Baltimore's GiveCorps helps donors make small gifts count
A look at what a focus on local projects and an average donation of $34 can do
Wide Angle Youth Media's middle school coordinator, Sarah Milinski, student Davon Hughes and donor Abby Ferretti pose outside the Herring Run Branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, during a Monday-afternoon Baltimore Speaks Out! class for middle-school age pupils. (Karl Merton Ferron / The Baltimore Sun / December 12, 2011)
Four times a week, she volunteers with an organization called Back on My Feet, where she goes on 5:30 a.m. runs with residents of local homeless shelters. She's not the type to just write a check and then forget about it, during the holiday season or at any time of year. That's why she chose to donate through GiveCorps, a Baltimore-based business that launched in August, which connects local donors to local organizations trying to fund small projects.
"It was nice to see it in tangible terms because as a volunteer we're often asked to donate and certainly there's always ways to donate, but the [GiveCorps] project was a nice way to see a specific goal and to know that you're going to actually meet it," said Ferretti. "If it's a small goal, it's within the realm of possibility. It's not just an endless finish line."
GiveCorps project donations are parceled out in small increments, usually around $25, with clear line items that explain where the money goes. It's catching on. GiveCorps had 200 subscribers to its daily email when it launched; now it boasts 4,000. Of its 1,200 donors at givecorps.com, 55 percent are younger than 40, and the organization has raised more than $53,000, with an average gift of $34.
"GiveCorps is all about engagement, recognition and reward for small donors. We market our projects across every platform we can: our website, a daily email, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and grassroots events," said GiveCorps CEO Jamie McDonald, 48. "It's also critical that they feel great about giving, no matter what amount they donate."
For donors who can't afford to make large gifts or who dislike the impersonal nature of sending a check to a general fund, GiveCorps allows them to feel that they're making a significant, particular contribution. The site also has a social media element — donors can get discounts to local businesses, such as Woodberry Kitchen and Bare Hills Racquet and Fitness Club.
"If you donate $20 on a $2,000 project, that's 1 percent of the total. If you wanted to make a 1 percent contribution to the United Way, you're donating over $100,000," said Kyle Gore, 41, a frequent GiveCorps donor. "It's the same reason why people want to eat local food. People want to see it in their community. They want to see that every dollar is impactful."
For the organizations themselves, which often don't have fundraising staff, GiveCorps provides logistical support as well as access to a network of donors ready to open their wallets.
"I loved the main mission of it, encouraging young professionals to be more civic-minded. I like that the hook is a Groupon model. I think it's a great way of thinking to encourage more people to give back to the community," said Roswell Encina, 41, director of communications for the Enoch Pratt Free Library.
Here's a look at a few of the 66 projects GiveCorps is currently promoting, and how small donations can add up to something big.
SEEDing the Power of Music
Sponsor: The SEED School of Maryland (seedfoundation.com)
The Goods: Musical instruments for a band at a public boarding school
The Goal: Originally $2,250; now $3,000
Average gift so far: $49 [Note: all average gifts were rounded to the nearest dollar.]
Khalek Kirkland, head of the SEED School of Maryland, wants the students at his tuition-free, college preparatory public boarding school to have everything, not just the bare necessities. And they wanted a band.
"The long-term goal was to perform at large venues and having a string and horn sections and do amazing things, but we saw that it was very costly to start off the band," said Kirkland, 40.