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When you think “gift card” you probably don’t think “charity” or “philanthropy”. Since their inception decades ago, gift cards and store credit have generally only offered a way for consumers to give gifts to one another – and despite the popularity of gift cards, that hasn’t changed much. Until recently.

Innovations in the world of gift cards and charitable giving are totally shifting the ways that we perceive gift cards – and could hold the key to the advanced giving opportunities of the future.

Companies have begun to leverage the convenience and utility of gift cards not just towards their own financial gain, but to partner with charitable organizations to give back to the community, and new charitable giving opportunities are taking advantage of the physical, satisfying form factor of the gift card – by allowing individuals to purchase “gift card” donations for others, which may be donated to charities of their choice.

Truly, gift cards represent a golden opportunity, both for philanthropically-minded retailers and charitable organizations who are taking advantage of them for charitable donations.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the way that retailer Whole Foods has implemented a charitable gift card program with its payment partner Blackhawk Systems, and discuss how these systems could drive sales and help retailers gain new customers – while still giving back to the community.

We’ll then take a look at the up-and-coming market of charity gift cards, which offer consumers an easier, more tangible way to give the gift of a charitable donation to a friend, coworker, or loved one.

Gift Cards Offer New Opportunities For Charitable Giving – Whole Foods Case Study

Over the previous 2016 holiday season, ethically-minded retailer Whole Foods partnered with Blackhawk Network – their branded, digital gift cards supplier – to introduce a specialized selection of curated gift cards from a variety of retailers across the US, in an effort to give back to the community.

This pilot program provided a portion of sales from each gift card purchase to fund a variety of charitable organizations, including 25 school garden grants that will allow children across the country to experience the benefits and the knowledge gained by understanding common gardening and farming methods. In addition, 15 regional garden organizations that are hosted by The Whole Foods Foundation and Life Lab – a leader in the US in the field of garden-based learning – are benefitting from the funds raised by this pilot program.

charity gift cards

The goal of both of these programs are to enhance the knowledge of children about the benefits of gardening, healthy eating, and fresh food. 

Since it was started in 2011, The Whole Foods Foundation has served more than four million children in the UK, USA, and Canada, and has provided funding for over 3,700 school gardens, and almost 5,000 salad bars in schools – all at no cost to teachers or students.

Over the 2016 holiday season, Whole Foods raised more than $100,000 in conjunction with Blackhawk Network, without costing customers any extra money. According to the Whole Foods Foundation President, Nona Evans, this money will go directly to funding even more gardens, and increase the access of students in schools to healthy, wholesome food.

This partnership has not ended – though it began during the holiday season, Whole Foods has said that it’s dedicated to continuing to support these charitable organizations, and both Whole Foods and the Blackhawk Network will continue to support this gift card program year-round.

This gift card pilot program is also being used as a way to test the viability of more green, environmentally friendly card materials – in a previous post, we mentioned that Whole Foods switched their gift cards to sustainable, wood-and-paper based cards, and now Blackhawk Network is partnering with Whole Foods to further this mission.

By the end of 2017, Blackhawk Network and Whole Foods plan to print all of the eligible merchant gift cards that are participating in the donation program on sustainable, wood-based, recyclable and compostable cards.

Doing so, according to the Whole Foods Foundation, will allow customers to stretch their dollar and make a difference without having to spend more money – and that’s certainly a win-win for both consumers, and for the charitable organizations that are participating in this program.

It will certainly be interesting to see how other retailers react to this program. While many retailers do offer some kind of charitable program that can provide a portion of sales to charities, this is rather rare – and sometimes, these programs can be hard to implement.

Whole Foods and Blackhawk Solutions succeeded by having a clear vision, a simple mission, and an easy-to-understand method by which consumers could choose to support these charities. The fact that consumers didn’t have to pay any extra money to support this charitable fundraiser was also certainly a big factor to its success.

Hopefully, other retailers will take note of the success of this pilot program, and begin integrating easy, simple donation solutions into their gift card offerings – whether all-year-round, like Whole Foods, or for limited-time donation drives during the holiday season.

Going Beyond Retailers – Donate To Charity With A Gift Card Of Your Choice

While the retail gift card program conducted by Whole Foods and Blackhawk Solutions is certainly innovative and intriguing – with potentially wide-ranging effects on the gift card industry – there is another new, up-and-coming, innovative gift card solution that goes further.

Charity gift cards are a novel method of payment that offers consumers a simpler, more intuitive way to purchase gift cards that can directly pay charitable organizations of their choice.

These gift cards look quite similar to a traditional gift card – branded, with a set amount of cash associated with the balance, and even magnetic strips, in some cases – but they function much differently than a traditional retail gift card.

