No Small Feat: GiveCard Pioneers Microgiving

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As the old holiday adage goes: It's better to give than to receive. But what if a single gift could let you do both? That's the idea behind GiveCard, a gift card that requires part of its value to be donated to a charity of your choice first, in order for you to be able to spend the remaining cash.

The concept, called microgiving, was developed by Nashville-based Giving Tree, a company intent on introducing charitable giving to a whole new population of people--those who might otherwise think they couldn't afford it--by making sure they can experience the joy of giving without the cost. The hope, of course, is that once they pay-it-forward, they'll become more charitable types themselves.

Giving Tree CEO Clayton Nicholas came up with the idea as a West Point grad stationed overseas in the late '90s. He shipped a lot of cash cards home as gifts, but they always felt a little impersonal. He earned a Harvard MBA, launched the online company in 2007, and sold about 100,000 cards last year; most average about $150 dollars, he says. But they just relaunched their Web site with a few new bells and whistles.

Here's how it works: Whether card is worth $50 or $250 a minimum of five bucks must be earmarked for charity. Of course, at time of purchase the giver can allocate more of that total to be donated if they want to. And when recipients log on to activate their card they, too, can also choose to hand out a larger share of their bounty if so moved (but they can't allocate a larger percentage to themselves). Plus, the company has partnered with non-profit aggregator GuideStar so there are literally thousands different missions to choose from; fight breast cancer, cure autism, save a puppy, whatever.

Nicholas says that even Hallmark--that other purveyor of holiday sap--has signed up, using the cards to altruistically bankroll an employee incentive program. The only difficult part of GiveCard? The guilt. Sure you are suggested a minimum amount of your gift to give away, but do you really want to skate by on just the minimum?

[GiveCard]