A Long List of FAQ

We’re creating a simple way to give $1, but there’s a complex system designed beneath to help beacon holders, citygoers, and the organizations working with beacons.

Here’s my f̶i̶r̶s̶t̶ second attempt to compile some of the common inquiries we’ve received along the way.


Why does GiveSafe exist?

GiveSafe exists to reveal the stories and needs of those we pass everyday, and provide an effective, cashless way to respond.

Also, for people like Edward.


What is GiveSafe’s mission for those experiencing homelessness?

We’re here to help people struggling with homelessness receive the financial resources and relational guidance they need to find their way back home.


How does a citygoer participate?

By having the app on your phone and simply walking by, biking by, or driving by a beacon holder (beacons distributed via nonprofit shelters), you’ll receive a simple notification that shows you a bit of their story.

You can then open up a conversation or contribute towards a critical need – such as transportation, warm clothing, even a hireable “job hacker”.


How does someone become a beacon holder?

Beacons are distributed through outreach workers or volunteers who have conversations with those on the outskirts, who now find themselves unable to meet very basic needs without help. There are no stipulations as to who can receive a beacon. However in the early stages with limited beacons, we are looking for those downtown that are truly struggling with homelessness and actively are trying to get themselves out.

If the person(s) is interested in sharing their story and receiving a beacon, they give a simple 5-question interview as well as a photo. The outreach worker then gives the individual a necklace with a beacon attached, as well as a map where the beacon can be used to spend or be serviced.


How does a beacon holder know they’ve received a contribution?

We find roughly half to two-thirds of individuals we give beacons to either have a cellphone or email they can access. If they do, they receive a free text or email when someone invests in them. We also ask citygoers to give a verbal confirmation when they give when possible. If a beacon holder doesn’t have a phone or email, they can check their balance by visiting a partnered nonprofit or merchant anytime.


What are beacons? How much do beacons cost and how are they paid for?

Beacons are small, low-energy Bluetooth devices that your phone can detect through Bluetooth. You can read more about them here. They’re typically used in marketing campaigns for businesses, and we’re re-purposing the technology for the homeless. Our beacons cost $5/unit right now, and each goes through ~$1 in batteries per year. We pay for them ourselves, unless a volunteer or organization requests to help out (Seattle only, email us).


How does a beacon holder spend money?

Beacon holders simply walk into a partnered merchant or nonprofit listed on their map. Partners have an app on their end very similar to your own; instead of donating an amount, they see the balance and can charge for a good or service.

If the beacon holder has a need that’s not matched by partnered merchants, a nonprofit counselor can charge the beacon and contact us to arrange a payment (such as reloading an ORCA Lift card for the beacon holder, paying a landlord, or buying a Greyhound ticket).

Beacons also need new batteries each month. Beacon holders simply come into a nonprofit partner for coffee, a walk or a conversation and receive a free battery to keep the beacon active. These interactions and resulting relationships are the key outcomes for us.


How does a beacon holder know when they receive a donation?

Beacon holders get a free text message or email when someone invests in them, and we also ask citygoers to give a verbal confirmation when they give. If a beacon holder doesn’t have a cellphone or accessible email, they can get their balance by visiting a partnered nonprofit or merchant anytime.


What are beacons? How much do they cost and how are they paid for?

Beacons are tiny bluetooth devices — about the size of a quarter — that transmit a low-energy signal roughly 10–20 yards (see photo and infographic).

They only cost $5 per unit. We initially pay for the beacons, and as we grow, we’ll explore nonprofits or other organizations buying them.


How do you know the person requesting a beacon is authentically homeless or needy person?

GiveSafe makes no judgements of anyone who requests a beacon (i.e. we do not “verify” someone’s homelessness).

The beacon channels its holder into relationships with people who are there to care for them, regardless of if others consider them “scammers” or not. We believe these relationships can slowly create openness and trust — such that, if something inadvisable or fraudulent is happening, the person may be willing to share it and allow the counselor to potentially help with other options.


How do you protect the privacy of a beacon holder?

When we do our 5-question intake, the information is protected under our privacy policy. At this time, we will not be sharing profiles of beacon holders publicly, but only through the proximity-based notification (when you are within 10–15 yards of them).

Beacons cannot be tracked over WiFi, GPS, or any other network. There is simply no way to “map” a beacon holder’s real-time location using the technology. Even the short-range (10–15 yard) bluetooth frequency that detects the beacon is designed to only “sight” the beacon once, and not continue tracking the signal.

Additionally, GiveSafe does not verify information given to us by a beacon holder. They are welcome to provide a pseudonym, request a masked photo (blurring of the face or identifying details to app users), as well as volunteer as little or as much information during the short interview.


What happens when a beacon is lost, sold or stolen?

Theft/sales are deterred by each redemption requiring a photo match by the merchant from the beacon holder’s profile. So if I steal your beacon, and try to get a haircut, your photo will show up when I try to redeem it. The value of a beacon is just a couple dollars.

When a beacon is lost, nonprofit partners can issue a new beacon and we can reassign the old profile to the new beacon instantly. The original balance will be maintained. We may implement a waiting policy if a beacon holder loses more than one beacon.


Who are the merchants?

We’re on the lookout for the best local businesses — the ones who are most committed to taking part in helping end homelessness, who fit in our geographic interests, and have been requested by beacon holders.

