Fundraising is hard. Most investors are not interested in profiting off of social change. They have their reputations to protect as well, and they also have the same stigmas about making a living off of nonprofit work.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations who are making an important social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Monica Weintraub. Monica is on her way to moving to Los Angeles after living in China for the last seven years. She is the founder of charity subscription service, Down to Donate, where she doesn’t want some people to donate a lot; she wants a lot of people to donate a little. Her long-term vision is to create the world’s most extensive network of philanthropists. She also hosts a podcast titled Good Work, which focuses on speaking to for-profit founders who make social good their life’s mission. Prior to Down to Donate, Monica founded her first startup at the age of 23. Monica’s writings and photographs have been featured in various outlets such as CNN, Elite Daily, Inc.com, Thrive Global, and Refinery29.
Thank you so much for doing this with us, Monica! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to start on your career path?
More or less, I was kind of in-between things. I was in the process of selling my first startup in China and not really interested in the industry I was in anymore. I had wanted to get back into the nonprofit space for a long time but also had the idea that the world doesn’t really need another nonprofit, we need to better support the ones in existence.
Then, serendipitously, I woke up to post after post on Facebook about how dissatisfied people were with American politics. I challenged a few people to donate to nonprofits who had the influence to make policy change happen and they surprisingly took me up on the challenge, but then also came to me with feedback about the annoyances of donating to nonprofits. I started doing some research and learned about a couple of massive, yet easily solvable problems from there.
Did you set out to start a movement? If so, what was your vision? If not, what did you imagine would be the impact of your work?
In a way, I have set out to start a movement, but I believe that’s what all entrepreneurs are doing. We feel our products can simplify and improve your life.
My vision was to normalize donating. I understand this sounds strange considering America is one of the most charitable countries in the world, but the majority of those donations go to religious entities. I wanted to diversify that, with no disrespect to those who do donate for religious purposes.
What I really envisioned was for donating to be just a thing we do in our lives every day. Nobody really ever describes themselves as someone who donates to nonprofits. And that’s because it’s never really been simplified. We don’t say, “I love film, going on hikes, cooking, and donating to nonprofits.” Donating hasn’t been treated as a tidbit of our personalities because we’re told to be humble about giving back. But now’s not the time to be humble. It’s time to normalize and express our charitable actions.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I initially wanted to have our donation amount with plans like $1/day, $1/week, $1/month, $1/year.
It was going to be almost like a political swear jar. Every time you made a political tweet or post, you’d have to donate to back it up. I was so set on this idea during the first month of me thinking of Down to Donate, but when I got on the phone with a payment processor for our site, the guy pretty much told me the majority of that dollar would go to credit card fees. It was such a rookie mistake that I luckily learned early on in the process. Ultimately, it helped us develop a stronger, more marketable product.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
Aside from raising money for nonprofits, we’re really trying to fight a few unknown stigmas that cause nonprofits lots of problems and setbacks.
The first is that nonprofits get so much flack when they use donor dollars for anything besides the cause. This is particularly unfair because it doesn’t allow them to spend on ads or new campaigns. It keeps them in the stone age when they can’t even run an Instagram ad with a $20 donation, and turn that $20 donation into perhaps a $100 donation through that ad. We want to give them dollars for advertising purposes, but also advertise for them and take the risks they may not be able to.
The other issue is possibly even bigger. Everyone has this old school belief that you’re supposed to do this type of work “out of the kindness of your heart.” The problem is, kindness doesn’t pay the bills.
This mentality has stopped nonprofits from being able to hire and keep on incredibly talented and dedicated staff who might be able to truly change the world at a faster rate. If a full-stack engineer has the option to make $120K annually starting at Facebook, or take on the same job at a nonprofit out of the kindness of their heart making a max of $46K annually, where do you think they’re going to go?
That person can not only donate a third of their salary as a Facebook employee and still make more than they would working at a nonprofit, they can also write that donation off, and probably even get on the board of directors at the nonprofit because of their one-time donation, with little involvement in the nonprofit.
It’s not fair. And if we hope to change anything, that’s it.
Wow! Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted this cause?
I initially learned about this advertising and staff retention problem from Dan Polletta. During the first days of Down to Donate, as I was looking into nonprofits to partner with, I, with zero knowledge on the subject, decided that I didn’t want to work with nonprofits who had CEO’s making six figures or more. I had the same ridiculous mentality that you can’t live well and do well.
After watching Dan’s TED Talk, everything changed for me and I was all of a sudden on a new mission to fight this stigma. It’s a really important listen that can absolutely shift old paradigms.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Donate! Take pride in your donation. And don’t be humble about it. Everyone needs to know so that you can influence others to start donating to nonprofits too.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I believe an honest leader does not implement hierarchy into their personal or professional lives. They view themselves as equals, which then turns into getting respect from their peers allowing for a more dynamic and creative environment in any setting. People just want to be heard, and true leaders listen.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1.) Reputation is everything.
All a nonprofit has is its reputation. This means they have to be very strategic in who they work with, and most are only open to working with well-known people/brands, which I am neither. The open-minded and experimental nonprofits are diamonds in the rough that make this worth all of the hardships.
2.) Fundraising is hard.
Most investors are not interested in profiting off of social change. They have their reputations to protect as well, and they also have the same stigmas about making a living off of nonprofit work.
3.) You have to be the face.
I am still getting used to trying to make myself and life more public as a founder. People want to see and connect with you. It’s really hard to reach a new audience if they can’t see who’s the person behind your movement.
4.) Expect partnerships to fall through.
I’ve had tons of people/brands say they want to work with us and then back out with no notice. I use email tracking, so I can see who reads my emails and how many times. There’s really nothing more insulting than a person not being able to just say, “We’re not interested.” and opting to ignore you instead. We just need to be more honest and considerate of each other’s time.
5.) Not everyone cares about social impact.
I was so hyped when I thought of Down to Donate. I assumed everyone would hop on board immediately and thank me for making donating so easy. This is the furthest thing from the truth because sadly, the majority of people don’t really invest that much time into social change in real life. I was lost in the world of all of the activists I follow online who had so much power and influence. But then, when I’m at a gas station and I see people throw their trash on the ground instead of the trash can right next to me, it honestly makes me question humanity.
We persist, but our work is really cut out for us.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I just read an amazing quote from Mindy Kaling where she says, “I have noticed that some people really feel uncomfortable around women who don’t hate themselves. So that’s why you need to be a little bit brave.”
It’s the epitome of my life right now. Women have so many demands from society, but it’s just important that we must be strong before anything else.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
IG: @monpuffycombs, _@downtodonate
Your work is making a massive positive impact on the planet, thank you so much!