You have probably heard of a swear jar. If you’re a software developer then maybe you’ve worked somewhere that you put a buck in a box each time you break the nightly build. In either situation, when the jar or box is full you take that money and do something good with it like go on a vacation or buy your team donuts.

Now imagine a phone app that would allow you to create a jar and put money into it. With this app you have a swear jar that doesn’t take up any space and you can put money in it whenever and wherever you want.

The swear jar app is the seed from which my latest business idea has blossomed.

But Wait, How Could This Be a Business?

A swear jar app is not a business. It’s a pet project.

At its heart there are two problems that swear jars try to solve:

  1. Help people change their bad behavior.
  2. Do something good with spare change.

In both forms of the word, swear jars are about change. I think a business could do a lot of good trying to solve these problems!

Making Change

After my epiphany about the problems a swear jar tries to solve, I split the swear jar app into two different ideas: a small one and a big one.

The small idea is still a virtual jar that you put coins into and empty when full. It helps someone change an unwanted behavior by making them aware of the problem and providing a little bit of discomfort that is the act of putting money into the jar each time they falter.

The bigger idea happens when you empty one of those jars. After you sign up you create a list of charities that are important to you. When you empty a jar, that fake money is turned into real money that gets divided up and sent to the charities of your choice. If someone else contributed to the jar, the charities of their choice get included too.

One App, One Service

It’s probably not clear at this point that these two ideas are also two different and independent pieces of software.

The collection of charities associated with your account is a service. Your choice of charities becomes associated with your email address. It allows you to authorize other applications to donate to the charities you care about on your behalf. There are lots of web sites that donate your money to charity but this service flips the selection of those charities around. You control which charities are the recipient of your money instead of the owner of the web site.

The virtual coin jar is an app. You login and put coins in a jar. When the jar is full, you use the app to empty the jar. When that jar is emptied, the app uses the charity service to donate real money.

Next Steps

Providing a way for business to let their users choose which charities receive your money is still a pretty fresh idea to me. I have been practicing how to describe the idea in the simplest way possible (my “elevator pitch”) but my delivery still needs work.

Over the past couple of weeks I have been focusing on creating an MVP for the more tangible coin jar app. I will likely continue down this avenue until I get a better handle on the charity service. Here’s one of the mock-ups:

Contribution Jar Mock-Up

It has felt a little weird writing about this idea under the guise of my for-profit business, Technical Rex. It’s not clear to me which type of business is appropriate for facilitating charitable donations but my gut is telling me a non-profit business is the way to go. That being said, I will also be researching if and when to establish a non-profit business.

I am looking for feedback too! There are some events in the Lansing area that would help me get some feedback. I’m considering taking a stab at one or both of them but they’re coming up quick so time is working against me.

If you read this and feel like offering your own feedback, please email me or comment below, even if it’s as simple as “I would totally use this” or “Worst. Idea. Evar.”