Some of them are:

  • Queen Bee Coffeehouses
  • Andrea Cole Job Consulting
  • METRO ORCA Cards
  • GR8GEAR (Army/Navy Surplus)
  • La Bodega Restaurants
  • Colman Barbers
  • The Sea Sha Inn
  • Street Bean
  • Bread of Life
  • Grocery Outlet
  • plus UGM, MID, Mary’s Place, and New Horizons who facilitate transactions outside of this list.

How do you handle transactions? Is my donation secure or tax-deductible?

Our app processes transactions through a reputable third party, Braintree, owned by PayPal, which protects your information and keeps us from seeing your payment data.

At this time, transactions are not tax-deductible, though we are working on it. Disputes and refunds are handled on a case-by-case basis and are subject to our terms of service.


How does GiveSafe help make interactions more personal, not less?

Technology can never really create intimacy… but it can help get it started. A personal interaction ultimately depends on the person and situation; some people are naturally introverted or have social anxiety and prefer to give (or receive) silently. However, we do integrate icebreaker questions and little-known facts in the app that can help facilitate conversation.

If you choose to invest in someone, you also subscribe to the person’s journey and can follow updates on their progress (redemptions, monthly checkpoints, etc). Eventually, we hope to allow for safe, back-and-forth messaging.

We also aim to hold bi-monthly gatherings where app users and beacon holders can connect in a group environment, whether it be a community meal, afternoon tea, or live entertainment.


Does GiveSafe help existing nonprofits who are already tapped for time and resources?

GiveSafe serves nonprofits serving the homeless in that beacons bring in new funding for items such as bus fare, interview/job preparation, utility assistance, etc. Previously, these may have come from the nonprofit’s discretionary program budget, if such a budget even existed at all.

When someone is diverted from the streets as a result of having a beacon (i.e. accesses housing, employment, a recovery program, etc.), that nonprofit is then able to help someone else. A quantifiable increase in assists and success outcomes can lead to better fundraising and expansion for these organizations.


What is the basis or justification for GiveSafe’s approach? Will this ultimately reduce homelessness?

We owe much of our approach to a case study in London: how giving cash might actually work. Short answer, financial resources coupled with relational guidance can lead to incredible outcomes. So we’re creating a tool for us to replicate these results at larger scale.

Someone once told a story about a man who was beaten by thieves and left for dead on a roadside. Many people passed until one person stopped. It wasn’t until after he gave his time, to-do list, and transportation that he gave financially for the man to stay at an inn until healed. Our app does a great job handling that last part, but it’s up to you to handle the rest. We’ll help any way that we can.

The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have. –Vince Lombardi

Is GiveSafe a nonprofit? How do you make money?

We’re actually a regular company that earns revenue from a small stipend we add to the top of each contribution. So if you were to give $10, you’ll be charged $10.75. $10 goes to the beacon holder, and $0.75 to us. This contribution helps address homelessness on two levels: a $10 direct investment in a person mere meters from you, and a strategic $0.75 investment to help us help citygoers and the homeless in Jacksonville, Atlanta, Chicago and 96 other communities we hope to serve by 2022’s end.

The stipend is on a sliding scale, with the % amount decreasing as the size of your contribution increases. GiveSafe also earns a commission from partnered merchants.


Why isn’t GiveSafe a nonprofit?

With the scale of the problem (2M homeless in US cities this year, 200M citygoers who will pass by them), we currently believe we can help more people more rapidly if we can outline and prove a strong revenue model. We’ll then be able to access capital required to grow faster. We want to reach 100 communities in the next f̶i̶v̶e̶ 4.75 years.

The incentives are aligned well. The more transactions we facilitate, the more people we help and the more the jobs we can generate. I wrote an interview with Jamie Shea on social entrepreneurship if you’re interested in this topic, or please contact me if you have more questions. Mark Zuckerberg’s choice to structure his foundation as an LLC also bears reading.

This is a decision that may change as we grow.


What’s GiveSafe’s vision?

We dream to be a paradigm-shifting system at scale. “Spare change” turned into “strategic philanthropy”; every dollar helps individuals make the right decisions and build the right relationships to change their lives. The University of Texas estimates it costs $16k/year to leave someone on the streets. With 2M experiencing homeless every year and 200M people walking by them in US cities alone, GiveSafe has the potential to shift the perspectives of 1B+ worldwide on the stories of those who are in need.

If we can create a system that A) makes it highly convenient way to give, and B) offers clarity that a contribution will help, interviewed citygoers report to be much more likely to give, and give in higher amounts.

The finding is significant, as introducing such a system categorically makes people better off. Such a system would A) create more givers, which has its own well-documented benefits — increases in reported income, reported/actual health, and reported happiness — and B) help recipients forge the relationships and resources they need to change their lives.


Besides giving through the app, are there any other ways to help/be involved?

We’ve battle-tested and launched a cool opportunity for companies downtown to take part. A company donates a lump sum ($250, $500, $1000, etc), whose employees then invest it personally into beacon holders they pass by. It goes in $10 increments until its all gone. Employees often start giving on their own from there.

We’re not kidding you, this is a Win-Win-Win-Win-Win-Win: Employer, Employee, Beacon Holder, Local Merchant, GiveSafe, City of Seattle.

If you want to contribute in other ways, you can also give to our General Beacon Holder Fund—this money is distributed to beacon holders who share great need with us. You can also volunteer to give out beacons!

Contact us at inquiries@withgivesafe.org.


Why didn’t you answer my question?

Because you haven’t asked it yet! Shoot it over to inquiries@withgivesafe.org and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.