Update: American Express now calls this charitable card the Amex Zync.
Volunteers like to see their volunteer hours and precious dollars go far in support of the causes they care about. American Express and Take Part are launching a new campaign to make it easier to magnify each individual's good works. The Members Project not only will enlist the public to vote on the best charities to receive $4 million American Express dollars annually, but it will donate up to $100 per person who volunteers his or her time.
Despite its name, the Members Project isn't restricted to American Express members. Anyone can suggest charities, vote for their favorites at the Take Part site and take advantage of the volunteer payments.
Neither American Express nor Take Part is new to this kind of cause marketing. American Express launched the an early cause marketing campaign in 1983 to raise the $1.7 million needed to preserve the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and has continually invested in this type of philanthropy over the years. In 2007 and 2008, it let its members determine how the company should spend its philanthropic dollars, and the company donated at total of $3.5 million to UNICEF and to the Alzheimer's Association. Take Part is the newly launched digital arm of Participant Media, whose mission is to inspire action on a range of pressing issues. Participant Media just scored another win in its efforts with The Cove, winner of the 2010 Academy Award for Best Documentary (Food, Inc., another Participant Media film, was also nominated, and you may have heard of a little film called An Inconvenient Truth, another Participant Media production.)
"One of the things we're quite frankly incredibly proud about American Express being a partner of ours is that they are one of the original brands that saw that a brand could do good in the world and should do good in the world," said Chris Gebhardt, general manager and executive vice president of Take Part. "They get credit for creating cause marketing and it stretches back to the Statue of Liberty restoration."
The Members Project works like this:
People vote (as often as weekly) for the charities that should receive American Express money. Every three months, American Express will give $200,000 to each of five organizations, every three months. (That's $1 million each round, or $4 million ever year.) In the first round, 49 charities selected by an American Express advisory committee are eligible, but additional charities will be added at the suggestion of the audience.
The site makes it easy to find charitable organizations that need support. It also provides a platform for communicating one's charitable giving to friends, so that they might inspire them to do the same.
People who register their volunteer hours can earn $5 per hour, up to $100 per year. American Express cardholders can redeem those dollars for rewards, and others can apply money earned toward the charity of their choice. (Any donations made this way would be in addition to the $4 million in direct giving that American Express has promised.)
"The innovative hook here is we've added volunteering and donating into the mix as well, so it's really trying to inspire small steps someone can take," Gebhardt said. "It's not just about donating. It's about volunteering too. The small step can make a big difference."
For American Express, the $4 million commitment, plus the promise of rewarding volunteer hours, is on top of roughly $30 million in annual giving, according to Nancy Smith, vice president of Global Media, Content and Community at American Express. She hopes to see the campaign become a viral success, catalyzing increased volunteerism and philanthropy.
"I think that what's really going to make a difference is for individuals to start telling their own stories," she said. "Now that the social media tools are available, it's bringing that to life."
Get started at Take Part.
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