Ending Child Poverty One Cent at a Time

Christian Vater, founder of Deutschland Rundet Auf, tells us how he makes millions out of Germany's loose change

by Naomi Ryland, March 16, 2017

Christian Vater is determined to end child poverty in Germany with one and two cent coins. Deutschland Rundet Auf was founded only three years ago but already the micro-donation initiative has accumulated donations well into the millions. Pretty outstanding in a country which isn't known for its donor culture. He tells us how he got there, what he has learnt on the way and why he is still not satisfied. 

What was your motivation behind starting Deutschland Rundet Auf?

In 2007 I reached a point in my career as a music manager where all my professional goals and objective had been achieved and a beautiful new adventure appeared on my personal horizon: I was going to be a dad! In this context, 2 questions kept popping up:
1. What kind of world do i want my son to grow up in?
2. What can I do to make that world a better one than the one we live in today?

As a first step, I initiated a foundation in Africa focusing on improving the livelihoods of HIV/Aids-infected streetkids in Kenya. But then, shortly after my son’s birth, I read a study on the shocking numbers of child poverty in Germany which triggered the idea to start a movement in Germany where 82 million people join forces to fight child poverty in a sustainable way. By rounding-up cent amounts at the till while shopping.

Countries like the USA and UK have a strong culture of charitable giving on a regular basis, what's different in Germany? 

Germany is the world’s third biggest donation market superseded only by the USA and the United Kingdom. The particular difference is that – 90% of all donations in Germany –  are made in the 4th quarter of the year because the German giving culture is based on „events“, particularly Christmas. Hence one of our objectives with DEUTSCHLAND RUNDET AUF is to make giving a natural part of everyday life so that doing good on a daily basis is just as normal as brushing our teeth. And the good news is: by now every second, two people in Germany round up, totalling 2,5 million people each month and counting.

You just about to reach a massive milestone - raising 4 million Euros. Where does that money go exactly and what’s next for Deutschland Rundet Auf?

We are equally impressed and grateful for the fact, that over the past 3 years the rounded-up little cent coins of individuals added up to over 4 Million €! Every cents goes directly without any deductions a 100% to carefully selected and proven projects fighting child poverty in Germany. Based on a recent survey, 2,5 million children in Germany are affected by child poverty, that is 1 out of 5 children growing up without a fair chance in life. It is therefore our declared goal to end child poverty in Germany and to ensure, that every child gets a chance. Thanks to our retail partners, ambassadors and millions of customers who round up every day we could so far provide over 43.000 disadvantaged children with a chance out of poverty. It’s a good start but it’s still only 2% of the total number of affected children in our country hence we have another 98% to go and we will not rest before every single child gets a chance. At launch, we focused on partnering with retailers, so far 8% of the total retail market is on board. In a next step, we will be bringing rounding up to online shopping and mobile phones.

How do you respond to claims that you're supporting greenwashing?

In my opinion „Greenwashing“ in our time and age is a thing of the past as it is nowadays with the omnipresence of social media almost impossible to hide information from the consumer. Consumers have never been more informed, better connected and in constant dialogue with each other thus corporates cannot take consumers for a ride on the „Look at me, i am so social responsible because I do a,b,c“ train. To the contrary, any action that is just a front or PR stunt will be almost immediately discovered, exposed, commented and eventually punished by shitstorms across all social media channels by the consumers which we have already seen repeatedly in the recent past. Thus it is paramount that any corporate social responsibility project is not a shortlived fad but long-term, has a clear financial commitment and is deeply ingrained in the corporate strategy and at all levels of the organisation. And this is exactly the case in a partnership with DEUTSCHLAND RUNDET AUF. Our partners commit to make an annual partner contribution, sign a minimum 2-year agreement with us and the implementation spans all levels of the organisation from the CEO all the way to the staff at the tills.

In every sector there are ups and downs. What has been your biggest accomplishment with DEUTSCHLAND RUNDET AUF?

There are 3 things which I am personally very happy about and grateful for: first, it was an incredible moment to stand at a till in an outlet of our food retail partner Netto at 8am in the morning and witness how the guy before me in the queue - apparently a construction worker and a giant of a man – gets his wallet out to pay for his beers and then shouts at the cashier: „Do that round-up thing!“. The idea of a microdonation via rounding up was a complete innovation, nobody in Germany had ever done it before and if you create something, that did not exist before, you never know whether people will actually like it and pick up on it. After almost 2 year of working „under cover“ it was so cool to see the first customer actually doing it!

Secondly, it’s astonishing to see how many people already know DEUTSCHLAND RUNDET AUF. We have put a lot of thought into our marketing and PR campaigns but only after you actually run the campaigns you know if they were successful and reached your target group. A recent survey by Germany’s leading market research firm IfD Allensbach showed, that after 3 years in operation, 69% of the German population know DEUTSCHLAND RUNDET AUF, i.e. 2 out of 3 people in Germany. 

And most importantly I am super happy about the constant development and growth of DEUTSCHLAND RUNDET AUF. Many innovative start-ups either come and go quickly or die a slow death whereas we have launched 3 years ago and go from strength to strength. Month after month more people round up hence we grow every year by up to 25%. And by that, each year we are getting closer to our goal: To end child poverty in Germany.

Was there ever a low point?

There were so many! And they keep coming as we move forward but the good news is: All low points are temporary, they may last a day, a week, a month or a year. But eventually they will subside.

Looking back, what are your top 5 learnings?

  1. Be passionate about your idea and all you do.
  2. Believe in yourself and your idea regardless what others say.
  3. Whatever happens, be persistent and never give up.
  4. Find good people who share your passion as you cannot do it alone. Any success in this world is the result of great minds working together.
  5. Always listen to your heart, it already knows the answer.

What makes you The Changer? 

My wife Soiya once introduced me to a quote by Ghandi which I try try to incorporate into all aspects of my life – every single day: 

„Be the change you want to see in this world.“

Find out more about Deutschland Rundet Auf

This article was originally published in March 2015.