An East Coast startup is reshaping charitable giving and striving to make the world a better place
Donors Unite is transforming the way charities raise funds and helping people who make donations to make the world a better place.
As well as giving charities a streamlined fundraising solution that eliminates the cumbersome task of asking for donations, this US startup is impacting and changing the way individuals and businesses think about -and manage- their charitable giving efforts.
Via Donorsunite.org, people can support charities that are special to them by sending redeemable, custom gift cards to friends, family, employees, clients and colleagues. They can also allow gift card recipients to select a charity that’s special to them from any one of the 1.5 million listed on the website.
Gifts can be made from as little as $10, whilst annual membership is available to charities which better connects them with the community and harnesses wider support. Donors Unite members also receive useful marketing and fundraising materials.
I’m looking to change the way individuals and businesses really think about what they are looking to accomplish when they give a gift.
Here, founder and New York-based serial entrepreneur, Myron Levine tells Nativa World about his meaningful concept and how a devastating family tragedy led to its creation…
Myron, what does the word, ‘Achieve’ mean to you?
Achieve is a synonym for accomplish. I’m looking to change the way individuals and businesses really think about what they are looking to accomplish when they give a gift. I believe if they really thought about it, they would realize that many gifts are purchased more out of a sense of obligation and not because they really believed the recipient would love the gift. If there was an opportunity they were aware of where a gift could accomplish the objective of being really appreciated by the recipient and accomplish some positive philanthropic purpose, that would be transformative.
Last year, $1 trillion + was spent by Americans on gifts for all occasions. Individuals spent over $950 billion and businesses alone spent approximately $80 billion.
How did Donors Unite come to life?
Unfortunately, Donor Unite’s genesis started because of a personal tragedy. We lost our eldest son Joshua in 2010 due to a tragic accident on a farm in Amagansett NY. The outpouring of love and support Sue, I, our grandchildren and daughter-in-law received from the local East End community was amazing. I decided to pay the community back by founding a charity called “All for The East End” (AFTEE) which raised, and through a grant process administered by the Long Island Community Foundation, granted in excess of $100,000 to East End charities over the past 3 years. This put me in contact with many of the leaders of the not-for-profit community on the east end of Long Island and I learned that they were faced with an almost impossible task in trying to increase their funding to support their respective missions. Traditionally charities are all funded through access to the same pot of money – charitable donations. While that pot is large – $355 billion last year – it’s finite and doesn’t go up or down much from year to year. To the extent, you look to that pool of money to raise additional funds for charities, all you’re doing is reallocating money from one charity to another. In effect, it puts charities in competition with each other.
I put on my entrepreneurial hat once more and tried to think of a solution. Eureka, I needed to find a different pot. That pot is the money spent each year on gifts. Last year, $1 trillion + was spent by Americans on gifts for all occasions. Individuals spent over $950 billion and businesses alone spent approximately $80 billion on employee appreciation awards, event give-a-ways, holiday gifts to clients, etc. That led me to the formation of Donors Unite Inc., a 501 c 3 donor advised fund and Donors Unite Management Corp., set up to provide all the infrastructure to enable the charity to operate its unique gift card program.
This is a win-win-win for the purchaser, recipient and community served by the charity which received the gift.
What’s the mission?
It’s mission is to provide a way for individuals and businesses to give a gift that enables the recipient to choose from any of the over 1.5 million charities on our site to support. This is a win-win-win for the purchaser, recipient and community served by the charity which received the gift.
What’s your background?
Prior to starting Autolog Corporation in 1976, which was a first of its kind business transporting vehicles all across the country for individuals, I practiced law. I worked for the Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington from 1966-1968, then was in the private practice of law for 2 years in NYC, and from 1971-1976 I was employed by the New York Stock Exchange as their director of Enforcement and as counsel to their regulatory group.
I also founded a few other companies. I guess the best way to describe me is as a serial entrepreneur. That brings us to the present and to the founding of Donors Unite.
I have served on the board of Southampton College, Peconic Public Broadcasting which is an NPR station on Long Island and I’m also the founder of the Joshua Levine Memorial Foundation which supports the east end edible school garden programs which are now at over 27 schools on the East End of Long Island.
How does Donors Unite work?
The foundation of Donors Unite is our search engine which enables anyone to search our data base and easily get to any of the over 1.5 million charities listed on our site. A purchaser can either purchase a charity gift card and pick a charity to fund with the purchase or they can enable the recipient to choose the charity. When they want the recipient to choose the charity they purchase a charity gift code and then all the recipient needs to do is copy and paste the code into the redeem box on the charity they wish to fund. Since Donors Unite is a substitute for people who are otherwise purchasing a material gift it has no negative impact on the charities other fundraising activities. In fact, if the charity becomes a member of the donors unite group, they can put our “Purchase Charity Gift Card” button on their website and encourage their supporters to use it whenever they need a gift for any occasion.
The long term goal is that we’re successful in capturing at least 1% of the gift buying market. If we do, that would amount to an additional $10 billion for charity.
How successful has the project been thus far?
Moderately. The charity gift card represents a paradigm shift in behavior and we need to market it so that people are aware that they now have this option when they need to purchase a gift.
What challenges did you face developing and launching the product?
The first challenge was getting the right people to design the site and raising the money to enable it to get done. Other challenges had to do with creating the site which is quite complex. The current challenge is one involving marketing.
Would you have done anything differently?
There are always things when you look back in hindsight that you would have done differently. They range from people who you felt were competent and up to the task to all sorts of things. But, in starting a new service like we have that is to be expected. The most important thing is that when you make a fundamental mistake, you recognize it as soon as possible and correct it.
How do you secure the charities listed on the platform?
Our list of charities comes from Guidestar with whom we have a contract.
What are your long and short term goals for the business?
The long term goal is that we’re successful in capturing at least 1% of the gift buying market. If we do, that would amount to an additional $10 billion for charity. The short term goal is that we develop sufficient business to enable our long term goal to be reached within 2-3 years rather than 5-10 years.
Photography courtesy of Donors Unite & Myron Levine