At 49, Jamie McDonald describes herself as “not your typical, 25-year-old entrepreneur,” although she feels “about 20-something.”
McDonald is the co-founder of GiveCorps, the Charles Village-based startup that uses the crowdfunding model of Kickstarter and applies it to the world of charitable giving. Baltimore-area nonprofits upload specific projects that need funding—new tools for the Baltimore ToolBank, say, or assembling Thanksgiving meals for families—along with total amount of cash needed to the GiveCorps site, and site visitors then donate directly to projects instead of sending a check to a nonprofit’s general fund.
The foray into entrepreneurship started early for McDonald, a Center City, Philadelphia native. At age 9, she ran Tiny Tots Tumbling Class, teaching tumbling lessons to the children of parents she met through the local YMCA, where her mother worked as the receptionist. McDonald graduated from what is today Philadelphia University, spent graduate school at Cornell University studying international development, and then came to Baltimore in 1986 by way of Alex Brown, when the investment bank was just 2,300 people big, she says, before it came under the umbrella of Deutsche Bank in 1999.
In 2003, McDonald retired from her job as a managing director at Deutsche Bank and went to work volunteering at the Center for Urban Families in the Mondawmin neighborhood. Her job was to fundraise $8 million dollars, an experience that, while successful, showed her how difficult it was to cobble together funds from multiple sources.
Enter GiveCorps, founded July 2011. In a little more than a year, more than 200 nonprofits have used GiveCorps to raise money from more than 3,000 Baltimoreans. The concept of the business, said McDonald, is something that “really resonated.”
“You don’t have to be rich to be a philanthropist,” she said.
Donors can make small donations, even of just $1. Nonprofits pay between four percent and seven percent of the money they raise to be listed on GiveCorps, and merchant-partners—who offer Groupon-style deals to donors—“pay a bit,” McDonald said, to be featured. Projects are promoted by GiveCorps through an e-mail list of subscribers. The company is still funded primarily through venture capital funding.
As many as 7,000 people each day view projects listed on GiveCorps. In the last month, McDonald and her team of seven staffers have begun rolling out new features on a redesigned GiveCorps website, part of a platform change that has been six months in the making.
- GiveAccount, the equivalent of an “iTunes or Starbucks card for giving,” McDonald said, allows donors to determine how much money to set aside each month specifically for charitable donations.
- The GiveVault tracks a user’s donations and organizes them in a pledge balance. Through the vault, users can also print out tax receipts for each project they’ve donated to, as well as download coupons earned from merchant-partners.
- Both the GiveAccount and GiveVault are functions of the new profiles users can create on GiveCorps’ website, much like the profile a new user to Facebook would make. On their profiles, people can list their giving “passions”: education, environment, community development, animals and so on.
- Donors can now create their own personal fundraising projects through the site, raising funds for a specific nonprofit listed on GiveCorps.
- GiveCards, gifts people can give one another, are electronic credits that can be donated to a nonprofit on the site.
Much of these changes were made to “tailor things for the donor,” said McDonald, by providing a set of tools by which people can “manage their giving life in a way they’d manage other parts of their financial life.”
On the horizon is a national expansion. Right now, GiveCorps is “building up a national prototype” of a site that includes 16 cities with between 10 and 12 nonprofits in each city, McDonald said. Other philanthropic-giving sites are “nonprofit-centric,” she said. The trick, according to McDonald, is to find out “whether the market is ready for this kind of donor-centric platform.”
On Nov. 27, GiveCorps and the nonprofits on its site will participate in #GivingTuesday, a national movement to make the Tuesday after Thanksgiving the kick-off to the holiday giving season, by offering matching funds on donations made through the GiveCorps site. A group of Baltimore businesses have created the pool of matching funds, and GiveCorps’ merchant-partners will offer rewards to all donors who contribute to a nonprofit’s fundraising campaign on Nov. 27.
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