If you’re an entrepreneur wondering how to strike a deal with a major bank or a person wanting to give back with your card, the story of Charity Charge can help
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Imagine getting fed up with the credit cards on offer and deciding to create your very own. It’s a vision Stephen Garten had when he got frustruated trying to redeem his credit card rewards.
With a mission to give back instead of getting more stuff, he created Charity Charge, a card that donates 1 percent of your spending to the charity of your choice. He now has cardholders in all 50 states and is launching a business card to make the donations even greater.
So, whether you’re an entrepreneur wondering how to deal with major banks or a philanthropist wanting to help your favorite charity, Garten’s story can guide and inspire you.
So, let’s get Charged Up! about learning how to give back with every purchase.
JennyHoff: Stephen, thank you so much for joining me today.
StephenGarten: It’s my pleasure to be here, Jenny. Thank you so much.
Hoff: So first let’s talk about your background, what were you doing before Charity Charge, and what triggered your career change?
Garten: Yeah, I think it’s a good question. In the really micro perspective, I had recently moved to Austin, I moved there when I was 23, and I started working for a group called the Austin Technology Incubator, which is a part of University of Texas. And I was working on consulting and doing a lot of market research for early-stage technology companies. And I was just around all these entrepreneurs and I was just seeing all the amazing things that they were doing there, about kind of their visions for their companies and the reason that they were doing them, how they wanted to kind of build a career like bringing innovative things to life. And I got really inspired to do something entrepreneurial myself.
I think in kind of the macro point as well coming out of college, unfortunately, my father died when I was 19, and it certainly left the mark on me of how I am going to make a difference in this world. And it made me really kind of really reflect early on that I wanted to make meaning out of my career, but I was still in my early 20s in Austin just trying to figure it out and just around a lot of entrepreneurs.
Hoff: So what triggered actually deciding, OK, so I want to found my own company and I want to have meaning to starting your own credit card – what was that moment? And, I think when we chatted before you kind of talked about how you had this frustrating experience of trying to book award travel with your credit card points.
Garten: The real way I came up with the idea for Charity Charge is I had signed up for a card and I remembered when I signed up for it there were all these, now looking back on that, kind of illusions of grandeur of “get this credit card and you’re going to get all these perks and benefits and bonus points; it’s going to change your life.” So, I was using this card throughout the year and it was December and one night thought to myself, “Geez, I’ve probably accumulated a lot of points. Let me log in to the bank’s rewards catalog and see what I’m going to pick out for myself. What am I going to get?”
And I did that and I was scrolling through and had this really aggravating experience, because at first I thought, “Well, let me get some flights,” and then the flights I wanted had blackout dates so I couldn’t use the points for that. And then I’m scrolling through and I’m thinking, “Do I want a Red Lobster gift card or an Olive Garden gift card?” And I got even more frustrated, and then I’m toggling in the section where they’re offering things such as Samsonite briefcases or binoculars and toaster ovens.
And I just had this moment about like 45 minutes into this of agonizing over what to pick out that I realized I just didn’t need more stuff. And after using this card for an entire year all I was going to get as a toaster oven or a Red Lobster gift card, no disrespect to Red Lobster.
So, I logged off and fortune has it the next thing I did I was checking my email, and at the top of my inbox was a note from a nonprofit in Austin called Hill Country Conservancy, a group I had been active with that does a lot of environmental preservation work in the Austin area. And I had been supporting them throughout that year, just in a normal way that a donor would support through writing a check and giving general donations that way.
And that’s when I got the epiphany where a moment ago I was frustrated because I had been using a credit card, there was nothing that I wanted in those reward points, and yet here was a nonprofit that I really cared about their mission that I wanted to support. And I just thought to myself, “What if instead of getting stuff for myself I could benefit the organization that I really cared about just through my everyday purchases?” And we’ve all seen the success of companies like Tom’s and Warby Parker – on that product level where if you buy this product you’re able to give back and make a difference. I thought why not be able to take that out to the next level so that everything you buy makes a difference.
See Related: Charity credit cards: Donate your rewards
And I think it’s only that I realize it now years later after having that experience, I think what truly was triggering me is that my parents always raised me with a couple of really core foundational principles. And I think one that maybe I had forgotten for a moment which was giving is better than receiving. And now I really think about kind of the mission and what we’re doing with Charity Charge is really giving people an opportunity to have an easy way to give back, and if we’re so lucky like this morning I bought a cup of coffee, well, I use my Charity Charge card and I benefit the nonprofits I cared about. If I am fortunate enough that I can afford that cup of coffee, why not help someone else that’s less fortunate in the process just as a simple byproduct?
