Creative Kindness

Gift Card Karma helps complete the circle of giving

We’ve all received gift cards that have gone unused. With no expiration dates, maybe they end up in a wallet, forgotten, or only part of one was spent. Unfortunately, every year millions of dollars in gift cards go unused. Rather than let that money go to waste, Susan Pedersen decided to come up with a way to put that money into the hands of people who could really benefit from it. Last year she created Gift Card Karma to collect unused gift cards and distribute them to small non-profit organizations, and she’s making a difference one donated card at a time.

A year ago Susan participated in Startup Omaha, pitching her idea among 150 others. “I was the oldest person there and scared to death, but I did it,” she said. Her pitch was chosen as one of a few that attendees formed teams around to develop the concept further. They created the name, logo, and then presented it to a panel of venture capitalists. “Mine didn’t win, but it did give me the confidence and validation to move forward with it,” she said. “Plus I got about $100 in gift cards from attendees at the end of the conference, so I had something to start with.”

Through donations from individuals, businesses, and schools, Susan was able to collect $3000 in gift cards last  year to give to local charities. Her goal for 2016 is to collect $10,000, using her “Zero to Heroes” campaign. One way she hopes to achieve this is by working with companies and schools to set up Gift Card Karma days. “I’m happy to set up a booth on site to collect donations for a day,” she said. Photos of gift cards are also accepted. As long as the code is visible on the back, Susan can go online and process the card to verify it’s valid and the amount available. She can also combine partial gift cards from one retailer into a single card with a larger value.

Susan is partnering with a number of local non-profit organizations such as Saving Grace, Youth Emergency Services, and More Than Just a Village Academy (MT Java). She gives them gift cards they can use in a variety of ways. MT Java is an after school program dedicated to helping at-risk high school-aged youth by providing them with opportunities to demonstrate civic responsibility, academic achievement, and personal accountability. Executive Director Antonio Moore said he is trying to get young people to believe they can make a positive impact in their communities, and Susan’s donations go a long way toward helping the kids in his program.

One example is Susan gave Antonio a gift card to Legends restaurant. He used the card to take a group of his leadership students out to dinner. “Most of them had never dressed up to go out to a nice dinner or used a cloth napkin before,” Antonio said. “For them to have that exposure was so important.” Susan also donated iTunes gift cards, which Antonio has given to his students who have shown outstanding leadership skills or put extra time into community service projects. She even donated a car wash that he used to have MT Java’s 19-passenger van cleaned, which they use to transport students.

Susan thinks Gift Card Karma is an especially good fit for a younger donor base. She explained that many college students want to make a difference in the community but don’t always have cash available. But this age group often receives gift cards. They are also technically savvy, so snapping a photo of the card and sending it in is a natural process. “A form of compassion is re-gifting,” Susan said. “The karma piece is ‘what goes around comes around.’ If you do good things, it will come back to you.”


To donate a gift card

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