Super-Stealthy Givvy to Offer Online “Charity Therapy”
Think about the causes that are closest to your heart—the environment? The wellbeing of children? Social justice? The fate of NBC’s critically acclaimed “Friday Night Lights?” Now think about the charitable donations you made last year. Even if you’re one of those incredibly organized people who has already gathered all of his 2007 receipts into neat piles and deposited them with the accountant, chances are you can’t really say just how well, or poorly, your charitable spending aligns with your beliefs and priorities. Givvy founder John Treadway thinks you’d feel better and make better decisions about giving—and ultimately, give more—if you had easy access to that and other information.
Treadway is building Givvy to provide online tools that give individual donors “more control and more empowerment over why, when, where, and how they give to charities.” What does that mean, exactly? I’d love to tell you, but the company is so brand spanking new (as in, founded in December, moved into its office in Framingham, MA, the week before last) that its only product right now is the intriguing, if coy, musings of its founder. (Delivered in person and via the Givvy blog.) Still, Treadway is giving away just enough to that you can imagine a Web portal that might help you plan, track, organize, and analyze your donations. Given the nagging guilt I feel over the fact that most of my own giving is done essentially at whim, usually in response to an over-the-transom appeal that happens to be particularly clever or resonant, I find the idea appealing.
A veteran of product management and business development at firms including Sybase, Powersoft, and Object Design, Treadway spent the last few years working on Digibug, a photography e-commerce services provider that he founded in 2003. When it became clear that the company wasn’t viable (Treadway says it will be sold or folded in the next couple of weeks) he started cooking up his plan for Givvy. The startup’s cofounders, Seth Lipkin and James Andrews, are developers that Treadway knew from his Digibug days. Givvy is operating on a bootstrap so far, Treadway says, and plans to try to drum up about half a million dollars in seed financing once the alpha version of its technology is ready, which should be next month.
Treadway promises to make more concrete details public once he’s produced something that people can get their hands on, but in the meanwhile he shared a few more tidibits: Givvy will target a broad audience of givers including “Xs, Ys, Zs, and boomers,” he says. It will incorporate lots of Web 2.0 features—user generated content, comments, and the like—as well as much of the same sort of tax data on charitable organizations that sites like Guidestar.org offer for would-be donors looking to peek under nonprofits’ hoods. But at Givvy’s core, Treadway says, will be very specific tools for “people who want to get a lot more systematic about how and what and where and why.”
There’s that “why” again. I told Treadway that when he says Givvy is helping people understand, among other things, why they’re giving, it almost sounds like therapy. “We can call it charity therapy,” he allows. Very wealthy individuals, he points out, often have lengthy conversations with their advisors about how they want to shape their financial legacy. “Why can’t the average person have the same thought process and discussion about what they want their legacy to be?” Treadway asks. “We expect it will be therapeutic, though that’s not the intention,” he adds. “But we want people to look back at the end of the year and feel good about what they’ve done.”
Treadway is, of course, saying close to nothing about how Givvy intends to make money amidst all this giving and feeling good. “I can tell you one way we’re not going to make money—we’re not going to touch a dime of the donations that go through the system,” he says. Beyond that, all he’ll cop to is the general notion that there are three ways to make money online: ads, subscription or user fees, and commerce. “It will be in one or more of those three categories that we will make money,” he says.
Givvy will be ready for a controlled beta test by the end of the second quarter, Treadway says. Meanwhile, I’m off to think about whether I’ve really been putting my charitable money where my public-health-concerned mouth is. Now where did I put those receipts?