Hoff: And you make it super easy, and we’ll get into that in a moment. But I’m curious first how did your idea of, “Well, I should start a credit card where every purchase I make there’s some money given to a charity of my choice to actually bring that to fruition? Because I think if somebody said, “I started my own credit card,” I would just shake my head – how did you start your own credit card, you’re not MasterCard, you’re not Visa? So kind of take me through that process quickly of how you went from I’m going to start my own credit card to actually having a credit card to sell people.
Garten: Sure. Look, there’s a lot of twists and turns, but I think the best way that I can kind of answer it in the most practical level for anyone that wants to start a credit card company or is just kind of in the building blocks and early phases of getting their idea off the ground, the good kind of thing that I really learned when I worked at the Austin Technology Incubator was to really look at what other people are doing in the space that might be a complementary business model. So although I had this idea for a credit card that you would use instead of you getting bonus points or airline miles, you could donate it. What I quickly realized is, “Look, this already exists in many respects, in the sense of there’s a Southwest part where you use that and get reward points, or there’s in Nordstrom’s card or any of these brands.”
So I started looking at it and I realized that there’s a business model called co-branded credit card, and with that you can essentially partner with a payment network like MasterCard and Visa, and also partner with an issuing bank, whether it’s Commerce Bank, or Chase bank or Capital One. So I really looked to see what was going on in the market that was at least from a business model perspective tangentially related to what I wanted to do.
I think you had one as a guest, Tony Robbins, one of his great lines that came from one of his mentors, Jim Rohn, is “success leaves clues.” I just tred to peel back the onion a little bit. I noticed what was going on in the space, started reaching out to consultants and kind of let it unfold through those means.
Hoff: And so you were looking now for these opportunities, what connections did you have, who was working in this space that you could reach out to, who could put you in touch with the right person and eventually you got to the right person and you had then your business plan. So how did you kind of convince Mastercard this was going to be a profitable card for them, this was going to be worthwhile? Did you say this is going to be a socially good card for them or did you do some research as to people who really wanted to give back and we’re looking for opportunities and would pick a card like this? I mean, how did you kind of convince them that this would be a worthwhile investment in their part?
Garten: I’ll answer that question I think that it’s kind of baked into what your question is, because I originally was trying to pitch this very much, and I would give this advice to anyone that’s starting anything kind of a socially conscious or socially minded venture. Really focus on the economics and how it’s going to fit in and bring real dollar value to the people that you want to partner with. Because I think early on I focused too hard when I was trying to reach out to get banks and payment networks on board about all the social benefits, which is obviously why I’m doing the business.
But I was able to kind of figure out what Mastercard would want to see and how they’re going to make money off this and also our bank partner, to really present a case where it would be profitable for them.
Thinking about the corollaries, what they’re used to is that what’s existed for decades now quite frankly are these affinity credit cards where really large nonprofits, so say like for example Bank of America and Visa have a credit card with Susan G. Komen, and it specifically for Susan G. Komen, it’s only for Susan G. Komen supporters. And when they use that card a very small amount goes back to Susan G. Komen. Our model brings a lot more value to the nonprofits and the card holders, and it’s very distinct.
But again, peel all of that away, I recognize that there’s an interest of banks to work and focus on people that are doing nothing with their reward points, which is over 60 million people in the United States. And I really just pitched it as a, “Look, there are these existing affinity cards out there, here’s how my model’s similar, here’s how it’s different, and how it’s going to be a profitable item for you.”
I will say like one of the funny things, and I can kind of say it now, once you get far enough down the path if you’re looking to start a career in credit cards – the issuer and the payment network are going to ask for projections. They’re going to want to see you put together a financial model that really shows how you’re going to grow the program and how it’s going to get bigger over time as the years infuse from like a payment volume perspective. And when we were initially putting it together I had to make a lot of assumptions.
My first time through it we obviously weren’t in the market yet, so weren’t sure what to pick. I just remember submitting the model to like the main guy who was working with the Mastercard at the time, getting on the phone with him, and him saying to me, “Stephen, hey. Look, we believe in what you’re trying to do from a conceptual basis. We believe it’s going to work. And we’re on board, like we’re going to make you an offer.” But he goes, “But the projections you sent me …” He goes, “They were so large …” He said, “This would be the most successful credit card that’s ever launched in the history of the world.” He goes, “Look, I had to cut your numbers to like 10th of the size, and I submitted to finance to get it approved.”
