How it all Started — Our Mission
It has always been important to my wife and I that we raised our daughter to learn about the values of social responsibility and giving back. We both had grown up giving back to the community in India and our parents always taught us to do our part for the less fortunate. Thus, it was important that our daughter learned the value of giving in the same way that we learned it growing up.
These teachable moments started a few years ago when we were planning on celebrating Adya, our daughter’s, birthday with her best friend Zosia. Both Zosia’s parents and we wanted to teach our children the importance of giving and helping others so we decided to forgo presents that year and have them raise funds for a smaller grassroots charity. The idea was great but the trouble started when we were looking for the right organization. We knew that grassroots charities were where a lot of the help was needed and we thought that in getting connected to one, we would be able to help Adya and Zosia see the impact of their efforts. But, in the current process of finding a charity that resonates with you, it is very difficult to find the one that you are looking for. If you think about it, we know a lot about our friends’ work profile, thanks to LinkedIn, or personal likes, dislikes, thoughts, etc., thanks to Facebook, but we don’t know anything about charitable giving interests or patterns of even our closest friends. There is much awkwardness around this topic which makes it all the more difficult to find new charities, let alone the right ones. After much deliberation and not much luck, we ended up settling on one of the more well known, big-name charities.
We realized that as frustrating as it was just looking for the right charity or organization, the problems did not end there. In fact, the issue for us actually peaked once we gave the money that our daughter and her friend had fundraised away. The whole goal of this was to help our daughter understand the importance of giving by knowing the impact that she was making. Not only did we not hear anything back from the organization but we also did not get anything as simple as a “thank you” card. But we did get something really annoying in return: a form letter asking for more money every 2–3 months.
This was when my wife and I started thinking that there has to be a better way to give and that’s how the idea of Sumbon was born.
We began to realize that even though the nonprofits/charities/NGOs need money to continue the great work they are doing, they struggle to engage with the very people who believe in what they are doing and are giving in support of what they are doing. Without engaging the people that are supporting what they are doing, it makes it harder for them to fundraise. And as it gets harder, these organizations begin to focus more and more on fundraising without thinking about engaging the actual donors. From there, they tend to make hard and expensive choices at times like hiring 3rd party fundraisers to help them. For example: In the state of California in 2012, of all the money raised by 3rd party fundraisers, only about 37% went to the charities while the rest of the 63% fundraised went into the cost of fundraising itself. The costs of fundraising are sometimes so expensive that organizations end up owing the fundraisers. What exactly are these 3rd party fundraisers? Sometimes they are TV ads, sometimes they are banquets or galas, but all are very costly and inefficient. But these organizations have no choice but to turn to these expensive mediums of fundraising in order to raise money. They don’t, or should I say didn’t, have a better way. Until we decided to create Sumbon.
Quitting my Dream Job at Apple for Sumbon
Once the idea of Sumbon was born, it became a side project for my family and a few others. But as we soon learned, there is only so far you could go with a side project. We went out and talked to potential customers on both sides of the platform and some investors. There seemed to be a clear message: people are willing to use it and invest in it as long as we are willing to build it. That was when this project really began to become a reality (or put more candidly, sh*t got real). My wife and I struggled over this decision for months and we decided that she was going to support my decision to focus on building the company full-time. And for her support and understanding, I am eternally grateful.
Although the decision was an incredibly difficult one, a conversation with my daughter that went a little something like this helped:
Me: Sweetie, what do you think? Should Daddy quit his job at Apple to pursue Sumbon full-time?
She loved my Apple job.
Adya: Yes! Daddy, I think you should.
I’m stunned. I don’t think she quite understood what this meant. Furthermore, a 6 year-old had an opinion, interesting… I had to press on
Me: Why is that so?
Adya: (Explaining a matter-of-factly) Daddy, when you build computers for Apple you help only some people. But if you built Sumbon, you can help so many more!
