#CBForward, a joint initiative between CircleBack and the Pay It Forward Foundation, is a national fundraising/ awareness campaign that focuses on “acts of kindness” and fostering a “pay-it-forward” mentality in children by providing all US middle schools with copies of the influential book Pay It Forward. It’s our belief that, by drawing attention to the issue and providing this literature, we’ll influence children in the throes of critical character formation to create a more generous future.

Earlier this week, I had a chance to speak with the president of the Pay It Forward Foundation, Charley Johnson, about paying it forward, their partnership with CircleBack, and what the future holds for the Pay It Forward Foundation. Here’s what he had to say.

#CBForward: An Interview with Charley Johnson

Austin Duck: Hi Charley. Thanks for taking the time. If you wouldn’t mind sharing, how did you get involved with the Pay It Forward Foundation in the first place?

Charley Johnson: Pay it Forward has been around for a very long time. The idea I mean.  But what drew me to it, what seemed to draw most to this great movement was the book and the movie [Both are called Pay It Forward]. The book was written in 1999, and the movie came out in 2000, starring Haley Joel Osment, Helen Hunt and Kevin Spacey. I remember seeing it and thinking ‘this is what I should be doing with my life.’

See, before, I’d been in the business world, made loads of money, and it made me feel empty. But when I saw the movie, I fell in love with the whole concept and began to find ways to pay it forward every day.

After working on it for a bit, I created the trademarked “Pay it Forward” bracelet in 2007 and, so far, over 3.5 million have been sent to 138 countries. The simple concept–that you should do a random act of kindness and, when you’re done, give your bracelet to the person you helped, and they go on to do the same–allowed me to join the Foundation board in 2008 and become President in 2012.

AD: That’s really interesting. So it was a “love at first sight, never look back” kind of thing?

CJ: Yes, absolutely. And since we launched the bracelet, every day at Pay It Forward [Foundation] has been about getting the whole world involved in the concept, spreading our messages across borders and cultures. We really think that this is a small, easy way to create enormous change.

AD: I completely agree. How’d you come to partner with CircleBack for the #CBForward initiative?

CJ: To be honest, CircleBack reached out to us, and we are extremely happy you did. What began as a simple call from Rory [Channer, CBO of CircleBack] in January started some great things in motion and we can’t wait to see what happens next.

I’ve always thought that the idea of paying it forward would be big with businesses, especially in their corporate giving initiatives, but I’ve never quite gotten it to take hold. Then, CircleBack called and, between paying it forward being built into their app and the fact that they have an amazingly generous group of corporate and individual clients, this really felt like an opportunity for us to share Pay It Forward with a completely new audience. You know, really make an impact in children’s lives.

We’re really excited to be a part of this.

AD: Honestly, we’re excited to have you. Do you have any advice for those professionals reading this? Tips on how they can include simple acts of paying it forward in their daily lives?

CJ: I would say that the key to paying it forward is being aware of your surroundings. Every day, there’re multiple opportunities to help out your colleagues, friends, family, and complete strangers. Paying it forward doesn’t have to be a grand gesture; even something as small as holding the door for someone can make an impact.

AD: Charley, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you.

CJ: Likewise.


You can donate to our #CBForward campaign directly through the CircleBack app. In addition to paying it forward in your professional community, CircleBack keeps your contacts accurate and up-to-date automatically.

And of course, don’t forget to pay it forward!