THOMAS | Envisioned a giving revolution in his dorm room
Editor’s note: I met Thomas (on the right in the photo above) two years ago at a Thanksgiving event for The Salvation Army in Inglewood, California. He was still in college but he was bursting with ideas about how the giving platform he’d begun designing could connect givers with those in need. It’s called CommuniGift and it’s done nothing but grow and spread kindness ever since.
Here’s the story in Thomas’ own words…
“I remember the very first conversation we had in 2013 about online giving — what it looked like, what it felt like. We talked about the world beyond the PayPal donation portal, and the need for transparency and connection.
At the time, as sophomores at the University of North Carolina, we had no idea where that one conversation would lead us. What we did know, or rather what we believed, was that giving could feel good and that giving could be easy.
We believed we could leverage technology to ignite the goodwill that exists within us all. A dorm room conversation at nineteen years old slowly evolved into a vision to create a new way to give, and the concept for CommuniGift was born.
I remember the very first time we shared that vision with the world. We were on stage at a community event in Raleigh, North Carolina. We laid out the idea: Enable donors to buy specific items for those in need through stories and wish lists uploaded by our nonprofit partners.
The personal stories would make it real, forming a connection, while the production donations would foster a transparent giving experience. And on top of that, we said we’d make it super easy to use and involve friends by putting it all online.
It must have taken an incredible amount of optimism from those in the room that night to smile and tell us to keep going.
I remember the very first time we met with a nonprofit. Someone in the crowd that very first night was kind enough to make an introduction to The Salvation Army of Wake County, North Carolina. We didn’t have a logo, a product, nor any experience in the space, but we pitched a vision for what giving could be.
I’m still not sure how, but we walked out of the room that day with our first nonprofit partner that would help source those in need. We owe a lot to the people in the room that day who chose to believe in us and trust our intentions. They were the ones who helped us build a foundation based on goodwill and a belief in a better world.
Two years later, on top of that foundation sits thousands of generous donors and nonprofits around the country that are actively using CommuniGift.
We’ve been lucky to work with partners ranging from the 35 units from one of the nation’s most respected nonprofits, the Salvation Army, to the most popular educational toy company.
We’ve had four-year old Simone share her birthday on CommuniGift, and her eighty-five year old grandparents use the same technology to adopt a child during the holidays. Two years ago, we would have never fathomed moving away from one of the nation’s biggest retailers, uploading thousands of kids in a week, or fostering add-on donations.
But as the vision has grown, we’ve been able to form direct relationships with some of the country’s best manufacturers, build a technology that nonprofits love using, and for the first time, foster the donation of shoes and grocery store gift cards in addition to the core wish list items.
I remember a time when we would average one product purchase a month. I think about that now, and a smile comes to my face. On a good day this year, we’ll average a product purchase every 5 minutes. Each and every one of those purchases brings the same excitement it did two years ago.
It’s a reminder of why we do what we do and the goodwill inherent to the human experience.
Within all of this, we’re fortunate to hear from a lot of donors who are using the platform. There was one message yesterday that really stuck out from a donor who grew up receiving gifts from her church.
‘I was young when I first encountered humanitarians, I thought it was just a game trading cans of food in the brown bags of food they provided. Instead I realize much later in life they were gifts of the church for the hard comings our parents were going through. I now have a 10 month old, and I pray we do not have as hard comings as my parents did. I feel relief there are companies like yours that allow us to help in some way. You remind us that there is goodness in the world. That’s the world I will teach him about. Thank you and happy holidays!’
She’s right. There is so much goodness within all of us. I genuinely believe if you make it easy to
connect with others in a meaningful way, people will take action. I believe that people want to do the right thing — that they want to see others happy. It is our hypothesis that people will give more if it’s meaningful, transparent, and convenient.
Giving has been stagnant at 2% of GDP for 50+ years . It has become a line item in most people’s personal budgets that rarely exceeds 6%. The very problem is that it’s thought about in those terms, lacking the human element — the spark.
We don’t think it has to be that way.
Charitable giving is evolving in ways we’ve never seen before, and the implications are beyond measure.
What if we lived in a world where giving was celebrated more than receiving? What if people found their greatest fulfillment in creating happiness and opportunity for others? What if we could put down our uncertainties surrounding our desire to connect and to help, and we simply acted?
We’re aiming to answer those “ifs” one by one, and we can’t do that alone. Two years since we first had a dream, I’m more inspired than ever by the human spirit — a spirit rooted in goodwill and a belief in a better world.
This spirit has brought us where we are today, and it will continue to move us forward into a better tomorrow.”
Visit the CommuniGift website and find a child to care for this Christmas. You can search the personal stories, buy something from their wish list right in the CommuniGift platform, and then track the progress of your gift.