinstar prints out a contribution receipt for you, with an invitation from your designated charity to mail in your receipt so they can "thank you" for it directly. (And capture your name and mailing address, of course.)
So how does this magic work, taking your loose change and saving you the hassle of getting a receipt for your balance, going through the grocery store line to collect the money, depositing it in your checking account, and writing and mailing a check? (Count 'em, that's at least 6 steps and probably 45 minutes of your time....) I spoke with CoinStar this morning and learned that charities pay a discounted service charge of 7.5% to CoinStar and the rest is gravy for them, since they would not necessarily have been the beneficiary of your contribution otherwise. You are allowed the full tax benefit of your contribution, despite it costing them 7.5%. Since all charities have overhead, this one seems like a great win-win. The CoinStar website has a location finder; they are in a huge number of supermarkets nationally.
In our household, most of the coins were donated intentionally, before candlelighting on Friday night or to celebrate happy occasions. Other contributions were less intentional. I made a rule that any money left in the pockets of dirty laundry went into the Tsedakah box, along with any change left in public places - the den's seat cushions were prime hunting grounds for these involuntary contributions. We had many a dollar bill go through the washing machine, and ultimately into donations - a very literal form of money laundering. :-)

photo by jswieringa


Anonymous said...

fascinating. i love the idea and the thinking that went into your blog entry.

in general, you even say "Socially responsible investing, savvy consuming, sustainable living, philanthropy, frugal yet generous affluence, children's financial education, and general whimsy."

so, i am in shock that UNICEF is one of your favorite places to give. i am sure that they are good people doing good work, but did you know that they collect over $400,000,000 a year? and that they spend about $20,000,000 on fundraising???? $20,000,000??? maybe i am missing something, but i do not think that this is responsible philanthropy.

i wish coinstar and others would consider places to donate to that really need the funding. places with annual budgets of under $250,000 or under $100,000. and i wish the regular joe's on the street would be more carefully, more responsible, more savvy about their spending of tzedakah shekels.

arnie draiman
philanthropic consultant

Betsy Teutsch said...

Thanks for your comment! I will research UNICEF further. In the meantime, what is the best choice, in your opinion, of their other options: American Red Cross, World WildLife Fund, America's second harvest, Lymphoma Society, March of Dimes?
My hunch is a charity needs to be pretty large to have the name recognition and mechanism to market with coinstar, with lots of name recognition.
Am I right that you're connected to Ziv?

Betsy Teutsch said...

Arnie, I just checked CharityNavigator and they give US FUnd for UNICEF a four star rating. So how would we know what you're reporting? They say 90% goes to the cause. You obviously have different info, so I'm very interested to hear what you're basing your info on.