Hoff: You were optimistic.
Garten: I was very optimistic, but I was also, I mean, you can call it naive or uneducated or whatever. It was just my first time through. And I really kind of swung for the fences, I guess a little too bright of a picture, which it was a pretty funny moment.
Hoff: Well, you need to have that belief, I guess if you are going to make it happen. So that’s my next question – how do you get people to sign up for this card? So you had these projections that everybody in the world was going to want a chance to have Charity Charge in their wallet, of course it’s not that easy, you have to convince people (a) to get a new credit card, you have to convince them (b) to get a credit card that’s not necessarily putting rewards in their pocket, you have to convince people (c) that this is a card that they’re going to use, not lose track of, not rack up a lot of interest on. So what steps did you take once you got this card to launch to actually let me know it existed and convinced them to sign up?
Garten: Yeah, sure. So I mean, on a really practical level for any entrepreneurs that are listening to this, I think it comes down to two things really basically. One is the distribution, like how we’re going to get awareness and traffic and people to come to our website. And then when they get there, we’re in front of them with this opportunity, how are we making sure that they were messaging it the right way so that they actually convert and decide to get the card.
And so on that first point on distribution we’ve really found a couple of channels that are really starting to scale up and work well for us. One is partnering with traditional credit card affiliate sites like creditcards.com where their whole business model is to put out a lot of different things, whether it’s content, SEO, advertising, etcetera. People come on creditcards.com looking for a right card and we’re a different option there, right? So while they are featuring all these cashback and bonus points card for the 30 percent of people that aren’t using their reward points and are looking for something different or just want to add another product that has no annual fee, they see Charity Charge and that brings the distribution to our site.
From there what we’ve really focused on has been the hardest thing is how do we pitch it and present it the right way. That’s really a matter of letting people know that there’s no annual fee, letting people know that there’s a lot of misinformation about personal finance of course. Letting them know that in reality it’s likely going to improve their credit score and not hurt it, letting them know that we have lower than the national average APR.
And I think on the other distribution piece the other thing that’s been good for us is doing partnerships direct with nonprofits. So even last week we kicked off a partnership with a couple of new nonprofits, one of them is Broward Children’s Center for example down in Florida, where they’re now putting Charity Charge in front of their board staff, donor base, letting them know that they could just sign up off the Broward Children’s Center fundraising page or get a card in the mail to support them, so distribution through those tried-and-true affiliates and then working with the nonprofits hand-in-hand themselves.
Hoff: So you basically been going to the nonprofits so they send it out to their big groups and their lists of people that they have and they’re pitching it first and foremost to the people who are already supporting them in some capacity.
Garten: That’s correct, yep.
Hoff: OK, and then what about to convince the general public? Do you for instance when Hurricane Harvey hit, is that a time when you guys put out a PR pitch or go speak at different events to donate, and that it can help with the Red Cross, or kind of any trending topic that seems to be out there where there’s an opportunity to a little bit capitalize on that and say, “Hey, this is an opportunity if you want to give back without having to worry about finding something at the last minute but add to the coffers of these nonprofits year-round, this is an option.” Do you guys do that? Do you have that kind of strategy also in place?
Garten: I mean, the brief answer is we don’t have a super proactive strategy in place for that, just because the reality of the day-to-day of growing this business we don’t have the resources to put there. But I will tell you that for example when Hurricane Harvey hit, the fortunate thing was writers from creditcards.com and some other news outlets actually reached out to us, and then kind of brought that to their audience.
I do think that there’s a real strategy of being more forward-thinking and proactive, because unfortunately tragedies are happening in the world we live in all the time, and I think that this is an opportunity to do something positive and kind of get in the news media when those opportunities happen. I think that I always want to be real, obviously if I’m getting interviewed or on a podcast, just yesterday someone hit me with a great idea and essentially my response was, “It’s a great idea, but I don’t have the resources to be totally focused on that yet.”
But I think where you’re headed is the right way from a strategy perspective. I know you and I have talked offline a little bit about that, and I appreciate all those ideas. I think that really getting at the core of giving people an easy way to give back and have them feel like they’re doing their part even if it’s just buying gas for their car or dinner or drinks out with friends they can help out.
