United Way Penny Wise, Critics Foolish

SilverpennyJeff Brooks over at Donor Power Blog has pumped some much needed fresh air into the putrid talk around the United Way's new Pennies for Change program, which allows consumers of participating credit card companies to donate a penny whenever they use their card. 

The program is simple and will probably be lucrative for the UW in the long run.  But not according to one writer at the Christian Science Monitor who thinks the barbarians are at the gate.

It could also undermine the United Way's longstanding commitment to supporting financial literacy for consumers. And it might buy the credit-card companies some desperately needed whitewashing at a time when Congress is looking hard at the industry.

Huh?  Isn't learning to use a credit card in a socially responsible way supporting "financial literacy," or is it just that all credit card use is bad?  Should poorer consumers be encouraged to pack their pockets with cash because they shouldn't use a credit card at the supermarket? 

If the United Way program is meant to provide some much needed cover for the credit card industry, why has only 12 companies signed up to participate?  Maybe it's because they all know that using Pennies for Change to prop up their public image would be like using a penny for an umbrella.

Cause marketing isn't going to whitewash anyone's problems.  Help?  Maybe.  Solve?  No.  Instead of being bombarded with negative press, the 12 companies that signed up for the United Way program should be commended for helping launch it.  I can assure you, they'll give more than they'll get, especially in the beginning.

The Monitor article also notes that Pennies for Change has been criticized for aiming too low, asking consumers to donate a measly penny, even when they are charging an expensive luxury item.  These critics have obviously never sold anything before in their lives.  Sure, it's a penny now, but with time, effort and commitment, maybe it's a dime, a quarter, even a percentage of purchase in a few years.  You have to start small and build the program.  And because UW is selling this program direct--without the buy-in of a large credit card company like American Express--they'll have better luck pitching companies on a nominal amount that many cardholders would easily accept.  In sales we call this "getting your foot in the door."

What amuses me most is that just above the Monitor article is: Monitor mall.  Shop for a cause - Support the Christian Science Monitor.  Pardon me, but does an online store support the Monitor's mission “to injure no man, but to bless all mankind”?  Do you think that the Omaha Steaks and Mrs. Field's cookies sold through the site are a "blessing," (hey, they have my vote) or are they two more things that are contributing to global warming and the obesity epidemic?

Oh, and you don't have to swing by the Monitor's offices to pay cash or check for your subscription.  You can pay online by credit card.  A blessing indeed.