How many times have you cleaned out the console in your car or the bottom of your bag and excitedly stumbled across random gift cards from previous birthdays? You set aside the $11.72 you have left to spend on coffee, swearing you’ll use it later, only to uncover it again on your next spring cleaning day.

Jeff Shinabarger and his wife, Andre, have seized upon this familiar scenario and turned it into the foundation of a creative nonprofit: Gift Card Giver. The idea surfaced at a wedding reception, when the couple offered to take unused gift cards from fellow guests’ wallets, promising to use them for a good cause. They left with more than $50.

“The reality is people don’t view gift cards like money,” Shinabarger says. “Every year there are $8 billion that go unused in gift cards.”

Now, the Gift Card Giver team, based in Atlanta, is attempting to redistribute that $8 billion to deserving organizations, shelters and ministries. How does it work? You gather old gift cards of any amount and for any store. You write the remaining balance on the front and mail it to Gift Card Giver. They then tally and organize the cards by category, placing them in plastic baseball card bins. When a substantial amount has been collected for a particular category, Gift Card Giver donates the cards themselves or purchases something for an organization, depending on the need. Walmart gift cards could buy new blankets for homeless shelters. Starbucks cards could provide pastries for orphanages. Phone cards could be sent to girls rescued from sex trafficking who haven’t talked to family in years.

Organizations can apply to partner with Gift Card Giver and are then selected by a committee. If an urgent need arises, Gift Card Giver can even respond within 24 hours. In the past three years, they’ve given $60,000 in cards to more than 100 organizations. Shinabarger says the mission is growing exponentially, thanks in part to their House Party campaign.

“Anyone, anywhere can throw a party for us,” he explains. All that is required is that you “card” people at the door, asking them to donate at least one gift card before they enter. Gift Card Giver provides a party kit to anyone who may like to host, complete with games and materials to spread the word about the nonprofit. The party-throwers choose a cause to support and mail their collections to Gift Card Giver. The combined total of the cards, which is guaranteed to be diverse in category, is converted into an equivalent card that would be most useful to the chosen charity.

“It congregates people, shares the idea and passes it along,” Shinabarger says of the House Parties. “Everything has happened through word of mouth, to date.” He and his wife take no salary from Gift Card Giver, which is a project of Shinabarger’s Plywood People, a collaborative company addressing social needs and trying to be “known by the problems they solve.”

Future goals for Gift Card Giver include collecting $1 million in gift cards, creating art pieces out of used cards, even building a house out of redeemed cards that would pay for the construction of an actual house. It’s innovative, to say the least. And yet it’s as simple as utilizing that $15 credit to the hardware store you received in your Christmas stocking. In the process, the Shinabargers are fulfilling a vision they’ve discussed since they were engaged: a desire to set up a fund that would meet others’ needs. “We didn’t imagine it would end up being the type of fund we have now,” Shinabarger laughs. “But that was always a passion of ours.”

To learn more about Gift Card Giver, check out

Photo credit: Luanne Dietz