Hoff: Well, absolutely, and I know that when Hurricane Harvey hit there was a lot of stories about how the Red Cross and other charities their sites shut down, they had this influx of money coming in from the government and from people and stuff. And they actually couldn’t handle the intensity of all of the online submissions and stuff. And so again that’s a really good opportunity for people who want to just give back not necessarily there’s a crisis but you’re just kind of helping add to their ability so these nonprofits to help people in times of need year-round. So first take us through the process, if somebody signs up for this credit card, they get it in the mail, then what? How do they start helping these charities and choosing their charity, and do you guys help them choose? What’s kind of the process there?
Garten: Sure. So when you actually apply for your card you select the nonprofit that you want to support, and we work in partnership with a group called GuideStar – that’s the No. 1 database of nonprofit information in the world. So, in our system you can search and find literally any nonprofit in the United States, including K through 12 schools. There’s something over 2 million nonprofits you can search from. So we’ve got card holders now fortunately all across the country that are supporting everything from their local children’s school or animal shelter, all the way up to supporting big national groups, just as you mentioned, a lot of people supporting American Red Cross, United Way Worldwide, and many other of the big groups as well.
The beauty of our model though is when you get your card in the mail you had already pre-selected your nonprofit, so all you have to do is activate it just like any other credit card by calling the 800 number. And then you can go and use it around the world, wherever Mastercard is accepted. Every time you make a purchase the cash back that you’re earning, and that’s 1 percent on every purchase, automatically gets sent to the nonprofit that you had pre-selected. So it’s really truly an easy effortless way for people to be able to give back.
However, to your point, if at any point in time as a card dealer you want to check and see how much you’ve earned, or you want to select additional nonprofit to support, you can log in to what we call the donation dashboard, and from there you can see how much you’ve earned, you can get a detailed itemized tax receipt, and also have the option to pick additional nonprofits.
But the majority of people, it’s really interesting, Jenny, when I created this you have a lot of assumptions and you kind of put something out there in the world and the reality comes in how people interact with it. I would say about 95 percent of people apply for the card and keep that nonprofit so to speak on file with their card, because what I consistently hear from card holders that they really like the product and use it is that they just like that it’s easy, it’s effortless that they say they don’t have to think about it and they know that they’re doing good.
Hoff: Right, they don’t have to redeem those rewards or get the check and send it to the nonprofits. It’s just done, period, for them. And I think that is a great thing, because as you said 30 percent of cardholders or something do not actually redeem their rewards simply because sometimes it’s just too difficult and they don’t want to bother with it. So, what is a typical Charity Charge cardholder like? What’s the demographic profile of the people who tend to be most interested?
Garten: Sure. Look, I would say at this point we have a pretty even mix of male versus female. I think we’re skewing a little bit more female, so power to you. And I think that generally speaking we’re seeing a lot of people that are board members or heavily involved as a staff member of a nonprofit looking for additional ways just to help out. Or a lot of people that get cards are founders of small nonprofits where they’re looking for every way to help their organization and go get a card themselves and they’ll also recruit close friends and family members, letting them know that this is an easy opportunity to help out.
So I look at our user bases of those types of people versus like what age they are, but if I had to give you an honest assessment it’s generally speaking people above probably 35 and up. I think have a little bit of extra disposable income, and are looking for ways to give back, and enhanced ways to something that they’re probably already contributing to.
Hoff: Interesting, I would have actually thought it was young people at first because the millennial generation seems to be a little bit more nonprofit focused and less consumerism, but that’s interesting. I guess, you’re right, if people are looking to add an extra card to their wallet it would be a little bit older with more expendable income. What about your profits? So you aren’t a nonprofit, you’re a for profit organization, how do you make your profit?
Garten: Correct, so we’re a public benefit corporation, and we make our profit in two key ways which is not overly too similar to what I was mentioned earlier on how the co-brand business model works. When you think of like a Southwest Airlines or Nordstrom’s they have these credit card programs in partnership with a payment network and a bank issuer just like we do. So we are paid totally separate from the 1 percent cash back that the cardholders earn. Commerce Bank and Mastercard pay Charity Charge a total dollar amount as we grow the business.
So on a really practical level, Commerce Bank pays us a fixed dollar amount anytime someone signs up for the card, and Mastercard pays us of royalty on the overall volume and usage. And that’s the same way that they would pay a Southwest Airlines or a Nordstrom’s.
