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Credit card companies take a fair share of abuse about interest rates and hidden transaction fees, but an increasing number of companies are committed to helping charities by making it easier for customers to donate.

Customer loyalty via charity

It's not all altruistic, of course. Capital One, which routinely waives transaction fees for donations, admits it hopes its generosity builds customer loyalty and more frequent use of their best credit cards. But the increasing willingness on the part of credit card companies to help nonprofits and various causes is having an impact. Here are three instances:

    1. American Express teamed up with the cast and producers of the hit TV show "Glee" on a social action campaign to convince fans of the show to volunteer, vote, and donate to their communities. American Express also held such competitions as "Shine A Light," which offered $50,000 in grants and marketing support for an "inspiring" small business that is innovative, giving and demonstrates a "customer first" mentality.
    2. Within three days of a devastating earthquake in Haiti, Discover Card raised $3.1 million by allowing card holders to contribute their cash-back bonus points to the American Red Cross. Discover converted the donations to dollars and then matched each donation. The credit card company made an initial gift of $100,000 and waived all merchant transaction fees for donations to the 17 organizations providing Haiti support.
    3. Credit card companies MasterCard and Visa also temporarily waived fees for people who wanted to make credit card donations to the Haitian relief. American Express waived fees for donations to any organization identified on a government website, and the other credit card companies waived fees to a such charities as Red Cross, UNICEF and Save the Children.

Partnerships that work

American Express partners with the TakePart social action network on something called Members Project. The project allows cardholders and non-cardholders alike to vote every week on a list of charities, and every three months five winners from different categories receive $200,000 each in funding from American Express.

Capital One, whose transaction cost waivers for charitable donations, ensures that 100 percent of credit-card gifts go to the charity. It partners with the Network for Good on something called the No Hassle Giving site. There, customers can choose to make donations to any of 1.2 million charities and get a documented tax write off. While most credit card companies waive transaction fees for a period of time--usually around a disaster that sparks heavy giving--Capital One absorbs the fees on a year-round basis.