Givvy Launches Online Tools for Getting Organized About Your Charitable Giving

9/12/08

Back in February I tried a million different ways to get Givvy founder John Treadway to tell me exactly what is was his months-old startup was building. The best I could get out of him at the time was something about online tools that give individual donors “more control and more empowerment over why, when, where, and how they give to charities,” and a lot of intriguing talk about the idea that people would feel better and give more if they were more able to ensure that their charitable spending aligned with their beliefs and priorities.

It wasn’t much, but it was enough to make me really wish I could play around with these tools and now I—and you—can do just that. The Framingham, MA-based startup debuted Givvy.com earlier this week in the DemoPit at the TechCrunch50 conference in San Francisco, and will be a “main dish” presenter next Monday at the Web Innovators Group meeting in Boston.

From what I’ve seen so far—and I’m still really just warming up the engine for my test drive of the system—Treadway and his crew have put together a nice set of Web 2.0-style features and tools while still keeping things fairly clean and approachable.

There’s a database of 1.4 million charities that you can search, browse by tags, and edit. (Can you imagine the edit wars likely to break out on the entries for, say PETA or the NRA?) There are simple tools for making one-time or scheduled donations to the charities you choose (donations are processed through the nonprofit Network for Good, which takes a 4.75% fee), and for recording donations you make outside of the Givvy system. You can get various reports on what you’ve given, including an end-of-year tally for tax purposes; network with other Givvy users; create virtual “funds” of charities around the causes that interest you or make donations to funds that other users have created; and so forth. There’s also a tool for creating a “Givving Plan” which aims to help you take stock of the causes you care about, how much you have to give, and plan your donations accordingly.

All of it is free to individual users, but Treadway says Givvy is developing a new subscription-based application on top of the existing system targeted at businesses.

Givvy is still very much in beta and I’ve run into a fair number of, let’s call them, quirks already—starting with a registration page that was reluctant to send me my activation e-mail. And I wonder how people will react to the social-networking aspects of the system. (Do most of us really want to publicly list all the places we put our charitable dollars, even if it is under a user name?) But I still think the main idea is a compelling one, and that Treadway’s arguments about the relationship between these kinds of tools and more thoughtful and generous giving could prove true.

Of course, as with any site or service that incorporates a lot of user-generated content and social networking features, Givvy will ultimately be only as good as the effort and thought that users put into it. And it’s still such early days (Treadway says there are only about a hundred users so far) that the site does feel awfully spare right now. The database entries for all the charities I’ve looked up so far, for instance, were bare-bones—none provided enough to base a giving decision on if you weren’t already familiar with the organization. But I think there’s reason to hope Givvy users will do the necessary pitching in to make the system a truly useful one—they are, by definition, a charitable bunch.

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