The Story of our Founder…
Hello, and welcome to GiftCards4Change.org
My name is Andrew, and I started GiftCards4Change as a nonprofit company to help people in my local community.
It started when I was in my sophomore year at Allen High School and decided to transfer into a collegiate high school program offered at Richland College in Dallas, TX. I credit much of my ideas for GiftCards4Change to Richland College’s community service and outreach initiatives. Prior to graduating with my combined high school and associates degree from Richland, I had to complete a senior capstone project that encapsulated the community service work I had done for the last two years, and reflect on the work and the experiences it created for me as a student.
The capstone challenge was:
Create a way to use your talents to give back to your local community. Simple, right… well not for me. I spent a year working in my local community without a clue of what to do. I gave my time to many causes, I gave money donations to those in need… but I never found my true calling for what my impact would be. You know the passion that burns inside you that gives you a sense of purpose?
There was just so much need, so many desperate faces, so much injustice… how could 1 person choose just 1 cause?
And then one day it hit me… I would use my talents to support people. After all it is human potential that makes anything possible. BUT HOW would I do it…was the question now?
I struggled day in and day out trying to find something that was useful. As many of you may have asked yourselves at some point… How will I use my talents to serve the world? I was given a great deal of advice from many different people throughout my community and beyond, and two things stood out…
The idea, product, or service needs to be simple and elegant. People need to hear your idea and say… OMG, that’s so simple, why didn’t I think of that? The next stand out for me came after spending some time giving back, and it was…
If you truly want to help people you have to be quiet and listen first. In essence… you must step outside yourself and all your preconceived notions and pay attention to the challenge. Don’t ever assume the challenge is easy and pay attention to the why… much more that the how.
So, this was a lot to grasp for a 17 year old. How much impact I could make? What idea could I have that a thousand other people haven’t had already? My head was stuck in some idea of originality… like I had to be the only one who could do something. But it was not really about being original… I am that already. It was about taking an idea, no matter who thought of it first, and me doing something original with it. You see… the idea of fighting world hunger or homelessness is not my idea… but what I do with it… is.
But back to the idea…
It was sometime after Christmas when the power of that simple idea hit me. It was mid-January and I was in a mall spending the last of my Christmas money and I realized that I was holding a wallet full of gift cards that all had some small balance left on them. A Visa this, a Starbucks that, BestBuy… you get the picture.
That was the moment I had been waiting for… searching for - (Simple… Elegant).
I would start a nonprofit dedicated to capturing all those low remaining balances on gift cards to help impact local communities and change lives.
I would eventually call it GiftCards4Change, but I had a lot of work to do.
The idea was clear and resonated; I would use what is commonly undervalued to help the underserved.
Now with a clear sense of direction and purpose, it was time to get to work. I researched the topic, crunched the data, and inhaled the potential of what this could mean in my own community.
Now the question was how far I could reach with this idea… what impact could I have. I dreamed of a worldwide impact movement. And honestly I still have that dream.
I shared my idea with everyone, so much so that some people began avoiding me… It was then that I realized that no one will care about your cause and the impact you can make on the world more than you.
I eventually found people who would help me, and believe in my purpose. They helped me frame my ideas and they all brought their individual talents… all of a sudden our potential was greater… we were unified. It was that experience and belief that others had in me that became the catalyst for this project … taking me back to the original idea of supporting people and that human potential makes anything possible.
This crossroad was where we began to believe in a grass roots local community needs based model of giving rather than a cause. Don’t get me wrong… causes are important and I support many of them myself… but a need based model that is dialed into the local community became the overall goal. Think of it this way… in a cause model you care about putting toys under the tree for children who are in need… Nothing wrong with that… That’s a great cause and one I certainly support but in a model less focused on cause and much more on need you might come to realize that the cause had a name… it is Samantha, and although she loves toys very much what she really needed was a new coat and a few pairs of socks for the winter. It is that need based model that we want to put in front of people. We want people to see Samantha, not the larger cause model that she is subordinate to.
So, yeah, we know… a grass roots needs model is a beast… Who has time for all that?
I realized in my own community service work how diverse the needs are in my community, and that if I just took a moment to stop and listen, I could find many wonderful people doing amazing things with tremendous hearts with next to nothing in resources. It was amazing to me the way that these people could stretch a dollar.
And I realized the grass roots needs model was about them… and the charitable challenges they would create.
It had to be a grass roots needs based model… and it also had to be driven by local communities. The idea quickly morphed into a website that people could not only donate a gift card to helping those in need, but a charitable challenge model where every user could also identify worthwhile charitable needs within their community. The standard tagline soon became “GiftCards4Change Powered by YOUnity”
So, that’s the story… that’s how I found my calling for creating change and giving back to my community… the question you must ask yourself now is… How will you serve? And I truly hope you choose to serve with us.
In the end we have 3 core principles that define what we are today…
We facilitate change by monetizing the undervalued and putting it to work for the underserved.
We believe in the power of charitable challenges, and the human potential for ordinary acts of kindness carried out by extraordinary people.
We believe in a local community needs based donation model that reduces economic and administrative barriers, and applies maximum donation value directly to the people working to help those in need. At GiftCards4Change, we identify and invest directly in the needs of the community and not the elaborate causal charity hubs it may be subordinate to. We believe this model maximizes donor value and the charitable impact your small donations can create in the community.
We don’t need to be original, but this is how we are different…
We focus on local needs within communities and the bottom tier of the charitable donation model because it is where the work is being done, and where the donations are most needed. You see when someone gives 25K as a donation they can put it towards a cause, but when you donate the 3 dollars left on your home depot gift card, the most responsible thing we can do is maximize its value by applying it directly to a need in your local community.
If there is a take away moment from this…
What would I like someone to get from my story?
Well, I think 4 things come to mind…
The idea, product, or service needs to be simple and elegant.
If you truly want to help people, you have to first be quiet and listen.
The third would be to change the way you think about a gift cards. You see it’s a common misconception of people that when they think of a 6 dollar Macy's gift card that their mind attaches itself to its own desires, i.e., what can I purchase a Macy's for 6 dollars? That’s what most people think of. The two things wrong with thinking like that is 1) it forces you to think the money is only good at Macy's, and 2) if you step outside your own ideas of what is valuable, you will begin to see a way that a 6 dollar Macy's gift card can feed and clothe children, or give shelter and food to the homeless, or help a domestic violence victim. You know, most of the atrocities in the world happen right under our noses because we are not paying attention. It’s the idea of awareness that is most important. When we start to pay attention and are mindful of helping others… we step outside ourselves… So, you have to pay attention and listen first. That’s when you can make meaningful changes in the world.
Last, my direction turned out to be focusing on the power of people and the idea of human potential. But that’s not an original idea… not in the least. Allowing people a platform within their local communities to empower themselves to help others is critical to my model but it is certainly not the only way to change your community. I guess what I am saying is… we all have the potential to do something, to be a part of the changes we believe are needed in the world. I believe that everyone has their talents and unique originality, and that they can use them to fix any size problem… that’s the beauty of human potential, you don’t have to be like me and do what I do… but you should certainly be exactly who you are, and do what you are meant to do… and while you’re on that journey you should give back and keep mindful of the problems that your talents can help solve… That’s what being original means to me.
Founder | GiftCards4Change.org Inc.