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First-year’s startup aids charities

By
Contributing Writer
Monday, January 30, 2012

Correction Appended

Two C’s outline a pair of stylized cherries on the bright red background of a business card-sized shape. This is the design of the CherryCard, and a simple, elegant logo for a company whose basic philosophy is just as simple­ — every time money changes hands, some of it should go to charity.

As a senior in high school, Noah Fradin ’15 started CherryCard with the goal of encouraging companies to donate to charities.  “Charity can be a big marketing strategy,” Fradin said, but he added that companies have to spend extra money and effort to publicize their charitableness, which is especially difficult for small companies with lower marketing budgets.

“Wal-Mart gives $300 million a year to charity, but people don’t know about that,” Fradin said.

CherryCard aims to make charity more enticing to companies by making donations more visible. CherryCard retailers offer their customers cards loaded with a small donation every time they make a purchase. After entering the card’s unique code that unlocks each donation on CherryCard’s website, users log on through Facebook and can choose their donation’s recipient from a categorized list of charities. Users earn an extra 25 cents to donate to the charity of their choice for signing up through Facebook.

Donations still move directly from the retailer to the charity, but CherryCard retailers can enjoy the added publicity while customers get direct control over which charities they support. Through the link with Facebook, customers can choose to show their friends where they have shopped and the charities that have received their donations.

Leaderboards on the CherryCard website keep track of which users and companies have donated the most, as well as which charities have received the most through the organization, which turns the experience of donating into something like a game, Fradin said. He recounted a story of two customers who were tied at the top of the international CherryCard user leaderboard and spent several weeks frequenting CherryCard businesses, jockeying for position.

 

Planting the seed

Fradin said the idea for CherryCard grew from his interest in the humanitarian power of both the Internet and marketing, citing companies like LiveStrong, TOMS Shoes and Ethos Water as his inspiration.

While building the CherryCard website in 2010, Fradin posted a programming question to Aardvark, a social search engine, and received a response from Will Cosgrove, another high school senior and programmer from Texas ­— halfway across the country from Fradin’s home in California. Cosgrove, who now orchestrates the company’s card-code system, called the connection “very random.”

With the website finished, Fradin set about contacting merchants and charities possibly interested in participating. He quickly found support, eventually ensuring participation from 39 charities. CherryCard customers can choose from a diverse list of causes, including environmentalist groups such as GreenPeace and the Nature Conservancy and disaster relief efforts like the American Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders.

Since its launch in February 2011, CherryCard has distributed more than 50,000 cards to retailers ranging from large companies like NBC Universal and the Milwaukee Brewers to much smaller companies, some about as young as CherryCard itself.

As of Sunday night,the Milwaukee Brewers and Share-Aloha, a Hawaii-based bracelet maker, topped the retailer leaderboard with donation totals of $178.50 and $112, respectively. The remaining retailers are far behind with totals of $10 or less.

 

Near and far

Providence Coffee Roasters, which recently arrived on campus in the form of a food truck that serves coffee and pastries, will soon join the ranks of CherryCard retailers. Founded last year in East Providence, Providence Coffee Roasters was originally conceived as “coffee-based, but conscious about social justice and fair trade,” co-owner Jevon Chan said. After introducing a mobile unit that frequented College Hill last semester, Chan said he started talking about CherryCard with Fradin, a regular Providence Coffee Roasters customer.

CherryCard “piqued my interest because some of the ethos of our company is about giving back to the community,” Chan said. “It puts the impetus back in the hands of the customer. I think it’s a very tangible way to get customers involved in charity.”

Providence Coffee Roasters already supports local soup kitchens and homeless shelters and ensures that all of its coffee follows fair trade practices, but Chan noted that “normally no one really sees that.”

Starting this week, Providence Coffee Roasters will begin handing out CherryCards worth 10 cents to customers who purchase a coffee at either the mobile unit or the stationary East Providence shop. Chan said he is not yet sure what system will govern the distribution of the cards — whether they will be given at some regular interval or simply as “random acts of kindness” by the barista. But he anticipated the first shipment of 300 cards will be gone by the end of the week.

Another CherryCard partner is based a quarter of the way around the world in Hawaii. Lynn Haff is a co-founder of Share-Aloha, which sends out CherryCards worth $1 with each shipment.

Haff said the company’s goal since it started in 2011 has been “to do something where a portion of each purchase went to charity.” Share-Aloha chose CherryCard after a “60 Minutes” investigation  into their original choice, author Greg Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute.

Haff said she and her colleagues contacted Fradin partly because they admired his young entrepreneurial spirit and partly because they liked the flexibility that CherryCard affords. Share-Aloha appreciates “the fact that we don’t have to stand behind any particular charity,” she said.

CherryCard also happened to be a perfect fit for Share-Aloha, literally.

“Our packaging is already about the size of a business card, so the CherryCard fits absolutely perfectly,” Haff said.

 

Cherry blossoms

Fradin’s long-term vision for CherryCard involves more than just cards. Noting that some 20 trillion credit card transactions occurred in 2010, he said he imagines a world where all monetary transactions involve charity. In line with this plan, Fradin said, “a lot of our innovations moving forward will focus on making things easier for customers and consumers.”

In the meantime, Fradin is embracing his life as a student by taking introductory courses in engineering and computer science. He said he has not yet decided on a concentration.

Though he said he realizes his role as a full-time student limits the amount of time he can devote to CherryCard, he finds the trade-off to be worth it. “Being in college is what’s best for me right now,” he said.

Besides, Fradin said he believes Providence is an ideal place for CherryCard to grow. “Providence is a small market where everybody knows everybody, and CherryCard works best when you see it all the time,” he said.

 

An earlier version of this article reported that Noah Fradin ’15 said Wal-Mart gives $3 million to charity. In fact, he said Wal-Mart contributes $300 million to charity. The Herald regrets the error. 

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