Making a Big Difference With Small Change
It’s a crisp mid-October evening and more than 200 well-dressed professionals have gathered for a sold-out party in the courtyard at Union Mills in Hampden. Guests feasted on donated goodies from Woodberry Kitchen
, Union Craft Brewing
, Taharka Bros Ice Cream
and Bonjour French Bakery & Cafe
Some of the attendees have paid $50 for a ticket, but most have filled a 32-ounce jar with nickels, dimes, quarters and pennies in order to gain admittance. Local nonprofits, independent business owners, and a diverse array of budding young philanthropists have come out to celebrate the one-year anniversary of GiveCorps
, which they say has helped them reach their goal of making Baltimore a better place to live.
Remington’s GiveCorps offers an online, crowd-sourced giving platform that connects potential donors with specific charitable projects, often at lesser-known nonprofits. GiveCorps donors have helped raise about $300,000 for 240 local nonprofits, estimates CEO and Co-founder Jamie McDonald.
The former Deutsche Bank managing director runs the firm along with Chief Technology Officer Tom Hoen and Peter Jackson, vice president of merchant and non-profit relationships. The company employs six total, four of whom work in Baltimore.
GiveCorps’ beneficiaries have included the Youth Dreamers Inc.
, Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter Inc.
, the Baltimore Free School
and Center for Urban Families
Each charity asks for donations for a very specific project, with the monetary needs itemized. And that's what tends to engage the givers: No matter how small the amount they donate, they know where it's going and what good they've done. And there’s a reward. In return for giving, donors get discounts and coupons to use at participating local merchants such as Woodberry Kitchen or B&O American Brasserie
. Think Kickstarter meets LivingSocial.
“I find myself saying, ‘Look! A $ 30 coupon to Woodberry,’ and giving because I want it,” says Roswell Encina, a spokesman for the Enoch Pratt Free Library. “I mean, of course I want to give, but it’s fun to get that reward!” Encina is a GiveCorps donor and has used GiveCorps to lead a giving project for the Pratt.
One of GiveCorps’ key platforms is that you don’t have to be rich to be a philanthropist. According to McDonald, the average gift is $78, while the median gift is $29. Donors who make smaller contributions say they feel like they are making an impact, thanks to both the crowd-sourced approach to fundraising and the clearly defined goals — such as helping a theater buy new stage props.
“I love that you’re able to have this experience [of giving] and see exactly where your money is going,” says party attendee Heather Keller, a nurse at Towson’s St. Joseph Medical Center.
McDonald’s impetus for starting GiveCorps with co-founder Beth Falcone was the realization that all of the nonprofits in town were going after the same core group of wealthy donors. She wanted to expand the pool of givers by reaching out to younger, more tech-savvy — though maybe less moneyed — givers.
This approach seems to be working: McDonald says the GiveCorps donor subscriber base has grown from 3,000 to 7,000 over the past year. And GiveCorps’ message is resonating with the next generation of philanthropists. Frequent donor Kate Bladow says she finds GiveCorps appealing for a number of reasons.
“First, I enjoy hearing about the good work so many different organizations are doing," says Bladow, who is on the board of Wide Angle Youth Media
, GiveCorps’ first beneficiary. "Secondly, I do appreciate the rewards for giving, and lastly, I think that this model can work well for smaller organizations who may not be experienced in online giving.”
And McDonald says the GiveCorps model is ready to go national: It will be launching in New Orleans within the next couple of months, and other cities are already on the drawing board. She says it’s too early to say which cities, but says that Baltimore will always remain home base. She also wants to explore offering donors who have ties to other cities a larger choice of projects from around the country.
And, for the larger nonprofit, GiveCorps will offer individual giving sites. The first such platform will be a partnership with University of Maryland, Baltimore County, rolling out at the end of the month. Interested givers will be able connect with specific, personalized projects such as helping to support the drama department’s “Hamlet” production or sending 20 students on an educational trip.
McDonald says it’s too soon to be able to quantify the exact impact this new model of giving has had on the local charity scene, but says GiveCorps has reached a broad range of donors.
Says McDonald, “We don't focus very much on volume of giving, we focus on the number of gifts and givers, because we want everyone to feel proud of their philanthropy even if the amounts are small.”
Tracey "Trix" Middlekauff is a freelance writer, editor and food photographer. Her work has appeared in Reader's Digest International, Urbanite, and Epicurious.com. She writes the food and travel blog TastyTrix.com and is the recipe columnist for Style magazine