Companies currently offering these cards includes TisBest, CharityChoice, JustGiveNow, and GlobalGiving, among others.

Essentially, these charitable donation providers charge flat fee or a percentage of your donation to give you a plastic card which can be hand-delivered to the recipient, in a method that’s usually associated with gift cards, rather than charitable donations.

The main benefit that these cards offer is to make the feeling of a charitable donation more tangible – it’s one thing to tell someone “I donated to charity in your name,” and an entirely different thing to hand a gift card to someone, and let them know that they can donate it themselves to a charity of their choice.

By allowing a more traditional method of gift-giving, these gift cards allow recipients to feel a sense of agency – they get to choose which charity to donate to, and they have the power to do so on their own. By enhancing the positive feelings of both the recipient and the donator, these cards could represent an entirely new way that charities could raise funds.

These cards are still relatively new – so to help you determine whether or not you should invest in one, we’ve put together a quick list of the pros and cons of donating using a charity gift card.

Pros

  • Give, And Ye Shall Receive – A Tax Break! Despite the fact that the recipient can choose an organization to which the donation will go, the buyer of the card is the one who can receive a tax break – you are the one donating to charity, after all, not the recipient. Generally, you will receive a letter or a receipt confirming your purchase of a charity gift card, and come tax time, you can get a tax break from your charitable donation.
  • Your Recipient Can Choose Where To Allocate The Money. As mentioned above, each one of these cards usually has a list of different organizations that the money can be sent to, allowing for recipient to have a choice – rather than just be told that they have had a donation made in their name to a charitable organization that they did not choose.
  • You Can Personalize Your Gift. Some charity gift card providers allow you to choose from multiple different card designs, and others even allow for custom artwork. You can personalize the gift card to the recipient, or even create custom-branded corporate cards for employees – making these great business gifts.
  • Recipients Can Choose From Pre Approved Organizations. It’s sometimes difficult to understand where your money is going when you make a charitable donation – but the companies who sell charity gift cards pre-screen and approve each organization, so the recipient can rest easy, knowing that the money they were given will go to the perfect charitable cause.

Cons

  • Not All Of Your Donation Goes To Charity. Making these cards and the processing systems behind them isn’t free, after all – most companies charge for a “plastic fee” to create and deliver the card, and may also skim a flat percentage off the top of gift card purchases. In contrast, donating directly to an organization will ensure 100% of your money reaches that specific organization.
  • The CARD Act Doesn’t Apply – So Watch For Expiration Dates. These cards are not retail gift cards, so they’re not covered by the CARD Act – which specifies a minimum expiration date of 5 years from date of purchase of a gift card. Some of them have a shelf life of less than a year. If your recipient forgets about the card and doesn’t redeem it, your money could go to waste.
  • They’re Not Exactly Impulse Buys. You aren’t going to find charity gift cards in the checkout line, so you’re going to have to buy them well in advance. That may change in the future if the market continues to grow, but for now, these cards are relatively hard to get your hands on, and will almost always have to be purchased online.
  • Smaller Charities Are Excluded. You’re probably not going to find your local animal foundation, homeless shelter, or other small-scale charitable organizations on the “approved” list for these gift cards. Though many great major charities are represented on their lists, hyperlocal charities will not be, so you won’t be able to donate to your local community.

After considering the pros and cons, you may decide that a charitable gift card is for you – great! This is certainly a unique new technological method of donating to charities.

If, however, you’re still not convinced, that’s okay too. As time goes on, these gift cards will surely become more flexible and cost-effective, and will drive the charitable contributions of the future.

Got Gift Cards You Don’t Want? Sell Them At EJ Gift Cards!

Charitable gift cards may be the future – but retail gift cards are the now! And if you have gift cards to restaurants you don’t like, stores you don’t like, or any other gift card that would otherwise sit around in your wallet collecting dust, you should sell it at EJ Gift Cards!

EJ Gift Cards is an industry leader in the world of buying unwanted gift cards. We’ve built a comprehensive online platform that provides a simple way to sell your unwanted gift cards. We accept hundreds of gift cards from restaurants, retailers, venues, and more – so if you’ve got a card to sell, chances are that we’re buying!

All you have to do is follow our simple, step-by-step instructions, get a quote for your gift card at our competitive rates, and enter the information on your gift card. As soon as you hit “sell”, we’ll transfer the full payment for your card to you via PayPal – no waiting for checks in the mail, or transfers of funds to bank accounts.

At EJ Gift Cards, we offer great rates,hassle free payment, and customer support in case you have any problems – so you can trust us to deliver your payments on time, and give you the best deal on your gift cards.

Don’t let your gift cards go to waste. Sell today.