How 2 local startups teamed up to raise more than $1M for charity

January 13, 2017

When Evite CEO Victor Cho joined the company two years ago, he spent a great deal of time looking at the site's users. He discovered people were creating events with Evite for charity, yet the event creators would have to use third-party sites to bring in the money at a heavy tax.

Cho and his team met with the Venice-based Pledgeling team in late 2015 and the duo realized they could help users donate to charities more efficiently. A year later, they reported that the relationship, known as Evite Donations, had raised more than $1 million, with no sign of letting up. We caught up with both companies to learn how they did it. 

 

When did the idea for Evite Donations really strike you as a viable option?

One of the very first things I did upon starting at Evite two years ago was to go very deep into the customer behavior to understand key questions like: 'How are people using Evite today? What features and functions are missing? What could we do better to make throwing a party more effortless?' One of the more interesting use-cases that we found was that people were actually using invitations to raise money, but they were doing it in a very manual and painful way — pasting links to third party donation sites that took a big percentage cut, or using Paypal. It was clear to me that this could be done in a much more integrated way, with a lot less friction. The big open question for me was how we could integrate donations without Evite ever taking a fee. The day we met the Pledgeling team for the first time and realized they shared the same vision in terms of frictionless, fee-free donations was the day I knew this would become a reality. 

How has the process of working with Pledgeling worked out?

Pledgeling has been the perfect partner on all fronts, and I'm not just saying that because we're doing this interview together. Working together, we have actually redefined the invitation experience to incorporate a one-click donation, we have built new business and support processes to allow customers to add new charities into the underlying database (sometimes within just hours), and more. We are truly working together as one team, and we’re just getting started. 

How has Evite evolved in the last several years?

Over the last two years our teams have been hard at work literally reinventing the product from the ground up. All of our designs have been modernized and updated, we have robust mobile experiences in every major mobile platform for the first time, we have expanded the power of invitation with things like one-click donations, instant gifting, etc. And just this last quarter we launched a Private Feed that is attached to every invitation so that people can privately share their party photos, exchange comments, and more. 

Do you believe LA's rapid growth as a tech market will convert to more joint philanthropic efforts?  

The L.A. tech ecosystem has actually grown substantially in just the last two years that I have been at the helm at Evite. I actually get a very interesting comparative view because I live in the Bay Area, which is really the center of the software/internet tech universe. But L.A. is clearly making significant strides forward. I was initially worried about our ability to find the best technical talent here and I have been very pleased that it has not been an issue in the least. All of the supporting infrastructure that you need to build a high-performing, mass-scale consumer internet business exists here in L.A. In terms of the philanthropic arc, I only hope that our example can help set the tone for other companies. I am a firm believer that any business that has scale needs to find ways to turn that scale into positive social impact. 

 

Pledgeling's core mission as a startup is to partner with brands and organizations to help do good. The company's platform is designed to allow businesses to bond with consumers over philanthropical efforts, helping the companies stand out and active helping the world a better place. As luck would have it, the startup met Cho and company at exactly the right time, according to CEO (and LA tech veteran) James Citron.

When did the idea to partner with Evite first come up?

A handful of months before we launched the partnership in late-2015, our team had approached Evite about the opportunity to partner and turn every event into an event with impact. As the best partnerships often are, the timing was perfect, as Victor had recognized a growing consumer demand to better integrate charitable giving and I had recently joined Pledgeling as CEO.

How long did it take to hammer out a deal?

I believe the best partnerships move quickly when there’s a core set of shared values, and this partnership is definitely a good example of this philosophy. While we didn’t launch overnight (it took roughly a quarter to finalize our relationship and launch), the teams worked efficiently and the discussions progressed quickly because collectively we shared the following guiding principles: 

  • Consumers want to give back: We believed the consumers wanted this capability, which Evite’s existing consumer data supported.
  • There’s a fundamental macro-shift to social impact, over pure consumerism: We agreed that there’s a sizable shift happening now in society where consumers are increasingly cause-oriented and would often prefer to give back versus receiving more gifts.
  • Creating an easy, frictionless donation experience for consumers could unlock tremendous impact for charities and communities, while also furthering both companies’ missions.

How did the two startups work together to create the tool?

Pledgeling was intimately involved in the development of Evite Donations from the outset, as we sought to collectively create the most frictionless charitable donation experience possible. Today, a host can choose to pledge their event to their favorite charity by selecting from a growing database of charities in only seconds. Guests can donate to the host’s selected charity directly through the Evite invitation and receive a real-time donation receipt for tax-deductible purposes in less than one minute. The ability to simplify this entire consumer experience (from selecting a charity to donating to tracking the total amount of donations raised against an optional fundraising goal) are key competitive advantages of Pledgeling’s platform integration as the “powered by” donations partner. Hence, we have been intimately involved in the design and implementation of the service. 

What are Pledgeling's immediate plans?

Pledgeling is fortunate to be working with and launching partnerships with some of the most recognizable brands in the world, including both well-known consumer companies and nonprofits. Most companies today recognize that in the current economy it's necessary to add social impact and giving to their businesses for sustainable and scalable growth — and many of them are turning to Pledgeling based on our success and our proprietary platform. This macro-shift toward an impact-based economy is only accelerating, driven in large part by consumers, especially Millennials and Gen Z, who demand greater transparency & choice when it comes to social impact. Pledgeling believes nearly all successful consumer brands will have to respond to this shift in the coming years ahead. 

Do you believe LA's rapid growth as a tech market will convert to more joint philanthropic efforts?  

This is my third startup that I have run in LA over the past 10 years and LA is almost unrecognizable in its maturation, diversity and growth since my first startup, Mogreet, that I founded back in 2006. At that time, LA felt scrappy — there was a lot of talent and some great companies, but we hadn’t quite established ourselves as a true hub of innovation and major tech ecosystem yet. While LA had to fight for its place and stature back then, you could easily make an argument that there’s no better place in the world to start a company than right here today in our own backyard. Today, we have incredible talent (yes, even engineers!), a diversified economy where technology is being applied across a myriad of industries to create high-growth companies, and, perhaps most importantly, a maturing and seasoned set of entrepreneurs, investors, service providers and complete ecosystem that understands what it takes to build successful and sustainable companies. 

Without question, I believe that LA can lead the way in using technology for good and already several companies today evoke this trend, from companies in the range of TOMS to the Honest Company to Evite to Goods360. LA has always been a city of micro-communities and I believe our continued successes and community values create the foundation for LA to be the epicenter of social entrepreneurship over the next decades to come.

 

Images via Evite and Pledgeling. Some responses were edited for length and clarity.

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