Why I Started Giving Great

The idea was born nearly 7 years ago while working at Thomson Reuters. It was my first experience in “Corporate America” and I was just getting used to some of the nuances of that life. One of them was the United Way Campaign. A yearly campaign where someone at the company promoted a payroll deduction for employees to donate to the United Way.

Being no different than I am now, I questioned the old paper process of enrolling, lack of choice, and lack of ability to easily modify my election—I still had student loads, a car payment, and I wasn’t married yet, so to say my monthly budget fluctuated would be an understatement. It was just not a yearly commitment I was willing to make at the time.

The experience got my wheels spinning and I set out to do a little research. My initial idea was to create a service (FREE of course), that simply collected lots of donations (read: MILLIONS), held the money for 30ish days, and made money on the interest. Sure I’d only get a 1% APR, but I’d be rich. Ok, so after some research, and a sanity check, I passed on further effort. But the core idea never died.

Is it legal to be a clearing house for charities?

Fast forward a few years, and I’ve got a new job at Call-Em-All. One of the many great benefits was a charity matching program…without the organization limitation. It was a great program, minimal restrictions and a very generous matching amount—except I never took advantage of it. If you didn’t blurt out “WHY?” right there…trust me, I did writing this.

WHY?

The sad reason was I never thought about it when it came time to donate. Did I make donations…sure did, but my biggest flaw was keeping up with receipts, or even asking for them to begin with. My taxes were fairly simple, no itemization, standard deductions only—so come donation time, I never asked for a receipt or generally never kept up with it if I did get one.

I let the causes I cared enough to donate to down because I couldn’t handle a piece of paper.

I was unconsciously making donations. But financially, I was consciously making other decisions. I was saving money for retirement, saving money for a rainy day, but I wasn’t consciously making donations to causes I cared about. Ultimately, I’m hoping Giving Great moves others to be more conscious about their donations and allows many to follow the same successful mantra for saving money—”out of sight, out of mind”. By making donations by payroll, donations can be better planned, budgeted, and be less likely to be affected by an off-budget impulse purchase.

They say the best companies come from the frustrations of their founders. What I find great about Giving Great, is as it grows, I’m able to use it to offer the same benefit we are selling to small businesses, to my own employees. Meta right?

Necessity

Seventy-one percent said they would be likely to give if they could increase their impact by seeing their gift matched by another donor. (2011)
Fifty-two percent of respondents said they’d be interested in monthly giving. (2013)

The above statements are from the THE MILLENNIAL IMPACT PROJECT, a study focusing on the soon to be largest hiring pool, Millennials, and their focus on causes. As small businesses continue growth leaving 2016, as they did entering 2016, they need the ability to offer benefits to their employees which employees are coming to expect as a collective generation.

It isn’t just employees who care about companies who care about causes, but also consumers. The 2010 Cause Evolution Study, found that “92% [of moms and millennials] want to buy a product that supports a cause”. If money talks…

With 65% of current Fortune 500 companies offering matching gift programs, and plenty of corporate social responsibility software available to them (with a nice price tag too), small businesses need a tool to help manage a competitive employee benefit, and be able to promote their own corporate social responsibility.

Frustration

I wouldn’t blame you if you read the above, especially if you are in the nonprofit industry, and said, “another person trying to profit from philanthropy”. I actually struggled with this notion before deciding to start Giving Great. It frustrates me when I see so many “solutions” to scaling giving, only to read the “keep the lights on fee”. So many solutions take credit cards, which is going to take 3% off of any donation being made. But then comes the 5–10% fee on top of the credit card fee. For the donor, sure they get a deduction for the full amount, but for the charity…not so much.

I look at it as turning a nonprofit organization into a customer…without asking them. I might be off on this, but this is my stance and as such, I set out to ensure that Giving Great was sustainable as a value-add service to small and medium businesses, and not reliant on skimming off the top. It is also why we do not take credit cards. The less fees taken by processors, the more good nonprofits can do.

Simplicity

No doubt it may be a hard sell to small businesses, as I was told this past week — “It just might not be in their hierarchy of needs.” Because small businesses can be stretched from a resource standpoint, it is essential that our service does not create more work than is ultimately necessary. We’ll be focusing on automation where possible and minimizing administrative needs, while still allowing a successful workplace giving program to be put in place.

I believe we are setting forth a solid value proposition, and a benefit which small businesses and their employees will continue to be excited about as their social impact grows with each payroll.