Social Impact Heroes Helping Our Planet: Why & How Maria Underwood Of Fundrage Is Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Martita Mestey

Martita Mestey
Authority Magazine
8 min readFeb 5, 2024

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Just get started. I wish I hadn’t waited as long to dive into creating Fundrage — I let uncertainty and lack of technical knowledge slow me down.

As a part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Maria Underwood, Fundrage.

Maria is the Founder of Fundrage, a company that wants you to channel your anger into action when reading the news. Still in its early phase, the first version of Fundrage is a Chrome extension that launched in the Chrome store this past October. The extension will appear on news sites and, when you read an article that makes you want to take action, you can click the icon and it will suggest nonprofits to donate to based on the content of the article. Outside of the startup, Maria has been in the fundraising field for over a decade, working with large and small nonprofits, both nationally and internationally, so she has a unique perspective on why and how donors give. She is from, and currently lives in, Birmingham, AL.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I great up in a philanthropic family. My dad was the President of a nonprofit and my mom was always a fundraiser for local nonprofits in town — giving back was modeled to me from an early age. I was also always challenged to figure out how I could make things work, make them better, or solve problems. If I asked a question, I was encouraged to look it up in the World Book (back before Google!) instead of just being told. That way, I’d have to find it myself. I think that set the table for me always working to leave the world better than I found it.

You are currently leading a social impact organization that is making a difference for our planet. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

Fundrage is a social impact app that helps users channel their anger into action. You can download the app for free and when you’re thinking about any cause that you want to support, you open the app, choose your cause, and we suggest 501(c )3 nonprofits that you can make a donation to right away. For example, if you’re outside in a heat wave and you know it’s a result of climate change, you can pull up the app as you’re complaining to your friends and go ahead turn that feeling of frustration into a positive impact. The coolest feature, though, is that you can share any news article that you’re reading into the app, and we’ll suggest nonprofits to support based on the article that you’re reading. You don’t have to search for how to help or turn off the news — you can stay informed and feel better about knowing how to help that problem.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

There are so many ways to give, but there are also so many issues in the world that feel big and hard to tackle. Taking the extra step of finding out which organization to give to, which one is a valid nonprofit, can feel more burdensome than giving into apathy. I know I’ve struggled with that in the past. The problem with an issue like climate change is that it’s easy to feel overwhelmingly helpless, and instead of doing something about it we just feel like we can’t and move on. I wanted to create an easy-to-use tool to help people feel like they could do something. We’ll only make change if everyone continues to try — and Fundrage helps them do that.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

I do feel like I waited too long from conception to actualization, but as you said — it’s hard to manifest something that feels so big. I was lucky to find an idea accelerator in Birmingham that was a pretty low risk program that helped me ideate the app and start to put the pieces together. Right around this time, COVID hit, and I felt frustration and apathy were at an all-time high — Fundrage was the solution I felt that I needed, and I knew other people did, too. I was already kicking myself for waiting so long to get started that I knew I needed to just start.

Many people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

Building a tech company as a non-technical founder is a big feat — like learning a whole new language. My very first steps were to start talking to people that I trusted in the field, telling them my idea, and then asking advice on the best way to execute. I did a lot of asking, and a lot of listening in the beginning.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Creating a social impact platform has been interesting, because I’ve found that the vast majority of people love the idea of making a difference. They champion and support the company, they want to help me build it — but, in practice, the number of people who actually do take action to is very low. Creating a solution to help people feel less frustrated when reading the news felt like a no-brainer in terms of getting users, but fighting apathy is hard, and even though people love the idea of taking action — many don’t.

It has been said, that sometimes our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Do you have a story about a humorous mistake that you made when you were first starting and the lesson you learned from that?

I’ve made a million little mistakes in building my company, mostly in how to go about technical builds and development of software. Trying to communicate my vision to developers I didn’t know well caused more frustration and money in the beginning. I wouldn’t say it’s humorous, but you do learn to quickly spot a problem, pivot and make it better when you’re building a company with your own funds.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

Being a founder, particularly in the social impact space, is pretty lonely. It’s not a high-growth company, so tech folks aren’t always interested and trying to be engaged with the news and causes each day can also be brain numbing. I wouldn’t have felt like it was worth the uphill battle without some really key mentors along the way who kept checking in on my success. From advisors who took hours out of their day to sit down and ideate, challenge, and improve the idea with me — to friends who offered an understanding ear, being a solo founder actually can’t be done. It takes a village of support.

Are there three things the community, society, or politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

The first step to addressing a social cause is getting past apathy — deciding that taking action, no matter how small, is better than doing nothing. The next is to encourage people to make change, no matter how small, and reward them for every small action. The third is providing them with a tool to do this easily — and that’s where Fundrage comes in.

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

When looking at generational trends in giving and consumerism, you’re already seeing a big trend by millennials and Gen Z who prefer products that are environmentally aware. These groups of people don’t necessarily give to nonprofits because of organizational loyalty, but they choose to spend dollars with companies who match their values. We are a generation that cares about causes over nonprofits, and that’s a big shift. Companies who can create brand loyalty by supporting causes their customers care about will be more supported long-term.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why?

  1. Just get started. I wish I hadn’t waited as long to dive into creating Fundrage — I let uncertainty and lack of technical knowledge slow me down.
  2. As early as you can, find a support system. I’ve primarily been a solo founder, and even though I’ve had mentors and support, bringing on a co-founder earlier would have helped me accelerate impact.
  3. People saying they support and people actually supporting are two different things. In the social impact space, everyone loves the idea of giving back but those who actually take action are two different things. Asking better questions about what action someone will actually take, and how they’d be willing to engage with the product, earlier on would have been key.
  4. When you find yourself walking down the wrong path, pivot quickly. You’re not going to always have the best idea first. Not being afraid to refine, pivot, correct and refine more is key to lasting success.
  5. Keep going.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

We can’t keep kicking issues, particularly with the planet, to the next generation. Climate change is an issue that’s already almost too late to tackle, but it’s going to cause major changes to our lifestyles if we don’t all try now. It feels insurmountable, but if we all start small steps, we can do it.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My dad used to always tell me to “hang in there, be tough and smile”. Essentially — keep going, try hard things and have a good attitude. That quote has particularly helped me as a founder but gets me through quite a bit.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

This question is hard because there are so many, for different reasons. I think for this instance, though, the Founder of Patagonia would be fascinating. He built such an incredible brand based on cause and brand loyalty.

How can our readers follow you online?

They can follow our social media @fundrage, head to our website www.fundrage.com or find me on Linkedin!

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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