Long before rewards cards, banking customers used what was known as an “affinity card.” The card was designed to benefit a certain cause to which the customer had an affinity for. The idea was simple: when customers used or signed up for a new card, their special cause would receive a financial incentive from the issuing bank.
Affinity cards were most popular with cancer research organizations and universities. Students who wanted to help finance their alma maters and enterprising philanthropists turned their credit card spending into a benefit for their beloved caused.
The affinity card even became tied into politics. In the 1970s, Republican operatives signed a deal with banks that would reward the political party with a $2.50 “finder’s fee” for each person it signed up for special, Republican branded credit cards. Democrats, not to be outdone by political rivals, issued their own brand of credit card and benefited by signing up their dedicated voter base. (Democrats arranged for .5% of their member’s spending to be donated back to the political party.)
One of the most popular cards comes as part of an agreement between Komen, a major breast cancer research center, and credit card processors. The organization receives $3 for each new member who signs up for the card plus $1 for each annual renewal and .2% of all customer spending on the card. Komen for the Cure signed a contract with Bank of America for the sponsorship which would net the charitable organization no less than $1.95 for the two year period between 2009 and 2011.
The Humane Society has its own affinity card. The group receives $50 for each new Visa card opened through the program plus .25% of each customer’s spending for life. The Humane Society raises millions of dollars in incremental fundraising thanks to this program, which requires only a minimal amount of effort on behalf of the charity.