Story by Tess Wahlmeier
LINCOLN (SNR) - For many years, schools have used the SCRIP program as a means of fundraising.
With the SCRIP model, parishes or schools purchase gift cards from merchants at a discount, then sell them at face value to parish members and school families. The purchaser gets the full value of the gift card, making the project a pain-free fundraiser for the school or parish.
Recently, a new opportunity has arisen, the “Propelr” card, a product developed and launched by Nelnet based in Lincoln.
The Propelr Card is a reloadable, pre-paid Visa card that can be used anywhere Visa is accepted. When Propelr is used at participating merchants, the merchant then donates a percentage of a customer’s purchase back to the designated school or church. Some of the most popular merchants include stores like Super Saver, Russ’s Market and U-Stop, or restaurants like Amigos, Runza and Valentino’s. More than 50 merchants can be found on the Propelr website.
James Verhoeff, Propelr product manager, said the idea for Propelr came from a team of workers at Nelnet, some of whom were SCRIP users in their parishes.
Scott Gubbels, executive director of the Innovation Hub at Nelnet, is a member of St. Joseph Parish in Lincoln. He said he would often purchase SCRIP to support the parish school. However, he found it difficult to actually use the gift cards, since some of their family’s spending was spontaneous, or his wife would have the gift cards with her when he needed them, and vice versa. He came to Mike Riordan, manager of the Innovation Hub, and together, they tried to come up with an easier way to fundraise.
“We asked the schools and churches in Lincoln and in Omaha what percentage of families are using SCRIP at some level,” Verhoeff explained, “and the average, we found, was around 14%. We said, ‘for the 86% of people who aren’t, why?’”
The main reasons people weren’t using scrip were similar to Gubbels’ case: not pre-planning purchases, forgetting gift cards at home or with the opposite spouse. Some mentioned the hassle of waiting in line to buy SCRIP, or sending kids to school with sizeable amounts of money to pick up SCRIP. Others wanted to gain reward points with their credit cards.
“We tried to meet all of those problems,” Verhoeff said. “We really want to capture that 86% that aren’t using SCRIP.”
Verhoeff stressed that SCRIP is still an awesome way to contribute back to the Church, and that Propelr doesn’t intend to compete with or replace SCRIP in any way.
“There’s no need to remove SCRIP. Many schools and churches simply launch Propelr in addition to SCRIP, to capture the families who need something that’s quick and easy,” he said.
There are no fees to get a Propelr Card, load the card, or use the card. Funds can be added through the Propelr website or mobile app. Cardholders can load the card directly from a bank account, or they can enroll in direct deposit so that a portion of their paycheck is automatically loaded onto the card.
Customers can even set up automatic loads so that if the card balance falls below a certain amount, it will automatically load a set amount back onto the card from an associated bank account. While there are a few fees for optional services like paper statements or bill pay via paper check, or six full months of no usage, Propelr’s goal is to never charge cardholders fees, since that’s not how Propelr makes money. Propelr earns money from the usage of the cards.
Verhoeff said the team at Propelr is continuously improving the card and website in order to make it even easier for consumers.
He said, “When we think about fundraisers, there are some that are simple but not very effective, and there are ones that are effective but not very simple, and so we’re trying to find that sweet spot of ‘it’s effective and simple,’ because that’s really hard for fundraisers.”
The current list of churches and schools that participate in Propelr includes Blessed Sacrament, Cathedral of the Risen Christ, North American Martyrs, Pius X High School, Sacred Heart, St. John the Apostle, St. Joseph, St. Mary, St. Michael, St. Patrick, St. Peter, St. Teresa and the St. Thomas Aquinas Newman Center in Lincoln.
Several non-Catholic churches and schools are also participating, and Propelr has been launched at parishes in Omaha, as well.
Verhoeff said institutions are being added all the time, and now even non-profits are starting to use Propelr as a fundraiser. Additionally, there are more and more merchants signing on to donate to Propelr users, and the team is working to secure more nation-wide merchants, as well.
Families and individuals can sign up for a Propelr card online at propelrcard.com or with the Propelr app.
The process is simply to fill out a form and choose the organizations to support. Cardholders can even choose a custom-designed card that bears the logo or seal of their organization. The card will come in the mail, and from there, the cardholder will verify the card and bank account number, and the cardholder will then be on the way to using the Propelr card and earning donations for their Church and/or school.
It’s also free for organizations, such as churches and schools, to join Propelr. There is a one-time fee for the card design, because of the hard cost to Propelr, but that is the only cost for organizations to join.
Cardholders can support up to five schools/churches with their one Propelr Card – for example, St. Joseph Parish and Pius X High School. In a case like this, the cardholder can designate 50% of the donations to go to Pius and 50% to St. Joseph, or divide the funds however they see best. Several cards can be added to the same account for family spending, as well.
Verhoeff said that the Propelr card was designed to encourage stewardship, generosity, and prayer.
“Families already give so generously in Lincoln,” he said. The Joy of the Gospel campaign is a great example of how generous people in Lincoln are. And so sometimes people think, ‘how can we give even more; we’re already giving so much,’ and this is a way to raise a whole new set of funds for the churches simply by choosing to shop at the participating merchants.
“Then,” he continued, “when families use their Propelr card and see their church’s logo on the card, we hope it’s a reminder for them to pray for their school or church and what the funds are supporting.”
Verhoeff said, being a cardholder himself, that Propelr has even tightened his own loyalties.
“Before, when I would buy gas or groceries, I would just go to wherever is closest. I didn’t really have any brand loyalty, but now I only buy gas and groceries at participating merchants because I know they’re supporting my school and church.’”
As product manager, Verhoeff has been able to speak with many of the priests and principals of the schools and churches using Propelr, and says it’s exciting to see where the funds are going.
“It was so much fun to see the institutions that it’s supporting and learning about what they’re working on, because there’s so much growth,” Verhoeff said.
“Obviously, the Newman Center’s new church is amazing. St. Michael has awesome plans for their new church. St. Teresa is remodeling right now. It seems like there’s growth everywhere, which is exciting!”
The name Propelr comes from the three customer segments Propelr serves: cardholders, institutions, and merchants.
Verhoeff explained: “For families, we are providing convenience, simplicity, and security. For institutions, we are providing an effective and simple fundraiser,” he said. “For merchants, we are bringing them new customers and increased loyalty . . . propelling all three forward.”
Many people in the diocese are already using Propelr cards. Verhoeff shared comments from users. Julia Lostroh, a member of North American Martyrs, said she enjoys how easy it is to use Propelr as a card, and perhaps an opportunity to educate others.
“I like the design with ‘North American Martyrs’ on it,” she said. “I am hoping for a chance at evangelization sometime because of that design. You never know where that opportunity may arise!”
Jude Werner, development director at the Newman Center and a parishioner at St. John the Apostle, said the Propelr Card is a simple but innovative way to broaden the base of charity support.
“The simplicity of supporting both my parish and the UNL Newman Center is great,” he said, “and can add up to some significant contributions, at no extra cost to me!”
Verhoeff said that the team is always looking to expand their list of participating institutions and merchants, so if you know of any organizations or merchants that are interested, contact Propelr at propelrcard.com.