Richard Morris questioned traditional fundraising and invented free-giving as a way of suitable, convenient and effective supporting good causes by individual donors. In 2006 he founded TheGivingMachine, a non-profit social enterprise, which enables online shoppers to generate free donations with every purchase. It happens at no extra cost, just by diverting a commission that retailers would normally pay to a search engine, to the customer's chosen charity instead.
He describes The Giving Machine in his very first book Givenomics, but also challenges all three parts of one side of the equation (businesses, beneficiaries, shoppers) to work together in order to produce more than the simple sum: synergy. According to Richard evolution of economics toward a win-win, customer's empowering scheme is inevitable.
Barbara, OpenBooks.com: Do you think that Givenomics – the economy of giving truly has the potential to change the economic ecosystem? If ‘yes’, then probably The Giving Machine may be the first tool to start the process, but definitely not the only one. Do you have any further ideas, so that ‘businesses can be part of the solution and not part of the problem’?
Richard Morris: It’s a great question. The Giving Machine charity is there to champion the overall concept and is there to develop the tools and platforms over time to make it easier. Many smaller, local businesses already understand the benefits of being connected to their local community, but those connections fall away once businesses get larger and less part of one local geography and part of regional, national or international economies. Essentially, it’s all about ensuring that your businesses has some form of positive impact to the communities and causes that matter to your staff and customers. This could be achieved in so many ways.
Companies could stop sending corporate Christmas cards and use the money saved on cards and postage to create a community fund and then send more eco-friendly e-cards and ask their audience to help nominate where it should go.
Companies could define a Corporate Social Responsibility budget and allow staff and customers to all decide on where a share of that goes. The size of that budget could be related to company performance for example.
Does The Giving Machine accept all retailers, no matter what products they sell? What if the brand or product has an opinion of being ‘unfair trade’ or ‘environmentally unfriendly’?
R. M.: Another great question. We do not accept gambling websites onto our system as we feel that this is not something that we could market. Some of the brands we work with may have some of these issues attached to them. Demonstrating that commerce and giving work well for companies, customers and communities is the best way to help turn large companies towards a more economically sustainable path. Empowering customers to make choices on criteria other than just price is the key. With other organizations championing other aspects of commerce, we have a chance to help companies “become part of the solution” together.
R. M.: We cannot yet enable all shops to participate just due to economies of scale and the platforms needed. We currently use a number of tracking platforms that shops can join but they tend to favour medium to large volume shops rather than small independent ones. It is my hope that with further investment in our charity it will be possible to make our services available to all retailers. We want to be inclusive to all schools, charities and community organizations, people and shops.
How can charity organizations ‘stand out from the crowd’ since there are so many of them in The Giving Machine system? In your opinion should they compete for attention or rather cooperate?
R. M.: This is a key issue for all causes and I am a trustee of East Herts YMCA too so I see the issue from another angle. It is the primary responsibility of the causes themselves to develop a supporter base and for larger numbers of people to understand the problems they are trying to solve and how they are doing that. The Giving Machine makes it easier to engage prospective supporters with a “free to give” request and makes it easier for existing supporters to give more at no extra cost. In this way, we help causes tap into the rising trend of e-commerce. The other unique approach we have is to enable users to support up to 4 causes. This helps causes become part of a giver’s portfolio rather than making them try to displace another cause. So yes, I think co-operation is important. Why wouldn’t you want to support your children’s school, a hospice AND help find a cure for Alzheimer’s at the same time as just one example.
Do you think the success of The Giving Machine depends more on growing number of retailers, beneficiaries or rather customers?
R. M.: The success of the concept in general is probably best measured in the number of times people consciously decide to make a difference to causes they choose. This is affected by many factors including the number of shops, the number of causes and especially the number of people engaging.
Have any people / businesses / charities adapted the idea of Givenomics in other countries?
R. M.: This concept is gaining appeal and I do know of other businesses adopting a personalized giving model - there is a retail bank in Canada doing just that now. To be honest, I have been working hard with my team to rebuild our platforms and service for scale so have not had much time to look up over the last year or so.
I have been working for NGOs in Poland for years, so I read your book with great interest. I would very much like to have this idea explained in a more graphical form, even kind of info-graphic. I’ve seen one on The Giving Machine website - didn’t you want to include it in your book?
R. M.: I have a feeling that we had not completed the info-graphic at that time but yes, if/when I update the book, I should do that.
Let’s assume that someone would like to start up The Giving Machine in Poland. What simple steps to take could you suggest to them?
R. M.: I would suggest that the need for funding is important because our rebuild of the platforms has been expensive. Fortunately, we secured the investment. My suggestion would be not to take the organic growth path if you can avoid it and partner with an organization like The Giving Machine to do that as speed to market and scalability would be important. Finding a large retail partner may also be a good initial approach. Also, depending on the commercial environment, it may be that The Giving Machine’s approach in the UK may not be the best start for Poland. If I can help in any way - please let me know.