Gifts that give twice: Charitable gift cards

By Jennifer Maciejewski

Give more meaning and economize your holiday gift giving this year by purchasing gifts that give twice: charity gift cards.

Charitable gift card roundup
Cash in for charity

If you're hanging onto gift cards that you don't need and won't use, donate them to the nonprofit of your choice. The organization can then take unused gift cards with a minimum balance of $10 and convert them into cash through Plastic Jungle's gift card fundraising program, which gives the nonprofit 70 percent of the total gift card value. E-mail Plastic Jungle  for more information.

Choose-your-charity gift cards
If you're thinking about giving charitable gifts as holiday presents this year, join the crowd: 49 percent of people are likely to do just that, according to a November World Vision survey. And because 84 percent of people would rather receive a meaningful gift than a traditional one, the odds are in your favor that they'll appreciate the gesture.

Although you can donate to a specific charity in their name, since your cause may not be their preferred cause, consider buying choose-your-charity gift cards, such as those offered by CharityChoice, GiveNow, Good Card, TisBest, and OptINnow. The gift cards are tax-deductible for the giver and customizable for the recipients. When they redeem the cards, the recipients sort through a list of possible charities and select which organization they want to benefit from the gift.

The charities will certainly appreciate the effort. "This economy is affecting charities with a double whammy," says Danny Goodman, executive president of CharityChoice Gift Cards. "Charities are seeing their donations drop and their requests and needs rise. What we're offering is a tremendous opportunity in challenging times for donors. It gives them the opportunity to do 100 percent tax-deductible giving, and by merging their charitable-giving and gift-giving budgets, they've automatically economized; they're getting two dollars for one."

Traditional gifts with a twist
When shopping for people who prefer traditional gifts, there are still ways to give back a little with every purchase.

If you opt for Visa or MasterCard gift cards, choose one that designates a portion of the purchase price for charity. For instance, with the Giving Tree Gift Card MasterCard, the recipients can spend 90 percent of the card's value like cash, but when they activate the cards, they browse through a database of 1.5 million nonprofits and select one to receive the remaining 10 percent.

If you'd prefer to give a merchant-specific card, buy the gift card from programs that donate a portion of the purchase to the charity of your choice, such as Scrip or We-Care. The donations range from $0.50 per card to 17.5 percent of the face value, and you'll find everything from iTunes and Barnes & Noble to Discover and American Express gift cards.

For a specific gift, shop online at sites such as OneCause, iGive, and We-Care, where merchants donate anywhere from 1 percent to 25 percent of the purchase price to your cause. To maximize the contribution, make the purchase with your cause credit card.

While double-duty gifts will help you give a bit more to charity this holiday season, don't substitute them for your regular charitable giving. "I would never want anyone to say, 'I'm using, so now I'm going to stop making donations to the organizations I support,'" says Bill Snyder, general manager of "The donation from a single purchase is often going to be from $1 to $5 (though some can go into the hundreds of dollars). These small donations add up over the course of the year and can help nonprofits expand the work they do, but they're not going to replace direct donations."

If you have extra money, please just donate it.

-- Bill Snyder    

To ensure that the organizations you support waste not, check them out online at Charity Navigator or the BBB Wise Giving Alliance.

Shop smart
Whether you choose a customizable charity gift card, a traditional gift, or something in between, spend wisely this holiday season. Don't buy things you don't need or want just to earn a donation.

"If you have extra money, please just donate it," Snyder says. "There are plenty of worthy organizations that need it. I think, and hope, people are shopping more carefully this year -- comparing prices, clipping coupons, shopping online to bargain hunt and save gas. We are one more tool to help you shop carefully and stretch your money further, both by saving you money with special offers we get from our merchants and by allowing some of the money you're already spending to go to a cause you believe in."

Charity gift cards

Gift cards that give a little back when used for other purchases
Card Cause(s) Amount donated Purchase fees Main./dormancy fees Expires?
MasterCard GiveCard Any 1.5 million registered 10% of value, rest used like cash $4.95-8.95 + S&H $5 per month See date on card
Scrip Any 1.5-13% of face value Varies Varies Varies
Simon Pink Ribbon Visa Susan G. Komen Brest Cancer Foundation $1 per card, minimum of $250,000 a year $5.95 $2.95 a month after a year Varies
We-Care Any Up to 17.5% of face value Varies Varies Varies
Your Cause Card Any Up to 60% of face value None None No

Choose-your-own cause cards:
Specific-cause cards with which recipients can choose their charity
Card Cause(s) Type of card Purchase fees Tax deductible Expires?
CharityChoice 100+ Plastic, e-card, and certificate 50 cent transaction fee; 10% of value for admin. fees 100% No
Charity Navigator Good Card 1.5 million+ Plastic or e-card $5 per card for processing 100% 12 months
JustGive 1.5 million+ Certificate or e-card 3% processing; $5 transaction fee for one, $2 for more 100% No
OptINnow Any Print-your-own, e-card None 100% 12 months
TisBest 200+ Plastic, e-card, print-your-own 3% processing; $3.95 per transaction 100% 12 months

See related: Give more with less through charity gift cards, Gift cards 2008: Special section, As holidays tighten, gift cards remain popular, 2008 gift card comparison chart, Top 10 creative ways to wrap gift cards, Tips: Don't let those gift cards expire, Specialty gift cards

Published: December 16, 2008

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