Hoff: OK, and I’m interested because you had these really positive projections when you first submitted your materials to Mastercard. How difficult have you found it since then to get people to sign up? What has been your biggest challenge so far and what surprised you the most?
Garten: Yeah, I mean, I think our biggest challenge has been the fact that there’s a lot of noise and there’s a lot of competition generally speaking around credit cards. And when we go to partner with sites like a creditcards.com or a Quinn Street or any of these sites they’re typically getting significantly more than our margins afford for us to be able to pay to get to the top of their lists.
So it’s been super competitive getting it out there. That’s in part why we’ve really grown through partnerships with the nonprofits, just figuring out the right way to message it to the founder of nonprofits that can recruit friends and family to get cards. I think I would be remiss, we focused the bulk of this conversation on our consumer card, but where I’m really excited, where we’re taking the business we have it in market and had a lot of nonprofits using it, but it’s our nonprofit business card where the nonprofit uses it for their internal expenses.
Just to paint the picture, for example, 1 percent for the Planet, Patagonia’s sister nonprofit, their 10 employees all use a nonprofit business card to make purchases. And then it funds themselves. And that’s been in the works for almost two years, just a lot of legal and operational things that I had to work through with our bank partner and Mastercard to bring that product to market. But I think as an entrepreneur, and I think that’s part of what this podcast is about and just kind of letting you know kind of where we’re at, I’m really excited about that market because we’re going to be doing something that’s hyper unique in the sense, it’s fulfilling our mission to serve nonprofits and it’s a very focused essentially B2B offering where you can go direct to the nonprofit and bring them value for something for them to use internally.
The consumer credit card space is just very challenging, although we’re finding ways to grow, it’s really tough because you talk about like the big banks are hiring Samuel L. Jackson or Tina Fey or Jennifer Garner and reign national advertising. I really need platforms like this, like you and this podcast and the story you’re doing on us really helped bring awareness in a very organic grassroots way, and that’s really how I believe we’re going to grow this thing. Part of it is like, I’m just recording even some videos as I’m talking about this, because I’m like, “Hey, this is a great clip that could go up on YouTube or something.” I’m hoping that someone out there hears it and tells it to their nonprofit or tells it to their friend or decides, “Hey, I’m ready to give back.”
Hoff: Absolutely, and I’m curious how the 1 percent might harm you guys and your efforts or maybe it helps you, but I know that a lot of cards now you can get 1.5 to 2 percent back. So do people say, “Well, wait a second? Why don’t I just get a one and a half percent cash back card and then donate that to the charity of my choice?” Or, if a business wants to get that card, they say, “Well, I’d rather get a card that will give us 2 percent back in something rather than 1 percent even if it’s giving to a nonprofit.” How do you guys contend with that and do you have plans to get it raised to 1.5 percent to be a little bit more competitive?
Garten: So the answer is, yes, we do. I mean, we’re starting small. When we started, Mastercard and our bank partner wanted to do the program but they didn’t want to take a loss on it. And so banks when they put together new credit card offerings they obviously have very sophisticated business models of how they’re going to make money on the program, which helps them decide where they’re going to put those rewards.
So I’ll make a couple of comments on this, because I think actually if there’s a soapbox I can stand on or a message that I can kind of put out there I think this is really kind of where the meat of this conversation goes. So, No. 1, yes, we will as our user base grows, and that’s why we need people, we will be able to justify and get more beyond the 1 percent to give back to charity. Two, we underwrite all the donation processing fees out of the margins that we get paid from Mastercard so that a hundred percent goes automatically with no breakage, which gets me to my point, the reason that a bank can offer 1.5 percent on these categories and potentially even like a 2 percent on these categories type of card is that a bank at the end of the day they need to make money, they’re all about maximizing profit. And in many respects I compare them to like a casino, the house always wins.
So they know that if they’re going to launch a credit card and they’re going to offer 2 percent on these categories and 1 percent on everything else, they know a couple of things – that it’s going to net out to only be in actuality what they’re paying out when it averages up between the categories let’s say like instead of 2 percent or 1 percent, it’s probably going to be like 1.2 percent, 1.3 percent in actuality of the cash back that’s generated. So no, we don’t get these types of profits for our program, but they know that they’re going to throw out a card and a percent of that portfolio is going to get hit with late payment fees, interest financing charges, etcetera, which is going to more than make up for the super high-end of the spectrum of people that are their power users that are getting 2 percent extra points, all that stuff.
