by Christine Hansen
Throughout her life and career, Jamie McDonald, current CEO of GiveCorps, has always placed a high priority on civic engagement. After coming to Baltimore in 1986 to work for Alex Brown (now Deutsche Bank), McDonald became involved in a number of local non-profits.
“When I got involved in the non-profits, it really started the purpose-driven part of my life,” she said.
In 2003, she “caught the entrepreneurial bug” and left Alex Brown to start her own company. A self-proclaimed sports nut, McDonald started a specialty gym for athletes, hiring strength and conditioning coaches from across the country. She grew the company for five years before selling it in 2008. Once the company was sold, she focused all of her attention on her non-profit work, teaming up with Beth Falcone to create GiveCorps.
“We were both business women who spent a lot of time working in the non-profit world. Our non-profit life was primarily volunteer-oriented, but both of us had the opportunity to participate in the development side of what non-profits were doing,” McDonald said.
It was on the development side where they discovered a new business opportunity. Every non-profit in the Baltimore area was targeting the same large corporations, foundations and wealthy individuals to obtain their fundraising goals.
“It struck us that there was a very unsustainable development economy in Baltimore. There were too few organizations that were the targets for every non-profit in town. With all of the need that exists in Baltimore, it is clear that not everything can be sustained by this very limited pool of givers,” she said.
And during this discovery, the environment to start a business that could serve the needs of the Baltimore non-profit world was perfect, McDonald said. Baltimore’s energy was shifting – there was a rise in younger people, and the innovation economy was beginning to boom, bringing in more start-up companies. And thanks to the Obama campaign during the 2008 Presidential election, a new targeted model was proven to reach the next generation of givers, known as the Millennial generation.
“It’s the largest demographic – larger than the Baby Boomers. When the Millennials are told a good story, they give. And even though they can only give in small amounts – small on a relative basis – the collective impact of their generosity can really move the needle for an organization or cause very quickly,” she said.
GiveCorps was born. McDonald and Falcone based their business plan on the Groupon type model, but with a twist: the focus is a charitable project, or a “give”, instead of a daily deal. A community of subscribers receives daily emails on different local projects that need funding. If a subscriber chooses to donate to that project or one of the other projects featured, they are then eligible for “rewards”, or discounts from participating merchants. GiveCorps matches every dollar that is donated. And unlike other funding platform sites, like Kickstarter and Crowdrise, GiveCorps only focuses on local projects.
“We decided we wanted to be more about giving local and getting local,” McDonald said. “Our notion is just like a daily deal.”
Although the company is still very young (the landing page has been active for a month, and the website went live two weeks ago), McDonald says they have already seen their subscriber numbers triple. Based on the success of the Baltimore model, McDonald hopes to take GiveCorps to other cities, particularly cities with high college populations, across the country. Her next goal is Philadelphia, her hometown.
“It will be at least two months from now before we can really assess the information and understand what is and isn’t working, but we are definitely already starting to see some basic patterns emerging and we will know a lot more over time,” she said.
Currently, 25 non-profit organizations in Baltimore have signed up to feature projects on GiveCorps, and 17 area merchants have agreed to offer rewards to givers, and the lists are growing. Together with Falcone and their 3 employees, McDonald’s mission with GiveCorps is to help people “find their passion to give.”
“We really want to show that everyone can become a philanthropist and make an impact locally.”
BELOW: True to Millennial generation form, Baltimore residents Victoria and Paige, both 12, learned about Wide Angle Youth, one of GiveCorps featured projects and wanted to help the cause. Together, they set up a lemonade stand to help raise money and documented their efforts.