"For-Profit Doesn’t Mean for Evil” Bisnow

May 15, 2013 Written by  Comments Print

It's not just nonprofits and charities that attempt to make a change in the world. Some for-profit businesses are using their employees and revenue to create some of their own change.

Nick Stelmack is a big fan of music festivals where people camp out over a few days. But what bugged him was the sea of camping equipment left behind. So he started Project Shelter in Richmond, Va., to sell brand-new camping equipment online that's delivered to music festivals and then collect, clean, and donate what was left behind to disaster relief organizations, homeless shelters, and refugee camps. Two pilot programs he did produced $500 worth of camping gear to donate; he's waiting to collect more before making the first donation. He also recently partnered with Telluride Blues & Brews, a large music festival in Colorado. And yes, Nick goes to every festival where Project Shelter is participating.

greeNEWit helps people cut energy usage by offering education programs through utility companies, who then give credits to their customers. But the founders of the Columbia, Md.-based company also like social change, so Cleats for Bare Feet was launched in 2009. It collects gently-used soccer equipment for kids in need worldwide. Cleats for Bare Feet co-director Josh Massey says while improving energy efficiency makes an environmental impact, this gives kids a chance to reach their potential. The program has collected 6,000 pairs of cleats and just launched a crowdfunding campaign to create a web platform that directly connects donors with recipients.

Dave Haft's Impact Hub connects American companies with skilled people living in Africa. Known as impact sourcing, large corporations like Microsoft and Ancestry.com have provided Internet-based work to trained people living in some of the poorest areas of the world. The DC-based organization provides advice to companies interested in getting menial, repetitive digital tasks off their plate. The company recommends a handful of Impact Sourcing Service Providers in Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, and rural India. Dave says corporations aren't only fulfilling a need within their organization but building communities where there are few opportunities.

Online Auctions Bring In Big Cash

How much would you pay for an evening with Bruce Springsteen? It's a relevant question now that online auctions of experiences are growing in popularity. Nonprofits sell big-ticket dinners, meet-and-greets with well-known people, and premium seats at sporting events. They don't have to organize galas, and they get exposure to a different set of donors, says Charitybuzz biz dev rep Margaret Clarkson. She recently joined the New York-based high-end online auction site to head up its new DC office. Since launching in 2005, it's attracted nonprofits like the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, UNICEF, and Fashion for Paws.

Charitybuzz has a small staff but 80,000 registered bidders, with most representing the top 1% of income earners. So far the company, which takes 20% of what's been raised for overhead, has brought in over $80M for 1,600 nonprofits. Charitybuzz handles the credit card fees and fulfillments, as well as marketing to donors through emails and social media. Margaret says nonprofits should tap their board members for connections to well-known people who could offer themselves for auction items. And she also recommends being creative with auction ideas to bring in higher bids. Instead of just thinking of a dinner for two at Citronelle, make it a cooking lesson for 10 with the head chef.

What Immigration Reform Actually Means

Ayuda has been helping Hispanic immigrants with legal services for 40 years. Now, the DC-based nonprofit is bracing for major changes if immigration reform passes. Executive director Jaime Farrant tells us the proposed legislation is far from final, but if passed, undocumented immigrants would still have an average of 13 years worth of hurdles to becoming a citizen. Ayuda, which means "help" in Spanish, may need to invest in even more legal aid to help immigrants through the lengthy process. (One way to support that: Ayuda is throwing a gala this week to celebrate its four decades.)

The 26-staff organization also has an office in Falls Church, Va., where immigrants come for legal services on everything from asylum and work permits to domestic violence and human trafficking. It was launched to mainly serve the Latino community, but Jaime, who's from Puerto Rico, says people from 108 countries were helped by Ayuda last year because the demographics in the DC region have changed so dramatically. Funding comes from federal, state, and local governments, and individual and corporate donations.

Lines for Ayuda's services stretched around the block in the '90s. One of the organization's most successful programs has been an interpreter bank filled with people fluent in 42 languages, including sign language. (We once stood in line to listen to Bob Dylan, who barely speaks any languages.) Civil agencies in DC have used it to connect immigrants with interpreters who can help them communicate with their lawyers. The program will expand to Montgomery County when funding is approved.

The Mountain

For those of you who know Elliott Bisnow—our publisher's son and co-founder—here's a quick update. Five years ago, Elliott started his own company Summit, which has become a conference series for top young entrepreneurs around the world, called by Forbes "Davos for Generation Y." Last week, Summit bought a mountain—10,000 acre Powder Mountain one hour from Salt Lake City, and the largest skiable mountain in the US. Elliott is now CEO of Summit, with 50 core colleagues and 300 ski resort employees. Their plan is to preserve the old-fashioned atmosphere of the resort, which Ski Magazine has rated #2 in the US for snow and #1 for value, and to develop another side of the mountain as an eco-friendly, year-round gathering spot for innovators.

When the group gets together, they like to hear from all generations of entrepreneurs—like Ted Turner and TOMS Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie.
Or Richard Branson and early Google employee Chris Sacca. With company founders, they put together writers, artists, musicians, and non-profit leaders.

And get involved in helping the world. The plan for Summit Eden, as it's called (Eden is the apt name of the unspoiled town at the base of the mountain), is four seasons of conferences, music, sports, and brainstorming. Read more.

Who are the most powerful people in tech these days? Send names and reasons why to Bisnow's Tania Anderson.

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