The most recent inquiries, however, have actually led to some really interesting conversations. For example, this post on "unbundling embedded giving" was prompted by two efforts to disconnect shopping from charitable contributions. To literally promote the latter at the expense of the former. A story also ran on Sunday in The New York Times on the WhatIDidNotBuy site. In response to the NYT story, I received the following email (I don't know the sender):
I read your name in an article on the New York Times web site which discussed the site: www.whatididnotbuy.org. This article plus another article about gift cards and the millions of unspent dollars left in partially used cards gave me the idea that charities ought to be able to tap that source of money. If gift cards came with an option to allow the holders to send the left-overs to a charity, I think lots of people would take that option rather than give the money back to the retailer.
According to Ron Lieber's article in the NYT, nearly five billion dollars of gift card money will go unspent this year. That money reverts to the retailers. When someone gets a card worth $100 and uses it to purchase an item worth $95 dollars, then the left-over money most likely will languish for a time then eventually revert to the retailer or the issuer of the card. If there were a quick and easy way to donate the left-over money, then card users might do that rather than give it to the store. I know I would gladly do that. I currently have a gift card from The North Face. I used a portion of the value to purchase a jacket. What to do with the remaining amount of money (15 to 20 dollars) is hard to imagine as there is nothing in the North Face store at that price. So I would love to see that money go to a good cause.
I'm sure the retailers and banks would strenuously resist such a change but I'll bet there would be lots of support from other quarters.
This is an interesting idea. Theoretically, the leftover amount on the cards could be tracked and added up - which would possibly address one of my biggest issues with embedded giving - that we don't know how much money goes to charity. As Tom notes, the idea will surely have its detractors. OK - let's here from them - and from those of you who like the idea and can push it a little bit further, refine it, improve it and point out other ways it might work. (Please comment below, tweet about it to @p2173 or email me). Tom's idea reminds me of an effort in the Bay Area, where leftover BART tickets each with a nickel or dime left on them ("Tiny Tickets") can be donated through the East Bay Community Foundation to nonprofits in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. An example of seeing treasure in trash.
I love that Tom saw an opportunity for innovation by thinking across two domains. I appreciate that he shared the idea with me and then gave me the go-ahead to post the idea here for all of you to consider. I am proud of the fact that several ideas first floated on this blog are now moving ahead: including the Project on Policy in the Social Economy, the Peer-Review for Nonprofits,* and the Impact Investing Index. Each one of those was a half-baked idea that received a certain amount of interest or direct expressions of support or collaboration and are now moving forward in one way or another. Without intending it to do so, this blog has begun to serve like a Kickstarter for philanthropic ideas (without offering any money - smile).
I am even more excited to present Tom's suggestion here, since it wasn't my idea. Wouldn't it be cool if there was a place we could share, vet, improve, and co-develop ideas for improving giving and nonprofits right out in the open? An Innocentive-esque site or wiki or whatever? Sort of like an ongoing Great American Hack-a-Thon for Good. With real innovation brainstorming meetings happening every now and then. Now that would be "working wikily." So there you have it - another idea to consider. Or make happen....
*Listen in on San Francisco public radio KALW 91.7 at 7 pm Monday Dec 14 or streaming at CityVisions Radio for a discussion with Stacy Palmer of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Rob Reich of Stanford (Author of "Anything Goes: Approval of Nonprofit Status by the IRS") and me, talking about the number of nonprofits, the peer-review proposal, and other issues in philanthropy.