A Broken Industry… Charity

So many people really want to run a start up. They search so hard for a problem (missing so many obvious broken industries along the way) that they find a problem that isn’t yet ripe. These are impostors, people just itching to run a startup. The real entrepreneurs aren’t seeking to run a startup,they are just people who are designed and put on this planet to reform social conditions, or at least people who can’t ignore the problem.

The best way to identify an impostor from someone who is put on this earth to change the world, is that the people who are here to reform social conditions, generally choose something that isn’t sexy.

Charity isn’t sexy, but it is broken.

My colleague/mentor found a broken system. I don’t know if we realized just how broken it was. Only in making it so easy, did we realize how totally damned charity is. Then, when we started to tell the story, people came out to really talk about it.

I was born in a southern Virginia town, I went to church every Sunday. Occasionally, my church sold my name and address to various charities, who sold it to various charities. By my 18th birthday, two groups of people were ready for my entrance into adulthood, the United States draft and every charitable 503(c) organization. At first, this was exciting, so much mail. At first…

Today, I get so much mail that 98% of it ends in the garbage. Everything I truly care about, bills (“care” is by necessity here) is on autopay; and I suck up every bit of paperless billing credit I can. I generally check my mail for birthdays and holidays. Whenever I do, my box is crammed full of every charitable organizations droppings. I can’t get away.

Over time, specifically religious organizations have sent me free ornaments. My counter top had 44 rosaries, 3 scapulars, 7 sets of prayer beads, and 9 medals of religious saints. A quick google search assured me I was going to hell if I threw it out in the garbage. So I called the local church.

Kyle: “Hi there! I have a quick question… I have a collection of religious items that have been mailed to me that I’d like to dispose of. How can I donate these?
Receptionist: “Like what kind of items?
Kyle: “Things that have been mailed by charities, rosaries, etc.”
Receptionist: “No way. Do you know how much of that crap we get?”

Back to Google. Unfortunately, the only way to dispose of these without being damned to hell, is burning them. So I called the Department of Water and Power, after googling, “Burn Permit”, and I was assured for a $1008 fee, I could burn anything I wanted. Dead end.

I found a guy on Craigslist who lived a few miles out of the city and issued his own version of a burn permit, which was specifically a $30 cash payment and a barrel. Problem solved. When I got home, I had another rosary in my mailbox.

This industry is broken. Charities are sending items to guilt you into donating. Choosing who to donate to is too difficult and diversification of donations to the other charities limits your impact. If you put all your money into a charity, you’re bound to cringe at the amount of money they spend on salaries and useless broken mailers. Thus, charity just hurts.

So my mentor had an idea on how to fix two problems…

  1. Charity is broken, it’s not personal and it doesn’t feel good. Plus, it takes too much time. No one feels good about something that is supposed to feel good.
  2. Charity doesn’t scale, thus, there isn’t a movement yet primed to fix it.

So we started 100 Men Who Give a Damn… It fixed problem number 1 and we did it in a way that makes it scalable. What we found, is that by making it simpler, we made it better.

100 Men Who Give a Damn is an organization started in a few cities, where 100 men get together and donate money to charities of their choice. The idea is simple, 100 Men, 1 Room, 3 speakers, 1 Vote, $10,000. Centered around a commitment everyone will donate $100 to the charity that wins the pitch contest.

We started the LA Chapter, but we did it in the manner that good product is managed.

  1. We started a landing page — That’s right, we made a REALLY sexy landing page. It was simple, three clicks to join, Name, Email, Button.
  2. Automation — A few hacks and the join page sent you right to an email list.
  3. Selling — We started reaching out to our network, making calls and making asks, trying to identify 100 members, a host, etc. Being clear about what the ask was, some people we asked to nominate 5 members, some people we asked to nominate charities, and we kept calling. We talked to everyone and pitched to everyone who wanted to listen.

Along the way we talked about what every startup should only talk about.

  1. Do we fix the problem?
  2. How do we keep it simple?
  3. How do we manage the funnel of interest and make it easier
  4. How do we prime it for virality
  5. What is the path to launch?

Every conversation was focused on was either a specific launch point, or a centering conversation to make sure we were keeping it simple, and just what do we need to do to launch our minimum viable product.

What you’ll find is that people really get behind things that are broken. The number of people who want to build a human connection with causes they care about, the number of charities who want to make an impact with a small group of people vs. an impression of small donations from many people, and the number of people who want to connect with their community is huge.

100 Men Who Give a Damn about LA won’t solve every problem in LA, but we did identify how to fix charity, and frankly, we’re ready to scale to more than just LA, we’re ready to fix a problem in every community.