Cool to be Kind

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The Give Corps team in their Charles Village office in Miller’s Court, an urban oasis for teachers and nonprofits.

What do you get when you mix cutting-edge technology, time-tested business strategy and a passionate desire to change the world? Enter Give Corps, a Charles Village-based start-up dedicated to turning Millennials and other folks with not-so-deep pockets into philanthropists. 

Founded by Jamie McDonald, a former managing director and co-head of private equity coverage at Deutsche Bank Alex. Brown for 16 years, Give Corps represents McDonald’s long-awaited opportunity to use her business acumen to impact the community in a profound way.

“It’s the culmination of all my life experiences—a way to bring together my previous career with my entrepreneurial spirit and live my passion,” she says.

After leaving Deutsche Bank in 2008, McDonald served as capital campaign chair for one of her favorite nonprofits, The Center for Urban Families. During the campaign, she became convinced of the Internet’s power as a tool for philanthropy and community engagement, especially for young adults.

“We all saw what happened in the 2008 presidential campaign. Not only did the Obama camp engage large numbers of young people online, but they also got people of modest means to donate. These people gave because they wanted to be part of a movement,” she says.

Give Corps utilizes a “give to get” model to entice young, socially conscious citizens to contribute to causes such as homelessness, hunger, education, health care, animal rights and the environment. Donors can make one-time gifts, purchase a “givecard” for a friend or create a Giving Account where they pledge to donate a certain amount—as low as $3 a month—to their cause(s) of choice.

To date, more than 225 nonprofits have benefited from the generosity of more than 7,000 Baltimoreans, who have made 11,000 donations serving more than 50,000 of our neighbors in need.

The site provides immediate gratification for donors who can see, for example, that their $15 donation to a children’s literacy organization will pay for craft supplies for a month or that a $35 donation provides an environmental organization enough trash bags to remove up to 2,500 pounds of trash from a local stream.

“The beauty of the website’s technology is that it provides a personalized experience that values donors of all levels,” says new CEO Vince Talbert, who was a founder of Bill Me Later and most recently a V.P. with eBay/PayPal. “The giver feels special, can see the impact of their gift and can connect with other givers and their community.”

As an added incentive, each time users make a donation, they get to select a reward in the form of a special offer or discount from one of Give Corps’ merchant partners, such as South Moon Under, Taharka Brothers and Charm City Run.

“It’s a perk for donors—and also a way for us to help drive traffic to civic-minded businesses,” says Peter Jackson, vice president of merchant and nonprofit relationships who serves as the “face” of Give Corps around Charm City. His primary role is to extend the brand beyond cyberspace by hosting networking happy hours, fundraising marathons and other events that encourage the Give Corps community to connect in real life.

That can help maximize results for organizations such as Moveable Feast, a Baltimore nonprofit that provides meals and other services to homebound people living with HIV/AIDS. Give Corps fundraisers who participated in the charity’s annual Ride for the Feast bike ride raised almost $50,000—in addition to more than $15,000 that was raised through smaller projects online.

“I love helping the nonprofits maximize their impact,” says Jackson. “It’s great to be part of a rapidly changing company that’s involved with doing good in Baltimore. Especially now, I feel like there’s a lot of energy bubbling up. The city has problems but there are lots of creative solutions.”

“The idea that you don’t have to be rich to be a philanthropist really resonates with people and with our organization,” adds Ted Blankenship, Moveable Feast’s director of development, who describes Give Corps as a low-cost, low-effort way to raise awareness and funds from Generation Y donors. “Give Corps has allowed us to market ourselves to a population we might otherwise not have been able to reach. Our investment has been hugely successful.”

Yes, Give Corps is a for-profit company—something McDonald equates to the likes of Starbucks and TOMS Shoes which also have socially conscious business models.

“When I thought of how to change the world, I wanted to hire the best people who shared my passion,” says McDonald. “I wanted to give equity to employees so they could share in the good things that happen for our company—and I wanted them to stick around. Often times, when you work for a nonprofit, you have to keep leaving one job for another because that’s the only way you can increase your salary.”

Give Corps earns profits by charging organizations 4 percent of donations collected through the site. The company’s newest revenue generator is Give Corps Pro, a turnkey software program that helps organizations create customized fundraising portals. It’s proving especially popular with colleges hoping to engage recent graduates.

“We have 12 software clients—six colleges and six other types of nonprofits,” says McDonald. “We’re really flying now.”

Speaking of flying, the Give Corps staff is feverishly working to prepare for Giving Tuesday on Dec. 3—the Tuesday following Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

“Our goal is to make Baltimore the givingest city per capita in America,” says McDonald, whose business will serve as a convening marketing partner for the national event. “We’re hoping to raise $5 million dollars in a single day. It’s ambitious, but I have a good feeling.

I have my rose-colored glasses on.”

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