I can’t believe what I am hearing. But she continues…
Adya: Can I help you in some way, Daddy?
Me: How do you want to help me, sweetie?
Adya: Daddy, I think that I have $4. Can I give it to you?
She then packed $4 of change that she had collected and proceeded to hand it over to me. This was it: our first investor, our first donor, our champion.
This was when I realized that my daughter understood the importance of what we were doing and the larger picture of giving back. If a 6 year-old, my 6 year-old, can understand the importance of what we are doing, we must be doing something right.
During the process of getting to where we are today, I found two great partners in Atul Awate and Rana Bhattacharjee. Atul Awate, our CTO aka development wizard, has 19 years of Product Development experience and, in my mind, can figure out anything. I have known him for 16 years now and he has also been one of my mentors. Rana, our Head International Relations guy, has been in Sales and Wealth Management for the last 17 years. I’ve known him for 8 years and he has been my wife’s friend for the last 15. Rana has been instrumental in getting Sumbon as far as it has come and continues to work ceaselessly to take it even further. And so here we are, a group of friends with different expertise, with a lofty vision of democratizing giving and making the world a better place for everybody. I’m sure there’s a lot to learn and that there will continue to be a lot to learn. But I am confident that my team and I will be able to figure it out as we go. We’ve got an extraordinary team, a great group of advisors, and the right champions who will help us revolutionize the way we see philanthropy.
So What are We Doing Exactly?
We’re revolutionizing the way we all see philanthropy. It has been an unchanged world for years and we’re looking to inject it with a breath of fresh air. Traditionally, these organizations and nonprofits have had trouble connecting donors to their money but that’s where Sumbon steps in.
We’re building an engagement platform with fundraising capabilities to help organizations connect with you by showing you the impact that your giving is making.
Interestingly enough, it’s the lack of engagement from these charities and non-profits that makes it difficult for you to stay connected to your giving. Without knowing exactly where your money is going or the impact that your donations are making, it’s difficult to continue giving without feeling skeptical or unfulfilled and we get that. We want to help simplify this process of giving and help you become aware of the changes that you are making in the world.
We’re Not Going to Choose the Charities for You
Simply put, we want to democratize giving on the basis of the charities work, not because of who we think you should give money to. We have been asked this question multiple times and in our minds, it’s pretty simple: we respect your ability to make your own choices. We don’t understand you well, not yet at least, nor do we understand your preferences, influences, causes you care about, etc. We want to give people the freedom to choose what they are passionate about and in turn, learn about who they are in their giving. We want to do everything we can to help you make these decisions but at the same time, we want to give these charities and organizations a voice for themselves to speak to you. We want to try and cancel out as much noise as possible between you and the organization so that we are all able to do what we are best at: doing.
The Sumbon Difference
We are aware that there are many different services and similar products that are already out there for you to use when it comes to fundraising or giving. Maybe you are involved with different programs and different companies that do something similar to us and to that, we say, c’est bien (that’s great)! Our main goal is to help make the world a better place by bringing people together to give collectively whether you choose to utilize Sumbon or not. For us, we see the issue being that Philanthropy has been such an unchanged business for so long and that the typical model for any fundraising organization lacks communication and we are hoping to change both.
So what’s the difference? We are not a fundraising/crowdfunding platform. We are an engagement platform with fundraising capabilities. We firmly believe that when you are engaged to the organization that you are giving to, you are more willing and able to do what is needed. A non-engaged donor, on the other-hand, wouldn’t be willing to offer a minute of their time no matter how easy the process of financial transaction is. We are seeking to solve the ‘why’, not just the how. As it stands, 80% of the donors have a hard time with decision making when it comes to giving. Some don’t know how to give and others may know how but don’t see the point of their giving. And still, there are some who don’t feel that their contribution matters. We are seeking to fix these issues, not just providing a mechanism for charities to fundraise with us. We believe with every donor we convert, we would be able to make a huge difference in this world together.