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Gift Card Bank

Using Gift Cards for Good!

Gift Card Bank is a nonprofit started by Khalil Fuller, a Stanford Graduate Student. Khalil’s goal is to improve the well-being and security of those who find themselves on the brink of financial duress. This is especially important today, with the disruption brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gift Card Bank began as a way for individuals to donate gift cards to those in need. $3 Billion in gift cards go unused every year, and Khalil started by making it easy for people to offer them to others. Excella got involved because we believe in the mission. We have a history of working with community-based organizations that improve people’s lives and we were excited to offer our experience and expertise to Khalil and his team. Together, we helped refine the vision for Gift Card Bank and made it a reality.

Gift Card Bank Development Kanban Board

The Challenge

The Gift Card Bank team had created a web form that generated an email each time someone offered to donate a card or asked to receive one, but from there, the processes of matching a donation to a requestor were manual. Khalil needed a way to scale and automate the matching. He also needed a way to capitalize on the skills of volunteers and build a reliable solution while protecting the personal data of his growing user base. Excella was a perfect partner to help Khalil and his team meet these goals and deliver on Gift Card Bank’s promise.

The Excella team quickly recognized Gift Card Bank needed an effective structure to guide their work and shape the solution. Because the work is done by volunteers, there had to be a way to allow developers to get up to speed quickly and contribute. To help with this, we emphasized two things:

  • An extensible architecture that allowed the introduction of new features and functions while also making it easy for new developers to join the team and be productive right away.
  • A clear backlog with well-defined features and user stories that developers could pull from, quickly make sense of, and execute against.

We built our foundation on these two concepts as we moved forward and automated the Gift Card Bank solution using modern technologies.

Our Solution

We emphasized four interrelated elements in our solution for Gift Card Bank.

Agile Analysis

We used our skill at analysis and Product Ownership to work with Khalil and refine his vision. We translated his priorities into an effective backlog that allowed the dynamic Gift Card Bank team to move forward effectively.

  • We created a prioritized road map that clearly segmented immediate needs from future features.
  • We broke down features into user stories that developers could pick up and deliver.
  • We defined a set of functionalities for the initial MVP release.
  • We coached Khalil and other team members on effective techniques, including story writing, story mapping, and feature decomposition.

Technical Excellence

We brought our rich experience with cloud architecture and DevSecOps to Gift Card Bank and developed an extensible solution that met current needs while ensuring future extensibility.

  • We moved to an AWS (Amazon Web Services) infrastructure for hosting.
  • We leveraged GitLab for source control, continuous integration, and deployment. Deployments to the staging environment were automatic; to production they were one-click.
  • We developed a React front end, a Strapi back-end, and a PostgreSQL database.
  • We wrote code in pairs and mobs to quickly bring new team members up to speed, ensure high quality, and make rapid progress. This enhanced the effectiveness of the rapidly changing development team and accelerated progress to the MVP.

Modern Security Practices

From the beginning, we integrated security practices (the “Sec” in DevSecOps) into our work. This was especially important because Gift Card Bank makes use of sensitive personal information.

  • We ensured that all data in motion is encrypted using SSL/TLS.
  • We encrypted all data at rest using Amazon S3.
  • We segmented access for user accounts using granular permissions.

Cadenced Process

To promote regular progress, provide visibility into the work, and allow consistent feedback, we introduced a weekly cadence.

  • We facilitated weekly planning sessions to identify the highest priority work and make sure it was clearly understood.
  • We visualized the work and its current state using a Kanban board; WIP (work in progress) limits kept work flowing consistently and smoothly.
  • Recognizing the voluntary nature of the work, we polled our team to determine when people would be available to meet, and we did our daily “standup” asynchronously in Slack.
  • We scheduled meetings when our team members could attend, sometimes after hours or on weekends if necessary.
  • We kept a Zoom link up all day, so team members could quickly discuss whenever they had a question or wanted to talk things through.
  • We gathered regular feedback from frequent deployments to ensure we were on the right track.
Basic Architecture of Gift Card Bank

Team Effectiveness

With Gift Card Bank, we demonstrated how an effective Agile process and modern technical practices can bring focus, harness expertise, and improve quality while providing positive work experiences for team members. We emphasized emergent architecture and let working software be our guide. We organized around what we learned and allowed those lessons to inform where to go next, always keeping Khalil’s vision in mind.

Our lightweight process and emphasis on emergence allowed us to quickly adjust plans when new opportunities arose. This occurred with technologies as we swapped out processes and tools based on new lessons and recommendations (e.g., Webtools and SendGrid -> AWS, Trello -> Notion, Bi-weekly demos -> weekly, Scrum -> Kanban). It also happened with the Gift Card Bank solution. When Khalil realized that Gift Card Bank could have a significantly greater impact by soliciting bulk donations from nationwide grocery chains rather than relying on individual donations, we pivoted and moved in that direction. The result has been significantly greater impact for the Bank and the communities it serves.

“THANK YOU so much for everything you + Excella have done for my fledgling organization. This has truly been something built together in partnership, and I am so appreciative to be working with you all.” – Khalil Fuller, Gift Card Bank Founder & CEO


Our partnership with Gift Card Bank has been extremely successful. By working with Khalil and the broader team, Excella was able to have a clear impact. Here are some of Gift Card Bank’s accomplishments so far:

  • Distributing over $37,000 in donated gift cards so far this year.
  • Winning Kroger as a corporate partner. Kroger is the largest grocer in the US.
  • Receiving a $25,000 grant from Albertson’s through their “Nourishing Neighbors” program. Albertson’s is the second-largest grocer in the US.
  • Winning CVS as a corporate partner. The largest retail pharmacy in the US, CVS has 10,000 locations across the country, making it very accessible for those in low-income communities we hope to reach.

The greatest success we are having is the impact on gift card recipients:

“Khalil, I just wanted to take a moment to tell everyone how blessed I feel to have been the recipient of these Kroger gift cards. Since the supplemental unemployment from the government has ended, keeping food in the house was getting kinda hard up against the other household bills. These came right on time and I was able to fill up my pantry with staples that will see us through for a while. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” – A Gift Card Bank gift card recipient

These donations are getting food to people in need and fighting hunger at this critical time. Excella is proud to have been part of the effort and to have been able to leverage our expertise for such a worthy cause.

You can learn more about Gift Card Bank, including how you can volunteer here:

Review Excella’s Press Release about our work with Khalil and his team here:

Read more about Dan Greenberg’s experience on the team in his blog post.