#GoSwagless — An Open Source Campaign to Encourage Charitable Giving

The #GoSwagless concept is simple yet powerful — use the money your company would normally spend on conference giveaways to support local nonprofits via votes cast by your attendees.

My Story

I have always believed in giving back to the community in whatever way possible and am passionate about working with underprivileged communities across the globe and close to home.

For many years now, my family and I have run an orphanage for girls in Pakistan. Our foundation provides an opportunity for these girls to have a better future. We teach them skills that they can apply in their daily lives, give them a formal education, and help them to start small businesses.

When I turned 40 in 2013 I decided to use my birthday to raise money for wells in rural Ethiopia. A campaign I called “40 to 500” after my goal — which we hit — of bringing clean, sustainable water to over 500 villagers.

My goal has always been to make a difference in someone’s life using the advantages I have in mine. I am passionate about giving back, and from a very young age have been committed to walking this path and making a difference in the world.

Why #GoSwagless

When the DevExchange marketing team came to me in 2017 and said, “We want to try not giving away swag at some events and instead have attendees vote on where to donate the budget.” It just immediately clicked. I loved the idea and have been proud to see the team go full steam ahead with it. Since launching last fall, #GoSwagless has been to numerous conferences such as All Things Open, APIStrat, SXSW, and Gluecon; as well as hackathons, recruiting events, and internal Capital One meetings. While we only use #GoSwagless at select conferences, so far we’ve donated over to $25,000 to charities and we’re not done yet.


Now we’re open sourcing #GoSwagless to help other companies join the movement and increase charitable giving across a wider number of conferences and events.

How Does #GoSwagless Work

As described on our GitHub, we’ve identified some of the general steps necessary to #GoSwagless.


When your company decides to #GoSwagless at to an event, they should determine how much they would normally spend on marketing, promotion, and product announcements — specifically how much they would spend on swag — and how much of that they’d like to donate instead.

Working with Nonprofits

What causes align with the core values of your company or the event you are bringing #GoSwagless to? Once you have defined these areas, you can work with your team, your company’s community affairs or grant-making group, or the event organizers to identify 2–3 well-aligned, reputable nonprofits to donate to.

For the DevExchange, we work with local and national nonprofits.

Content and Creative

We have made available all of the content and creative we use to run #GoSwagless on our GitHub. This includes editable logos, posters, social graphics, sticker templates, and social engagement suggestions.

Event Engagement

A core component of how we view #GoSwagless is attendee participation and engagement. There are many ways this can take shape but the main one has been via voting. If you are donating to more than one nonprofit, you can have participants vote for which one they would like to support via social media polls, digital surveys on a touch screen or tablet, by placing stickers on a board, or by placing tokens into clear boxes.

We donate to each charity in proportion to the votes. This way, everyone is a winner and all nonprofits receive some contribution.

Why Have Participants Vote

Many companies give back to causes and nonprofits or encourage volunteerism in their employees. When we brought #GoSwagless to the Capital One House at SXSW, we got a lot of feedback that attendees had never seen a company work live participation into their giving.

While picking a single predetermined nonprofit is still a great way to contribute, asking the audience to vote on where the money goes increases engagement and credibility; it’s starting a conversation about what we care about. And that conversation should have a local flavor. It should pop up and raise the profile of causes and non-profits in the communities we’re guests in when we participate in conferences across the country.

#GoSwagless donations are not made by one particular executive or event planning committee’s choice. They’re by the people’s choice and reflect the wants, needs, and regional causes of the local community.

Why Open Source #GoSwagless

If this idea is so great and we believe in it so much, why keep it to ourselves? If we want to be a change agent in the community, we need to take a blueprint of what we learned and make it available to everyone else. Otherwise, our contribution is just a drop in the bucket.

When the DevExchange team has brought #GoSwagless to conferences, a lot of companies and event organizers have come and asked how they could take part. The more we heard this, the more we knew we couldn’t be exclusive with it. Our end mission with his campaign is to help local nonprofits, to cut down on wasteful spending, and to do good in society.

The more people who participate in this campaign, the more conferences it goes to, and the more companies that champion it, the bigger a difference we can make. We’re no longer talking a single drop in the bucket, we’re talking about an entire buckets worth of drops, about an ocean’s worth of buckets.

And as a company that consumes, contributes to, and launches open source software projects, it made sense to release #GoSwagless that way. Being open source first and contributing back to the community is an important part of our company culture. We do not think our developers should reinvent the wheel, and we do not think companies participating in the #GoSwagless movement should either. This is why the DevExchange team has made our process, content and creative available for others to use.

Our Commitment to #GoSwagless

Tech companies get tagged on Wall Street and Main Street as the source of a lot of the innovation happening in the world. While some of that so-called innovation might be a little overhyped, it’s true that tech companies take a different approach to how we conduct business.

A campaign like #GoSwagless shouldn’t be just about tech companies giving back, it should be about tech companies leading innovation in how all industries can give back. This is yet another way we can disrupt business-as-usual and replace it with something more authentic and direct.

I feel like tech always sets the bar and this is another opportunity for us to do so by creating new tools and formats for giving back.

Get Involved

Please check out #GoSwagless on GitHub.

And if my peers in the tech industry and the consumer industry are reading this, what would it look like if #GoSwagless showed up at more conferences in the fall?

Let’s have a conversation about how the DevExchange has used #GoSwagless and how you can too. You can reach me at geek@capitalone.com or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/nanwar.

DISCLOSURE STATEMENT: These opinions are those of the author. Unless noted otherwise in this post, Capital One is not affiliated with, nor is it endorsed by, any of the companies mentioned. All trademarks and other intellectual property used or displayed are the ownership of their respective owners. This article is © Capital One 2018.