|by Jason Steele|
When corporate loyalty programs intersect with charities, I am usually quite skeptical. Typically, one is asked to donate their loyalty points to a worthy cause. When this happens, I get the impression that my donation is helping the company at least as much as the charity. It is easier for a company to create loyalty points/miles than it is for Parker Brothers to print Monopoly money, yet they want to get the PR boost from my donation, and possibly some kind of write off as well. They could easily match a donation, but I have never heard of a company doing so.
A Different Kind Of Loyaly/Charity Relationship
Today, I learned about a new kind of program that turns the old model on it’s head. American Express has teamed with TakePart to offer Membership Rewards points to people who volunteer their time for one of the causes that is a member of TakePart. TakePart describes itself as “an independent online community that connects its members directly to the issues that inspire them to engage, contribute and take action.”
As part of their Membership Program, for each hour of volunteer time logged, American Express will award you a certificate valid for 500 Membership Rewards points, with an annual maximum of 10,000 points. If you have a Zync card from American Express, the numbers are doubled, but like all other points earned with the Zync card, the points are actually part of the Membership Rewards Express program and cannot be redeemed for airline miles.
A large number of Americans do not regularly donate money to charity. Most either can’t afford to donate money, or would prefer to volunteer their time to worthy causes. This kind of program is an excellent way to volunteer your time and earn significant loyalty points. American Express’s Membership Rewards program is one of my favorite programs as the points earned are very flexible. They can be redeemed with different airline, hotel, and shopping partners as needed.
You do not need to have an American Express card to volunteer with this program. Cardholders and Non-cardholders alike will earn 500 point certificates that can be redeemed for points in your Membership Rewards account, submitted with a new account application, or donated to a member charity of your choice. Like other programs, American Express has also made it possible to donate your existing Membership Rewards points to charities, but it is the volunteer for points option that I find particularly unique.
You can read more details in their FAQ.
The Value Equation
I believe that you should donate time to a worthy cause just because it is the right thing to do, not because someone is bribing you with loyalty points. That said, I am sure that their are people out there for whom Amex’s generous incentives will make the difference between volunteering and not volunteering. The Membership Rewards points may also make the difference between donating money and donating time, so it is a worthwhile exercise to to figure out how much value you are getting from your time.
Membership rewards points are so flexible that it is possible to get 2-4 cents in value from each point. If you value your Membership Rewards points at 3 cents per point, you are essentially getting $15 in value (tax free) per hour volunteered. If you value your points more conservatively at 2 cents each, you are still looking at $10 an hour. In short, many people would consider this a worthwhile investment of their time even if it weren’t for a good cause. If you value your time far above those numbers or you prefer not to volunteer, you might choose to donate your money instead.
You can also vote online for the charity that you consider most worthy to receive $200,000 donations from American Express. This is an innovative way to get people interested in learning about the various charities associated with TakePart. I have to take my hat of to Amex for their participation in this program while encouraging my readers to volunteer while boosting their Membership Rewards balance.