And essentially at the end of the day when people want to brag about the flights that they’re going on and the vacations they get to take, it’s on the backs of the other end of the credit card program of the people that weren’t able to pay their bill, that are barely able to make ends meet that aren’t paying super high finance charges that are able to make that program profitable so the bank can afford to reward those power users with all those perks and benefits.
And then the last I’ll just say this gets to the breakage point, again, 31 percent of credit card holders in the United States never redeemed their reward points. So coming full circle to how I had the epiphany and came up with this idea, a bank knows that when they put out a new credit card they’re going to hire Samuel L. Jackson and they’re going to make all these marketing statements, but they know that a percent of that portfolio, a large percent is never going to redeem the reward points, and that breakage is going to go right back to their bottom line and allow them to become profitable.
Hoff: Very interesting. And so you’re saying basically this is a thing where at it’s a hundred percent the rewards will be used because they are donated automatically by you guys every time somebody uses their card. So there isn’t that breakage there that they would experience normally with people just not redeeming their rewards at all. And at the end of the day though is your APR pretty low? I mean, one thing somebody might say is, “Hey, do I really want to get a card where I’m not getting the rewards and I’m giving it somebody else, that’s great. But I don’t want to be hit with tons of interest payments if I forget to pay.”
Garten: Correct. So our APR is lower than the national average, and I do think to answer your question as well, I mean, I think that you’re spot on. I mean, the people that are getting our card are looking for something that’s different, they like the fact that there’s no annual fees, there’s no cost of them. And they get the benefit of the tax write-off and they get to feel good.
Hoff: I’m curious how the tax write-off works, I’m sorry really quickly, because I know with credit cards generally like if you get rewards, let’s say I get $2,000 worth of free flights reward, I don’t have to declare that on my taxes because it’s kind of a separate type of thing, it’s not considered taxable. So how do you use your rewards as a tax write-off?
Garten: Sure. So this took me a lot of agony, and spent time with one of the top tax attorneys and law firms in the country. So here it is – essentially any reward that you earn with a credit card whether it’s cash back or it’s bonus points or it’s airline miles, is technically a rebate on the purchase price.
Garten: So therefore, as the consumer or the small-business owner of the business, that’s essentially a discount to you and does not count as income. The IRS does not make you have to kind of come clean on that, so to speak. And on the flip side what we’re doing is essentially if you look at our cardholder agreement, our Terms of Service, what we’re doing is essentially automating the donation of people’s cash back to the charities that they had pre-selected. So in the way that kind of money is fungible, and someone uses a Charity Charge Card, let’s say they make a $100 purchase, well, they’ve technically earned 1 percent cash back, so they earned a dollar. Instead of us just automatically depositing that in their bank account we’re instead automatically depositing that in the nonprofit they pre-selected, thus, they’re directing the cash back which makes it tax deductible.
Hoff: Wow, that’s very, very interesting, because it would not be considered taxable income if you got that cash back from the card as far as I understand. So for it to then be redirected to a nonprofit for you to be able to get a tax break on that, that’s very interesting work you did there, Stephen. Good job.
Garten: Thank you. I appreciate it. I mean, it took a lot. The flip side also though to kind of compare what’s going on and how we’re different, when you have a large nonprofit that partners direct to the bank, in the case of Susan G. Komen and Bank of America, it’s Bank of America making a bulk donation to Susan G. Komen, and so those cardholders don’t get that benefit of it.
Hoff: Very interesting. But you were able to make this so that cardholders could get the benefit which is another perk, you’re not just giving back but you’re giving back but you get to write it off on your taxes too. So that’s definitely depending on how often you use that card or how much you use that card that can be significant. I know people, you can donate your points let’s say to the American Red Cross, your points for flight so you’re providing flights for people who volunteers who need to get out there in the times of an emergency, you can donate your cash back. Obviously, you just get the cash back; whatever you got back you can donate it to a charity or a nonprofit of your choice. So there are other ways to help out with your credit card, but yours at least is seamless in the sense that once you pick your charity it’s done. You never have to think about it again or do anything more with it again, which I think is a very big perk for people who say, “The reality has it I have all these grand ideas of what I’m going to be doing maybe to give back or whatever, but I just never get around to it.” So this is a great way to do that without having to worry about how to get around to it.
