Affinity Credit Card Offers
The second time I received multiple affinity credit card offers on the same day, I started paying attention.
At first glance, with the exception of the nonprofit logos on the corner card of each outer envelope, they seem identical. All shout the 0 percent fixed introductory APR until 2009 — but smaller, thinner type qualifies what month the offer ends and that it’s only for cash advance checks and balance transfers. All but one have a personalized teaser letting me specifically know that this particular card is “The most rewarding card of all®.”
But like that “What’s different in this picture?” game, there are important distinctions in the various offers.
The first National Wildlife Federation affinity card also promised “A FREE NWF Membership offered inside! after qualifying transaction(s).” Two months later, the free membership offer was gone and instead of “The most rewarding card of all®,” it was “More Choices. More Flexibility.” It took me forever to find the mousetype to learn what I’d have to do to get the free membership — as a member already, I was curious.
The DISCLOSURE SUMMARY insert with the details of the rate, fee and other cost information indicates, “To qualify for the free NWF membership ($15 value), make any combination of purchase, balance transfer, or cash advance transactions totaling at least $25 (exclusive of transaction fees which may apply). All transactions must occur by 1/30/08. After qualifying, Bank of America will send you a NWF membership renewal application to complete and forward to NWF for the free 12-month membership.”
Ah-ha, so it’s a renewal offer in the small print — so why not on the carrier teaser, too?
The chilling effect
The Second Amendment Foundation offered me a free American Flag Windshirt on the same day NWF offered the free membership (renewal). To get it, I’d have to make $75 worth of transactions by Jan. 31, 2008. Size XL only, supply is limited, and Bank of America may substitute an item of equal or greater value. Ten to 12 weeks for delivery after qualifying, and “we are not responsible for lost, stolen or undelivered merchandise.”
Inevitable when we live in a world where coffee cups have caution warnings. But in the interest of building rapport with donors, it feels more like, “Warning: The relationship you are about to enter into is not extremely hot!”
The Wilderness Society and Humane Society of the United States didn’t offer me anything in addition to the affinity card itself, under the same terms as all the others. But HSUS did include my choice of cards, either with a four-color image of puppies or one with kittens. None of the others gave that option.
A little different
The HSUS package also was unique in that its letter was a departure from the rest. With the exception of a line about the American Flag Windshirt in the Second Amendment Foundation letter, the other letters are near verbatim, all about the benefits of the card. Only the name of the nonprofit and the signer changes from one to the next. And with the exception of the Wilderness Society’s letter, which is signed by a Bank of America senior vice president, all other signers are individuals at the nonprofit.
HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle signs the only letter in the mix that recognizes my support of the organization and talks about our shared “vision of celebrating animals and confronting cruelty to all animals.” Only then does the letter go on to make the case for “the only card program that helps support the HSUS every time you use your card to make a purchase” and all of the card’s benefits to me.
And those were the ones I was most interested in — the specifics of exactly how much the HSUS would receive as a result of my use of the affinity card. Only the HSUS package provided them. The DISCLOSURE SUMMARY insert stipulates, “For every $100 in purchases that you make with this card, $0.25 helps support The Humane Society of the U.S.”
After checking out their Web sites, I was pleased to see that the National Wildlife Federation, the Wilderness Society and the Second Amendment Foundation disclose the amount they receive when someone uses their affinity cards. On a whim, I also checked the Web sites of some other organizations the Bank of America Web site lists as affinity-card partners. Here’s what I found, as the nonprofits’ Web sites describe what they receive:
* Humane Society of the United States: 25 cents for every $100 in purchases.
* National Wildlife Federation: 20 cents for every $100 in net retail purchases.
* Wilderness Society: $5 for each account opened and 0.5 percent of all retail purchase transaction dollar volume.
* Second Amendment Foundation: 10 cents every time the card is used.
* Arbor Day Foundation: $50 for each new card activation and 1/5 of 1 percent of net retail purchases.
* Easter Seals: 25 cents for every $100 in purchases made.
* Defenders of Wildlife: 2 cents for every $10 of purchases.
Pros and cons
Over time, and with enough card members participating, it adds up and does contribute “free” revenue to the bottom line for unrestricted program use. And the card is a tangible, everyday reminder to donors of their commitment to a nonprofit’s cause, which we can theorize strengthens the nonprofit’s bond with the donor.
But there’s also a downside. Credit card companies reserve the right to change the terms at any time. As the stack of affinity card DISCLOSURE SUMMARY documents outline, “Account and Agreement terms are not guaranteed for any period of time; all terms, including the APRs and fees, may change in accordance with the Agreement and applicable law. We may change them based on information in your credit report, market conditions, business strategies, or for any reason.”
If a donor gets burned by the card issuer, the nonprofit could lose what amounts to spare change generated by that donor’s transactions … but at what cost to the relationship with the donor?
I’m also curious about the giving behavior of donors who are affinity-card holders. Do they stop giving in response to direct-mail, telemarketing and e-mail appeals because they mistakenly think they’re giving much more than they really are simply by using a credit card to make everyday purchases? Would they have signed up for the card in the first place if they’d been clearly informed, in the letter and on the application, how much the nonprofit would receive relative to their use of the card?
Yes, collectively an affinity-card program can generate substantial revenue for an organization. But without knowing these answers — based on solid analysis, not anecdotal evidence — I ask myself if it’s a good deal for donors first and foremost. FS
Kimberly Seville is a creative strategist and freelance copywriter. Reach her at email@example.com.