Expensify launches corporate card that donates to homeless charity

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Expensify, the expense management app provider, has launched a corporate card, the Expensify Card, that offers Karma Points aimed at socially conscious cardholders. With each customer purchase, the company will make a donation to any of five charitable funds it has established to reduce homelessness and address other social issues.

Expensify founder David Barrett said that his original motive for starting the company was to help people who for one reason or another are living on the streets.

“When my last company got acquired, I was living in the Tenderloin [neighborhood] in San Francisco and passed the same homeless folks on the street every day,” he wrote in a blog.

Barrett said he was uncomfortable handing out cash for fear it would tempt some recipients to buy drugs or alcohol, which would be counterproductive since sobriety was often a requirement for being accepted into shelters.

"So I wanted to help, but I wasn’t sure how to do it without doing more harm than good — and I figured the most obvious place to help was not with cash, but food.”

Initiatives that help the homeless have become trendy among tech CEOs in recent months. Salesforce Marc Benioff donated $30 million to a research project aimed at finding solutions to homelessness in May. In November, Jeff Bezos announced that Amazon will be housing a homeless shelter in its Seattle headquarters.

Barrett experimented with different strategies before settling on his current approach.

For example, he thought of designing a system that loaded gift cards on demand with an amount equal to the cost of a meal purchased on a credit card at a restaurant; the gift card was to be created in the few milliseconds while the server was authorizing the transaction. The system would have limited the recipient to one purchase per day, for at most $10, and restrict it to restaurants that do not serve alcohol.

“Voila! A secure platform for feeding the homeless, funded by my personal credit card, with cards I could give to all the regulars I saw in my neighborhood,” Barrett wrote.

But when he brought this idea to lenders, they raised numerous compliance issues, and difficulties with money transmission licensing. They also pointed out that there was no clear business model.

Then he started pitching the idea of a company that automated management of expense reports. That idea was popular.

Today, more than 8 million people and 85,000 businesses use Expensify.

With the new Karma Points card, Expensify says it will donate 10% of revenue to a new charity it set up called Expensify.org.

Expensify.org will manage five funds: Homes, which covers the costs of reuniting a person experiencing homelessness with their family; Youth, which sponsors weekly meals for young adults who have aged out of the foster care system; Reentry, which reimburses the cost of a journey home for people just released from incarceration to help them transition back into society; Hunger, which pays off a child’s school lunch debt; and Climate, which supports the purchase and planting of a tree.

Companies using Expensify can choose to enable Corporate Offsets, which will automatically donate $2 to Expensify.org for every $1,000 worth of approved expenses. Individuals will also have the option to donate out of pocket for the same amount with Personal Offsets.

The company did not respond to questions about who will manage the charity and whether it will have independent oversight.

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