New giving app is connecting new donors with the projects they fund
By Exchange Magazine
The “helping hand” symbolism could not be more clear. Jay Whitelaw tells the story: “I was working for a Guelph company called Eagle’s Flight. They sent me to a conference in Las Vegas, in July of 2013. During a break-out session for about 1500 people, I was at a table with two women from New York. The session leader came out and told us, ‘You’re not learning something today. Instead, we are going to build 500 prosthetic hands, and we’ll ship them around the world to give to people who need a hand… One of the women at my table was really upset. She did not want to be there. She wanted to learn something, not build this stupid hand, to quote her. But the other woman made her stay.

“We built the hand, and brought it to the front of the room, along with 500 other hands. The lights were dimmed, and they played a video. It showed the exact same hands we had made in the last hour, being put on by people around the world. There was a twelve-year-old boy who was missing both hands. They put the first one on him, and he could not even wait for the second one, he grabbed a pencil, and wrote something on a piece of paper… and then burst into tears. The voice-over said, ‘This is the first time ever this boy has been able to sign his name.’

“I welled up, and looked over at the woman who didn’t want to be there. She was completely losing it, bawling. I smiled at her and nodded. We gave each other a big hug. She whispered to me, ‘This has changed my life’.”

It changed Whitelaw’s life, too. He told Exchange, “I realized, I just quit my job.” It took nine more months, but he did quit, and with business partner Adam Pender, he has created Givesome, a mold-breaking app that funds charitable projects all over the world.
Whitelaw admits that it wasn’t just the Vegas moment that sparked the change; Vegas just served to remind him of something that had been nagging at him for years.

“We all say, there’s power in giving, but I believe the power is when the dots are connected. It’s great to sign a cheque and give to something, but the real power is where I actually know what I am doing.”

When he finished college, in 2002, Whitelaw had spent a year teaching school in Namibia, through the Africa Inland Mission (AIM). He still calls that “the best year of my life… It was eye-opening. That’s really where the seed for Givesome was planted.”

He came home and found a job with Eagle’s Flight, but then got a call from AIM; the director said, “We’ve literally created a job with you in mind, and we’d like to present it to you.”

It involved travelling around Canada, speaking to university students, encouraging them to spend part of their summers working helping in some other part of the world. It also involved taking groups to Africa, and training them to lead other groups. Whitelaw jumped at the chance.

But two years later, he got engaged, and realized that he could not justify a schedule that had him on the road 10 months of the year. So he returned to Eagle’s Flight, remaining with the company for another decade.

Until he was asked to help build a prosthetic hand in Las Vegas. That, he says, “was the smack in the face. I knew I had stop wasting time, not doing what I knew I was supposed to do.”

The moment reminded Whitelaw of everything he had learned in Namibia; but he also learned something from the reaction of the initially hostile woman. “She showed me something really powerful that day.”

Whitelaw explains, “We all say, there’s power in giving, but I believe the power is when the dots are connected. It’s great to sign a cheque and give to something, but the real power is where I actually know what I am doing, and when that charity that I am giving to gives me a chance to actually experience it in some way. That’s what happened to her. I’m totally convinced that if they had not shown her that video, she would have walked out believing it was a waste of time. They connected the dots for her.”

It was a “Eureka” moment for Whitelaw. He realized, “That’s it! It’s not trying to convince more people to give, it’s showing people what happens when they give.”

Whitelaw started researching about why people give, and he did surveys. He learned there were three key barriers to giving: fears about unwarranted administrative fees; lack of information about the actual impact of gifts; and the overwhelming size of some charitable projects, so a small donation means little or nothing.

Givesome is launching a new social media influencers program later this year: “If we can tap into all their markets, we’re going to grow a lot of giving. That’s where I think we can be raising a tremendous amount of money.”

