This Company Is Bringing Philanthropic Partnerships Into the Digital Era

We’re at an interesting crossroads for business and non-profits. As the world has become increasingly technology-driven, new, highly successful companies have sprung up offering traditional and convenient services through apps and online platforms. See: Uber, Venmo, Amazon, and hundreds, if not thousands of others. At the same time, long-established businesses have upped their tech offerings to stay competitive as well.

On the flip-side, we have the non-profit world, which still derives much of its revenue from black tie galas, telemarketing and volunteers soliciting donations outside of grocery stores. Which is unfortunate, because 1) Millennials love to give to worthy causes—almost as much as they love the convenience of Uber and Venmo, and 2) Companies partnering with charitable causes is becoming increasingly important in our social good-driven marketplace.

Pledgeling serves as a bridge between the non-profits who need donations, the companies that want to partner with them, and the tech-centric consumers who want to do good. According to their site, Pledgeling “provides simple, mobile-based tools to help businesses power secure donations and connect with the nonprofits of their choice. Specifically, Pledgeling’s mobile-based donations via text-to-donate and Apple Pay has made charitable giving faster and more accessible than ever.”

They even offer a “Give & Grow” app for Shopify clients, which allows vendors to quickly set up a donation option for the cause of their choice without having to deal with the financial and legal costs that come with working with a nonprofit.

Led by CEO James Citron, Pledgeling has powered donations for thousands of nonprofits impacting a variety of important causes. With over a decade in the B2B messaging industry, in 2015, James joined Pledgeling as CEO to bring his mobile and technology experience to the world of social impact.

We had a chance to talk to him about his work.

Net Impact LA: What inspired you to join Pledgeling as CEO?

James Citron: There were a few factors that came together at a unique time in my life that ultimately led to my decision to join Pledgeling. I’ve long been a believer in the power of capitalism and technological innovation to create disruptive change. The combination of these two things helped to fuel the growth and development of my last few companies, two of which grew to be amongst the largest mobile marketing companies in the country. During due diligence while selling my last company, I also became a father. While it’s a cliché, becoming a parent changes everything. I quickly realized that my next chapter had to be focused on creating an extraordinary company that had the potential for world-changing social impact. When I looked further at the growing movement toward conscious capitalism and companies doing good, I got excited by the market opportunity to provide a platform which empowers every company to give back and experience business growth through giving.

NILA: As you've worked to expand Pledgeling, what have been some of the most surprising things you've learned about people's views and attitudes toward charity, both from the nonprofit and donor side?

JC: It’s fairly surprising to me how many nonprofits are still fearful of embracing technology and the changing needs of younger audience segments. The next generation of donors expect transparency, efficiency and results, and many nonprofits are not moving quickly enough to respond to the needs of this audience.

I’m very proud that donors continue to demand more transparency and clarity about nonprofit impact from their nonprofits. In a world of big data, donors rightfully want to understand how their funds are going to be used, and what the impact of their donations and nonprofit’s programs will be. When done correctly, donors today will reward nonprofits that do this well with sustained loyalty and even evangelize their messages!  

NILA: What are some of the biggest obstacles facing the nonprofit community right now?

JC: There are a few big obstacles that I see…

CSR: One of the biggest opportunities for nonprofits is taking advantage of the new CSR opportunity—embedding social impact into today’s corporations. While consumer donations may stagnate or decline over the coming years (esp. if there is an economic downturn), the funding gap required by nonprofits to achieve their missions can easily be overcome by strategic partnerships with the right corporate partners, facilitated by technology platforms like Pledgeling. These partnerships can bring recurring and unrestricted funds to nonprofits at a scale unlike nearly all of our other fundraising channels.   

Millennials & Gen Z: The next few generations have a radically different view of nonprofits and expectations for those nonprofits. In a smartphone world, direct mail is irrelevant. Events like charity galas don’t typically resonate. Understanding and embracing the different expectations of today’s more savvy, younger donors is critical to building loyalty, engagement and ultimately, donations from this data-driven audience.

Overhead Ratios: The antiquated overhead ratio still drives fear among many nonprofits and influences a decreasing share of overall donations. There’s definitely a need for a new ratio based on successful outcomes and quantified impact, which far outweighs the standard overhead ratio formula.

NILA: How have you seen nonprofit involvement help businesses grow?

JC: We’ve seen up to 30% revenue growth for companies that integrate social impact into the DNA of the company. Making a donation to a nonprofit with every product sold empowers the customer with the knowledge that they are doing something good for the world. In turn, they become more loyal customers, they tell their friends about it, and it ends up increasing sales because the product does something good for the world. Our corporate partner, YogaClub, is a great example of this. We helped them to figure out the mission of their company (to provide access to yoga for all), and then partnered them with LA’s Best to provide one yoga class for a child in need with every box sold. YogaClub is not only providing an invaluable service for children in underserved areas, but also has increased their sales and engaged their employees because the company is now a mission-driven enterprise.