Living with credit

Bribing kids with gift cards? I’m down with that

Matt Schulz

Every parent in America has bribed — errrr, encouraged — their child to do something.

Get good grades and we’ll take you for ice cream.
Sit quietly through church and you can have 30 extra minutes of TV time.

Now, however, parents aren’t the only ones making these types of moves. More and more, it is the schools or churches themselves.
Their enticement of choice: gift cards.

Here are a few recent examples: 

  • Long Hollow Baptist Church, which has several locations around Nashville, Tenn., was offering $5 gift cards to all new visitors at the church’s Easter services. 
  • In a recent episode of CNN’s gripping “Chicagoland,” the principal of an embattled inner-city high school and her staff went door to door in nearby neighborhoods, offering McDonald’s gift cards to students to get them to come back to school. Why? Because the school — Fenger High School in Chicago’s Roseland neighborhood — had seen its attendance fall so precipitously that the school was in danger of losing a large portion of its funding. The events in the show were filmed in 2013, but in April 2014, the staff relied on gift cards again, according to the school’s website. Parents were offered $15 in Jewel grocery store gift cards to fill out a school survey on Spring Report Card Pick Up Day.
  • Finally, my son has received many gift certificates over the years from his elementary school for perfect attendance. Again, the amounts are small — $5, maybe $10 — but for a kid, they’re a real motivator. This past six weeks, my son missed a couple of days of school with a fever, so he didn’t have perfect attendance. When the report card came around, he definitely noticed the absence of the gift card, which was usually from a local pizza or burger joint and rarely went more than about 10 days without being used.

This is obviously just a small sample. Undoubtedly, there are hundreds of organizations doing the same thing to fill seats. But it is a bit weird for me. After all, I never got a gift card for going to school.

Still, it’s likely here to stay. Why? A new visitor to a church could mean more money in the collection plate. A child in a classroom could mean more funding for a school.

And in these improving-but-hardly-booming economic times, countless organizations have determined that the cost of a few gift cards is nothing compared to the value of more parishioners or more students in their seats. But is this a good thing? Is it right? Yes, even though it may seem odd. 

As I alluded to earlier, it’s a matter of return on investment.

If a person comes to a house of worship — whatever the religious affiliation — who cares if he only went there to get a free triple mocha latte? And if a student chooses going to school over hanging out on the streets, why does it matter that he was motivated by a Quarter Pounder with cheese instead of a passion for learning?

So much of life is just about showing up, and you never know what will happen when you do. You could hear something, see something or read something that truly inspires you and changes your lives forever.

And if you could possibly help someone experience that for nothing more than the cost of a four-piece set of Chicken McNuggets — whether you’re a principal, a pastor or anyone else — why wouldn’t you?

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