“Those three things led us to launch Givesome.” They solved the administration fee issue by recruiting corporations as founding partners. These corporations, who appear on the Givesome site and app, donate $25,000 each as “founding partners for life”, which covers all administration costs. He adds, “I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to create a space where good companies can market to people doing good, reflecting their own values and mission of doing good?”

There will eventually be 28 founding partners; 12 have already signed on: Muskoka Timber Mills, Pizza Pizza, Great West Life, Vidyard, EQ3, GVF Group, Weston Forest, Payworks, The Winnipeg Foundation, AMJ Campbell, Clear Summit Group, and Elevator One.

That takes care of the administration costs, so all donated funds go directly to the charitable cause. Whitelaw points out that these admin funds come, not from the companies’ giving fund, but from marketing or HR, “so we’re not taking away from giving budgets.”

Whitelaw and Pender were also determined to “connect the dots”. So the Givesome app features one charitable project at a time – presented by charity partners. Givesome has a team that approves charity partners, and the individual projects. The projects usually can’t cost more than $500, and the charities have 12 weeks after receiving the funding to make a short (45 seconds or so) video – shot on a smart phone – available for distribution to everyone who helped fund the project. That, says Whitelaw, means the donors get first-hand information about the direct impact of their donation.

Givesome also “levels the playing field,” says Whitelaw. Donors – although he prefers the term “givers” – can give $2, $5 or $10 to a project – no more. That means every gift is equally crucial to the success of the project. It also creates the opportunity for people who traditionally would not be givers to get involved – students, people on lower incomes – and people from countries usually seen as receivers, not givers. There are Givesome donors from Haiti, and several African countries. Says Whitelaw, “It really is this global community helping to support projects.” And projects on the app are both national and international in scope.

Givesome has just completed its first year. According to its website, givers have already funded almost $130,000 in projects. Whitelaw sees nothing but growth potential. “So as the community grows and the average dollar donation grows, then the project size will start to grow. I believe we will get to the point where we’re funding $20,000 to $30,000 projects, in a day.”

Whitelaw believes there will be many positive results because of Givesome. First, he explains, “Our target audience from the beginning has always been new givers.” In fact, he believes that many people who give through the app will move on to make larger donations to charities they connect with.

He also believes he and his team can help charities learn to connect in a much more powerful way with their potential donors, by showing them the impact of their gifts.
As well, Givesome is working with large corporations – including Great West Life – to allow employees to connect much more strongly with corporate philanthropy, through a new gift card program. The company buys Givesome gift cards, which are given to employees, who then choose the specific projects they want to support. Whitelaw notes that there is already plenty of evidence that a significant number of the employees continue to donate through Givesome, using their own money.

In order to ensure that 100% of donated dollars goes to the projects, Whiteland and Pender have created two entities. The Givesome Foundation is a not for profit with a board of directors (Whitelaw is executive director); Givesome Management Inc. is a for-profit company owned by Whitelaw and Pender that works with companies on engagement and marketing. Funds donated through the app go entirely to the charities.

Whitelaw is anticipating exponential growth. “Our community is around 5,000 people who have downloaded the Givesome app. The gift cards are driving our numbers up.”

Givesome is launching a new social media influencers program later this year, offering their platform to prominent people, who can promote their own charitable projects. “If we can tap into all their markets, we’re going to grow a lot of giving. That’s where I think we can be raising a tremendous amount of money through donations every day.”

Whitelaw talks about Givesome’s future: “Our goal is to become one of the largest, if not the largest, fundraising platforms in Canada and potentially beyond. We want to do that in very non-traditional ways – being project-based, engagement-based, focused on the giver… We’re wanting to grow big, not for the sake of growing big, but to show that you can raise a lot of money from people who are not very wealthy.”

Later this year, Givesome will introduce “10 to 1”, with the goal (partnering with social media influencers) of having 10 million people committed to giving $2 a week for a year… “we would raise a billion dollars in a year.”

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Publisher is Exchange Business Communication Inc.
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ISSN 0824-45
Copyright, 2018.