Starbucks, which pioneered how Americans drink coffee, declined to estimate how much money it plans to raise, but millions of people visit its nearly 7,000 company-owned U.S. stores each day. Customers who give will get a red, white and blue wristband that says "Indivisible."
"This is about using Starbuck's scale for good," said Howard Schultz, Starbucks Corp.'s CEO.
The program is the latest effort by Schultz to address the nation's economic woes. In August, he sent more than 200,000 Starbucks employees a memo urging them to do what they can to help business thrive. Then, he asked fellow CEOs to stop contributing to political campaigns until the nation's leaders reached a long-term economic solution. After that, he hosted a national telephone forum, bought full-page ads in two major newspapers and started a website, Upwardspiral2011.org.
Schultz said he feels personal responsibility to do something to stimulate the U.S. economy. Starbucks is hiring about 200 people a day in the U.S. as part of its efforts to remodel thousands of stores and add about 200 more locations in the next year. But Schultz said he wanted to do more.
Starbucks is covering the operational costs to get loans out through the program, which will run indefinitely. Its charitable arm, The Starbucks Foundation, is giving $5 million to get the program started, with the hope that funds will be invested in communities within a month of a donation being made.
Opportunity Finance Network works with 180 financial institutions -- banks, credit, unions, loan funds and venture capital funds -- that give loans in low-income communities that don't have easy access to credit. The organization, created 27 years ago, has invested $23.2 billion and generated nearly 300,000 jobs through 2009.
Loans through the network have supported everything from charter schools to grocery stores nationwide. The organization found that, even during the recession, more than 98 percent of the money loaned out has been repaid, which is in line with traditional lenders.
Through the program, businesses will apply to financial institutions, which along with the Opportunity Finance Network will assess their potential for adding jobs. Preference will be given to applicants who can add jobs within six months. An outside organization will audit the program within a year.
"We want to match up every person who has $5 to share with every person who can't spare $5," said Mark Pinsky, CEO of Opportunity Finance Network.
The effort has the potential to be successful, say some experts. Community institutions succeed, they say, because they understand the needs in the areas they serve.
"I think it's a really worthy effort," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics. "In theory, this is a great idea and should have impact."