The Business of Giving
A Good Card is a gift card for charity that you can redeem for any charity in the United States. An idea that came to Bill Strathmann ten years ago was inspired by two concepts. The First was an idea that you could ‘give’ the ‘gift’ of charity to someone, and the second was that you could put a new twist on traditional gifting by making gifts more socially relevant. This was something already pioneered by organizations such as Heifer International which brings your donation to life by allocating a llama, cow or chicken to an impoverished family to promote sustainable living. But now, instead of receiving a card for your birthday which says, “I got you a llama for your birthday, but I sent it to a poor family that needs it more,” you can simply add cash to a credit card, to be spent on any of the 1 million charities Network for Good now has listed, after ten years of existence. They’ve also processed a staggering US$700 million over this period.
“We basically joined the two ideas of giving charity and direct gifting to come up with the idea of the Good Card,” says Strathmann.
He’s had a few insightful moments, too, on his journey to help unlock generosity on a massive scale. For instance, a non-profit organization once complained that the Network for Good donation button on its website was not getting any hits. After explaining to the organization’s director that it was not a magic button, Network For Good went on to launch a massive online training program which taught non-profits how to raise money online. Network for Good now provides kits and training to more than 200,000 non-profit professionals, which includes webinars, where well-known personalities give an hour of their time to offer advice. “Realizing our clients needed more than just the fishing rod, we taught them how to fish, too,” Strathmann explains.
It’s worked so well that companies are starting to adopt the idea by giving it to their employees as a reward, rather than cheesy, meaningless corporate gifts. Whereas before you might have been given a Clinique ‘Happy’ cosmetic bag for the holidays with a US$10 charity voucher inside, you can now brand a Good Card for your business for year-round giving.
The entertainment factor of receiving a Good Card is also important in helping turn wasted consumption dollars into dollars that are helping resolve social causes. Next time you’re about to turn your company assistant loose on a gift-buying spree, for Yahoo towels or hats with your logo, which inevitably end up in a spare drawer, think of how much more appreciated this purchase might be if put to work in society.
“Saying to someone that you care about what they care about makes this gift all the more personal and meaningful,” explains Strathmann. “We view charitable giving as a utility, we don’t pick favorite charities or choose sides when it comes to charities we support. As far as I’m concerned, any charity that is in good standing with the IRS should be able to receive a charitable donation, either online or digitally.”
While Network for Good is U.S.-focused for now, international donations can be done via U.S.-based charities who work globally. With the company’s revenue growing more than 35 percent a year, the business of giving has become a healthy venture, despite the recessionary years since 2007, which interestingly had no effect at all on this growth. While the credit card format of Good Cards is novel and certainly fits into a recognizable way of consumer spending, the organization also enables donations through social media, mobile and websites, such as Capital One’s website where you can redeem your credit card rewards for charity. With an array of channels to choose from, there’s now no excuse for not giving. Of the US$300 billion Americans pledge to charity every year only 5 percent, or US$15 billion, is actually done digitally.
“We’re starting to see a massive migration to digital payments, much like we’re seeing with music. The paperwork involved in sending checks is cumbersome for both the donor and the charity and we’re hoping to see the end of this payment method in the future.” With Network for Good now a sustainable business model, it no longer requires charitable dollars to fund itself. Run like a mainstream business, it has earned the revenue that ensures long-term survival.
Most donors have modest expectation when it comes to an acknowledgement of their donation or how their money is being spent, but unfortunately many charities cannot even meet these modest expectations. Some sense of tangibility is also important, where someone can grasp the detail of their giving. The reason the Heifer International model works so well is because a donor can say, “Oh, I bought a llama for a family, I get it.” They can actually see the result of their donation. Network for Good automatically sends a thank you to donors, something charities often forget about.
“We’re very aware of delivering both the tangibility factor and the thank you message to donors. This results in the ‘helpers high’ syndrome, always good for return business. There’s a very good reason why our motto is ‘Do good, feel good.’ But most importantly, if you can solve a social problem with a market-based solution, you should take this approach,” says Strathmann.