Multinational chain Sephora, which drew criticism last year for racially profiling black shoppers, rolled out the option to donate rewards points to the National Black Justice Coalition this week, Refinery29 reports. In other words a small percentage of the sales from luxury cosmetics and $30-plus bottles of shampoo will go to fight for black LGBTQ civil rights for the month of June if members of the store’s rewards program so choose.
Points systems are commonplace at a lot of retailers—customers who agree to have their purchases tracked have long been able to “earn” points that they can then use toward purchases, or small prizes. In a structure similar to many credit card rewards programs, $1 spent converts to one point. Beauty Insiders—that’s what people who participate at Sephora are called—can redeem points on a rotating selection of products, from sample-size mascaras (100 points), miniature bottles of perfume (250 points), and, for the month of June, $10 donations to the NBJC (500 points). In July, the donation option will switch to support Project Glimmer, which provides gifts for teen girls in need. (There’s also a new option to convert 500 points to $10 off a Sephora purchase.)
Funneling rewards points you don’t need and forgot about to a good cause, with a couple clicks, is an easy, small good thing to do. But there is a slightly better way to do the small good thing. There are a couple incentives for Sephora—and credit cards rewards programs that similarly allow you to direct points to charity—to set up this kind of system. They can claim money they donate as a tax write-off, rather than you claiming it. You’d be better off taking the $10 coupon, and then donating your own $10, as one commenter on Reddit points out, because then you would get the write-off. Even better if the company you work for will in turn match that. (Beauty podcaster Jackie Johnson suggests another good strategy: cash out your points to NBJC, then switch to buying cosmetics at a black-owned retailer. )
It’s a little silly to quibble over a write-off of $10, yes. But it’s worthwhile to realize that these corporation-tied incentives—which also pop up in other places, like when you are checking out at the grocery store and asked to “round up” for a charity—are just not the most direct way to donate money. Maybe it works for you because it helps you donate more frequently than you would otherwise. But for a one-time donation of points in this instance, the math does not look great. If you donate $10 worth of points, that would be compiled from spending $500 on Sephora purchases. The fraction going to fight injustice is: 2 percent.