RALEIGH, N.C. - Sandra Burnett and two colleagues were tired of the mountains of candy, cookies and calendars sold through school fundraisers, she says.
So in January of this year, they launched SchoolHeart, a company that offers customers the chance to save money while donating to their favorite charities.
"It's taking folks online to do their fundraising so they don't have to do the door-to-door stuff," Burnett says.
By buying an hCard, which offers discounts at a variety of stores and restaurants throughout the U.S., including Red Lobster, Starbucks and Barnes & Noble, customers direct half of the $25 cost to the charity or school of their choice.
The card also offers discounts on prescription drugs, as well as roadside-assistance and emergency-contact services.
More than 2,000 hCards have been purchased or given out so far in 28 states, Burnett told The News & Observer in Raleigh.
Already more than 100 schools and nonprofit groups have signed up to post the hCard link on their websites, and three to six new clients sign up daily, Burnett says.
"Signing up takes three minutes, and it's free," she says.
Participating nonprofits and schools get half of all proceeds from hCard sales.
Though she will not disclose the amount hCard sales have generated for nonprofits, Burnett says SchoolHeart plans to hire a part-time employee just to mail out the checks every month.
Nonprofits supported by hCard sales include Hospice of Wake County, SPCA of Wake County and Alzheimer's Association of Eastern North Carolina.
Phoebe Coggins, customer-service manager for the eastern North Carolina chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, says the organization has seen an enthusiastic response from its hCard holders.
"Rather than just asking for a straight donation," she says, "our participants are able to give something back."
Nonprofits also can share the hCard graphic with local businesses, or "community partners." These businesses get 15 percent of the proceeds from all hCards sold on their websites.
Started only about a month ago, the "community partners" program already has about eight participating businesses.
Rocky Top Hospitality, which manages six Raleigh restaurants, is raising funds for the Just for Kids Kampaign, a $20 million fund drive to expand pediatric services at WakeMed Children's Hospital.
Its goal is to raise $312,500 for the hospital this year by selling 25,000 hCards, Burnett says.
As a former board member for Meals on Wheels of Wake County, Burnett says, she is sympathetic to the myriad problems faced by nonprofits and schools during the recession.
"Especially now, they really need our help," she says.
Working with fellow co-founders Marvin Yakos and Kyle Brown, Burnett says SchoolHeart provides a way for nonprofits to raise funds quickly, easily and securely.
"We take all the headaches out," she says. "Once you get the person to sign up, you've got a fundraising system in place."
With five full-time staff members and an annual budget totaling $250,000 to $300,000, the company has offices in Raleigh, Houston and Tampa.
In the two months since its inception, SchoolHeart has had a wave of positive feedback from the community, Burnett says.
Before launching the company, she was able to sell $1 million in stock to Raleigh investors who were interested in the initiative.
She plans to look for additional support outside the Raleigh area in April.
The company is also a finalist for the Business Champion of the Year award, given annually by Business Leader Media and Wake Tech Community College.
Burnett attributes some of the company's success to the trust relationship she established as the owner of Sisters' Catering, a Raleigh business she co-founded in 1976.