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Awards: Gift Cards

Gift cards have taken the incentive, promotion, and recognition worlds by storm, and are now used by over 50 percent of all organizations that use non-cash awards. Technology has rapidly transformed the traditional gift certificate into powerful gift cards that often can be recharged or combined with credit cards to provide ongoing value to recipients. Organizations have undoubtedly turned to gift cards because of the wide variety of options, the simplicity of shipping, the ability to customize and recharge, and the perception that they come as close as possible to cash without actually being cash.

Gift cards are used in all manner of consumer/customer, channel partner, sales, and employee programs, as well as in charity promotions. In the latter iteration, not-for-profits buy the gift cards at a small discount (often through so-called scrip companies), and then re-sell the cards to their target audience at face-value, keeping the balance for charitable contributions.

There are several types of gift cards available that provide organizations with a number of different options:

Retail and manufacturer gift cards: These are cards offered by brand-name retailers, manufacturers, and some travel suppliers (including hotels, airlines, and restaurants); they usually good for the face value of the card and customizable with the giver’s name.

Debit cards: These cards are offered by credit card companies or banks and can be used obtained virtually wherever credit cards are purchased, usually pre-loaded with a fixed amount, but sometimes rechargeable for ongoing programs.

Debit credit cards: This is a credit card that comes with the ability for the giver to load dollars on to the card, so that the consumer can use both award dollars and their own credit line.


  • Many options: Almost every retailer and now even some consumer products manufacturers and travel-related companies offer gift cards.
  • Wallet power: Gift cards often remain in the wallet for weeks or months until they get used, offering the opportunity for repeated reinforcement if the card is customized with your organization’s name.
  • Ease of distribution: It takes little in the way of logistics to stick a card into the mail.
  • Ease of use: Most cards can be used at the Web site and/or retail outlet featured on the face of the card.


  • Some cards carry expiration fees or other restrictions in the fine print.
  • Some people argue that gift cards do not have the same trophy value as merchandise, since the card itself will never sit in someone’s living room, bedroom, or office.
  • Some cards carry fees that bring the true cost well above the face value of the card.
  • Some cards have to be purchased well in advance of redemption.

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