Richmond-based PlanG website is expected to engage young donorsMay 29, 2012 6:00 AM
by M.J. McAteer
The face of philanthropy is changing, and its new look isn’t just skin deep. These days, donors of all ages want to have more say in how their contributions are dispensed, and they require more transparency from the nonprofits they support. Younger donors, such as the members of Generation X and their successors, Generation Y, also demand near instant access to information. They live social and professional lives that are increasingly techno-centric, and they see no reason why their giving lives shouldn’t be the same.
Enter PlanG, which is designed to cater to all these expectations. CEO Marti Beller, who co-founded the new Richmond-based website with Melina Davis-Martin and Heather Loftis, describes it as “an open-choice, tech-based system” that will speak particularly well to younger donors. She believes that the site, scheduled for a soft launch this month, will be the first attempt to offer the online equivalent of one-stop shopping for philanthropists large and small.
At PlanG — the “G” stands for giving — individuals will be able to donate directly to any of almost 2 million U.S. nonprofits tracked by GuideStar, a Williamsburg-based database service. Donors will have the ability to track their contributions easily and will have access to a centralized record of their giving history.
The site, which will cost nothing for individuals to use, is intended to facilitate direct-dollar donations, but it also will allow users to monitor or join charitable campaigns or run campaigns of their own. Just like on Facebook, participants will have the capacity to create their own page where they can gather friends and post comments, updates and messages, in this case, concerning the progress of their fundraising venture.
“It will be the answer to a lot of generational giving,” says Melissa Hough, executive director of the nonprofit Partnership for Nonprofit Excellence, which provides advice and assistance to charitable organizations in Central Virginia. Younger givers, she says, want to feel attached to a cause, and at PlanG, “They will be able to see where they fit into the big picture.”
Employers and online retailers will have an on-site presence at PlanG, too. If, for example, an employer has a matching gifts program, its employees can use the site to designate how their gifts should be allotted. Further, retailers who give a percentage of their sales to charity or run time-sensitive promotions attached to a cause will be able to post information on-site about how to participate in their programs. PlanG already is linked to 250 online merchants, including Target, Banana Republic, Ann Taylor and The Gap.
“I am a true believer that a brand has to stand for more than just a product,” says Howard Curtis, the marketing director for MAPCO, a chain of 377 convenience stores located in the Southeast. Curtis says his company already has experimented successfully with co-branding with local organizations, but he believes participating in PlanG will broaden its reach. “PlanG will open up a charitable platform that is about more than discounts on gas and freebies in the store,” he says.
PlanG itself will be a for-profit enterprise. Although Davis-Martin, a former CEO of the American Lung Association of the Atlantic Coast, has extensive experience in the nonprofit sector, Beller and Loftis both have backgrounds in big business, primarily working with loyalty programs for credit card companies and financial institutions. Like credit card and debit card companies, PlanG will make its money by charging nonprofits a transaction fee equal to a small percentage of the donations that they receive through the site.
“Micro-donations are expensive to raise,” says Loftis, PlanG’s executive vice president for marketing, but she adds that the online approach to fundraising in small increments should reduce standard costs to charities by about two-thirds.
PlanG began raising its seed money more than a year ago. Although Beller says that it had offers of $3 million to $4 million from investors elsewhere, she and her partners wanted to stay in Richmond. They subsequently have garnered the backing of some prominent area executives, including Satya Rangarajan, co-founder and chief operating officer of Health Diagnostic Laboratory, and Jim and Bobby Ukrop, the former owners of the Richmond-based Ukrop’s Super Markets Inc.
“PlanG is a wonderful concept,” says Jim Ukrop. “It’s innovative and creative, and I am impressed with its leadership.”
“PlanG is going to change the face of philanthropy and personal giving,” says Hough of the Partnership for Nonprofit Excellence. “We’re over the moon with the concept.”
Beller expects that PlanG’s growth will relate directly to its understanding of the latest generation of donors. “This generation wants to interact when, where and how it wants, and it has a high bar as to what it expects,” she says. “PlanG should be its ultimate enabler.”
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