Mike Rabidoux sits at the kitchen table of his Northern Kentucky home and takes a deep breath. It is, he estimates, his last free minute until sometime in mid-December. For the next couple of months, business will consume his days. And nights. And weekends. And holidays.
Eleven years ago, Rabidoux and his wife, Debbie, stumbled into a business niche that, as it turned out, desperately needed to be filled: Printing high quality, personalized greeting cards and giving a portion of the sale price directly to a charity of the customer’s choosing. The concept is so remarkably simple that it’s hard to believe it wasn’t already filled, but it wasn’t. Sure, there were plenty of greeting card companies out there, but only one or two actually added the philanthropic component. And that was the key. There was a massive hunger out there, both among businesses and individuals, to have part of their money go toward helping others instead of just padding some corporation’s bottom line. Realizing that, the couple has been able to make a good living just trying to feed the beast.
The downside, of course, is that Rabidoux pretty much misses out on the last three months of every year trying to complete the holiday orders.
He shrugs and smiles. It’s a good problem to have, he says.
And the problem is getting better. Their business, Cards for Causes, just bought one of its few competitors, so the 600,000 cards they print each year is expected to grow—as are the funds they raise for charity. In 10 years, they’ve given away $930,000, and they are expecting to break the $1 million plateau this year.
Rabidoux glances out into the backyard, where the leaves on the trees are just beginning to turn colors, and thinks back to the beginning. The business, he says, has come a long way. Especially since it was never intended to be a business in the first place.
“We just felt that life has been very good to us, so let’s see what we can do to give back, help out and make life a little better for others.”
Rabidoux made a career in the hotel and hospitality industry, working every aspect from the food and beverage side all the way up to being a regional vice president of operations. He even helped open the first Marriott in Moscow, all of which was great until he lost his job in 2001 after a hostile takeover. With so many contacts built up in the industry after so many years, he wasn’t without job offers very long. There was only one problem: None were in the area. In the years since he and Debbie married in 1978, they moved nearly 20 times as he worked his way up the career ladder. This time, though, their two sons were in middle school and the idea of uprooting them yet again at such a vulnerable age got vetoed. So they stayed. He just needed a job.
If there’s one thing the hospitality industry does well it’s recognize its workers. Clocks, plaques, crystal trophies—do something well and you get rewarded. Having both given out and receiving his share of awards through the years, and knowing a lot of people in the hotel business that needed them, Rabidoux and Debbie opened a promotional marketing business in 2001.
The business included a few cards, so when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, the couple decided to try to raise some money to give to the Red Cross to help.
“We’re not professional fundraisers,” says Rabidoux. “We just felt that life has been very good to us, so let’s see what we can do to give back, help out and make life a little better for others. We didn’t say anything to anyone. We just put it out there. Our goal was to give $1,000. If we could raise that, that would be great. Then we got a call from a law firm in New Orleans who liked the idea. They wanted 10,000 cards. That first year we gave $3,500 for Hurricane Katrina relief. Then we thought, ‘If this works for the Red Cross and Katrina, maybe it would work for others as well.’”
Thus was the birth of Cards for Causes. Today they have 1,100 different cards to choose from and nearly 600 charities listed that people can contribute to. Each quarter the couple sends out about 150 checks ranging from $20 to $15,000 to various charities around the world. Those numbers expand to almost 400 checks in the fourth quarter.
The Red Cross remains among the top 10 charities they contribute to. They have also created cards for the Cincinnati Chapter’s Holiday Mail for Heroes campaign.
“People seem to like the idea,” says Rabidoux. “We get a ton of repeat customers. We get orders from government offices, embassies, political figures. We get requests from Australia, Dubai, Guam, Sweden, France, England—and they have to take the time to call or email because they can’t use the website to order internationally.”
The phone rings yet again and Rabidoux begins to realize he is running out of time. Debbie has already excused herself to go back to their basement office, and he’s getting anxious to join her. Cards for Causes is just the two of them, along with a contracted web design team and two contracted graphics people. They work with two large printers that can handle the ever-increasing volume of orders, which are done on a direct-to-plate basis. Rabidoux reviews all orders, makes any necessary adjustments and hits the send button, shipping the cards directly into a cue at the printer.
The printer fulfills packaging and shipping, the customers receive the cards and a charity somewhere receives a check—sometimes to its surprise.
“We’ll get calls from people wondering why we sent them a check,” he says. “We have to explain that someone designated them as the charity of their choice.”
No one has ever declined the gift. It’s the ideal triangle—the customer gets their cards, the charity gets a check and the Rabidoux’s get to keep feeding the beast and making people happy. Win, win, win.
As business beckons and he pushes himself away from the table, he reflects on the success of the past decade and Cards for Causes place in the business world.
“You know,” he says, “I would argue that we’re one of America’s most philanthropic small businesses. What other business gives away 20 percent of their sales?”