If you don’t mind telling me, how many users do you guys have now?
Garten: Yeah, so I’m really proud, we have card holders in every state across the country, and we’ve gone over 1200 consumer cardholders now and growing. We really started to pick up actually pretty significantly over the past three weeks, which has been awesome as well.
Hoff: Absolutely, fantastic. That’s great. And you guys plan to keep growing. Do you have a timeline as far as how you’re now going to move into the business card category, what’s kind of your a five-year outlook?
Garten: Boy, that’s a big question to ask. I can only answer it and more kind of over the next six months right now.
Garten: In the early to midsummer we’re going to make out a formal announcement and launch of our nonprofit business card, and then sometime in the late summer or early fall we’ll formally launch our business card product. And for me that’s really very much solidifying like the vision of having these three different products – a consumer card, a nonprofit card and a business card. I think from there really where I’m just trying to focus more of my time, I just left a conference with a group we work with 1 percent for the Planet, and I was just so inspired by all the people that are a part of it. And I’m really just trying to get back to our roots of connecting with our nonprofits and our card holders and businesses, to just grow as much organically as a movement with this thing.
Hoff: And take it day by day. That’s right.
Garten: It’s part of the day by day. I think on the other side you think about like a five-year or ten-year, a 15 or twenty-year, I think that it gets back to the roots to really that concept of reminding people that giving is better than receiving. I think we have an opportunity to make a consciousness shift and a mindset shift in this country and beyond that we are so fortunate to have what we have, especially in this country, and if I can make a mark of changing not only like the credit cards that people use. I mean, that’s beside, I mean that’s not the important thing. It’s just like bringing a little bit more joy and positivity in people’s lives, bringing that karma back to them, that’s really why I’m doing this. I really think we’ve got an opportunity to bring people together and do it in a way that’s all about in the service of others and not just about ourselves.
Hoff: Absolutely, and it’s nice when it’s something that is easy to do and it’s pretty simple. You’re going to sign up for a card anyway, you might as well get one that makes you feel good every time you buy something. Finally our show is called Charged Up, what gets you charged up about changing the mindset that we have around credit cards?
Garten: What gets me charged up are two things – No. 1 is that I think something we can all agree with is there’s an unbelievable lack of financial literacy that happens, and before our time almost, before we were all born this credit card industry started and it’s always been in a profit maximization standpoint. And I’m just proud that I’m creating a platform where I can talk about breakage and what’s happening behind-the-scenes with credit cards and how people can do something positive, because again whether you want to call it for right or wrong, the legal definition of a corporation and what these banks are they’re there to maximize profits for shareholders. So you can look at what a Wells Fargo has done to rip-off consumers, you can look at what so many of these other banks have done through the housing mortgage crisis that we just come out of, so just trying to do something positive.
I think on the micro sense I can’t tell you, Jenny, how excited I get when we’re launching a new partnership with a nonprofit, or last week we had two organizations in particular, one was a nonprofit in Austin called Friends of the Children, they reached out, they wanted our business card. And it brought me so much joy to be able to serve them, to be able to offer them this card that I know that’s going to help them. Because the small to medium-sized nonprofits is “a small industry” in the terms of how a big bank would look at it. They’ve really been left unaddressed and just out there, kind of to fend for themselves.
So I’m just charged up to be able to do something unique in the space, and be able to help these nonprofits. I’m just here to serve nonprofits and really help people give back in a super easy way. And in my audacity is that over time we can create a mindset and a consciousness shift of people being more positive, friendlier, more giving to those that are less fortunate in themselves.
Hoff: That’s amazing, and I think it’s so impressive what you’ve done. And it’s impressive that you got this even started from an idea, and you launched it, and you are so fired up about it. I’ve met you in person, you really, really believe in the mission and I think that is really, really admirable and congratulations on doing that.
And I encourage people if you do want to give back and you know you’re just not going to ever get around to putting a lot of effort into it but you still want to do it, Charity Charge is an awesome option. You can get it off creditcards.com; you can get it off charitycharge.com. So I highly encourage people to check it out, or if you run a nonprofit you’d say, “Hey, absolutely, I want to send this out to my list of people who support us.” We also did a video with you guys just because I think it’s such an awesome thing that you’re doing, so that’ll be out on creditcards.com also. So thank you so much, Stephen.
Garten: My pleasure. Thank you, Jenny.
See related: 6 ways to give a charitable donation by credit card