Monica Weintraub, Co-Founder of Down to Donate
Connecting and sharing with others has become a whole lot easier since the rise of social media. But how often do you find yourself (or your friends) complaining online about societal, political, and/or environmental issues without taking action? Probably more than you'd like to admit. Enter Down To Donate, a charity subscription service that asks you to donate only $8 each month and believes a small sum of money from a lot of people can create a huge impact. Who's one of the masterminds behind this startup? Meet Monica Weintraub, the co-founder, and CEO of Down To Donate. Continue reading to learn how Monica is revolutionizing the philanthropy space.
Monica, can you describe to our community how Down To Donate is redefining philanthropy?
So, as long as I can remember, the word “philanthropist” has been reserved for the elite who donate what seems like an infinite amount of money to a cause or people in need. In reality, philanthropy is the desire to promote the welfare of others and literally anybody in the world can do that, whether or not they’re wealthy and retired.
We believe that anyone who positively contributes to any underserved person or the planet deserves to be recognized as a philanthropist. If you happen to pick up a little bit of trash in your community on the weekends, you’re a philanthropist in our eyes. If all you can afford as far as time and money go is to donate $8 a month on our platform, you’re also a philanthropist. We believe there’s power in numbers, and if we all gave back a microscopic amount of time or money every now and then, the world could absolutely change for the better.
So we did some digging and learned you’re quite the traveler. How did your experiences overseas influence the development of DTD?
Admittedly, before I started traveling I thought America was the greatest nation in the world. I was definitely not from a patriotic military family or anything, I just assumed that because I hadn’t been anywhere else in the world and was doing fine, that the U.S. had everything I’d ever need.
About a year into living abroad, I started to think about if I could ever live in The States again, as it was clear that we had been doing so many things backwards compared to how other countries operated. I had lived in China for seven years and traveled around several countries in Europe and Asia. During that whole time, I was able to leave a bar at 4 am, walk home by myself, and feel totally safe in any one of the countries I had been to. I’ve been back in the US for almost one year, and now I own pepper spray. It’s a strange dynamic to not only see how bad things are on the news but to actually feel them in your day to day life.
As the 2016 elections took place I was living in China and saw so many people complaining online and felt that they have the opportunity to put their money where their mouth is and have it genuinely make a difference. A lot of people around the world don’t have that same power and can rarely influence policy change as a normal citizen. We see it happen in the U.S. all of the time, but it really does start with the help of nonprofit organizations. From there I thought we needed to support them better in a way that’s more friendly to our generation, thus Down to Donate being born.
Down To Donate’s business model is one we’re all familiar with, the monthly subscription. From beauty boxes to streaming services to meal prepping kits, this form of payment has simplified how we consume products and services. How was your experience pitching this idea to nonprofit organizations and people in your community? What is one aspect of this model that surprised you once you launched DTD?
I love this question. I get one of two responses from people when I tell them about DTD: “Omg I love it.” or “Why wouldn’t I just donate to a nonprofit directly?”
To the latter, I say, “Well, do you?” And oftentimes the response is no, proving my point. But ultimately, I don’t care if people bypass my service and donate to nonprofits directly. As long as they’re donating, I’m happy.
Nonprofits either love it or hate it. Our nonprofit partners are awesome and truly understand the need to reach Millennials and Gen Z. They are already struggling with finding an authentic voice if they weren’t founded by someone in one of those generations or they don’t run a nonprofit with a cause that resonates with us. The ones that aren’t on board with the idea are still old school in their ways and likely have some great partnerships that secure them grants and large donations, so when a nobody like me approaches them, they laugh at the idea of an $8 donation. It’s also about trust, so when I say a “nobody like me”, I mean it. Having random people approach you about ideas like this can be off-putting, and I get that.
We’re still a startup and could easily be wrong about this whole subscription model thing. But if we end up failing at trying to make social impact more accessible, I don’t think we will have much of a problem sleeping at night.
As millennials, we frequently participate in internet activism. How effective is internet activism? In what ways is Down to Donate changing how young people get involved in their communities?
Internet activism is so tricky. It depends on the campaign. Look at the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. It was genius. You get to do something silly, make a video of it for a good cause, and recruit another person to do it with you. It was engaging and you wanted to be a part of it. It also met the needs of the Facebook algorithm: User Generated Content? Check. Lots of personal information? Check. Shareable? Check. But my favorite part about it was that people took pride in their contribution to society, whereas before we were told to be humble about giving back.
But so many other campaigns don’t have that. Maybe there’s a hashtag. But every brand has one. That hashtag gets quickly buried in the news cycle when something else terrible or amazing happens. Internet activism has failed more than it has worked, but when it works, it’s so astonishing to sit back and watch it do its magic. Remember KONY 2012? That was insane. I was in China ready to fly to Africa to take out bad guys. I mean, we sent 100 Special Forces military advisers out with countless A-list celebs endorsing the project. How wild is that? It’s something all businesses strive for — virality.
Down to Donate isn’t there by any means. We’re trying to find out what works more. Internet activism? Or what people are really craving; connections. We eventually want to connect people IRL with other everyday change-makers so we can normalize social good.
Giving back doesn’t have to be this huge dedicated part of your life. It can be donating a few bucks once a month to your local animal shelter or even bringing your reusable bag to the grocery store. But if we can get all these people in one place who do little acts of kindness, they can start connecting and coming up with larger ideas that will change the world.
How have older generations responded to Down To Donate? Do they like this new way of donating? Or is there still a nostalgia in asking for donations face-to-face?
There is both approval and disapproval from older generations, but they know the money is where the people are, which is on the internet. Online giving was up nearly 25% in 2017, so pivot or bust, I guess. The hardest part for nonprofits is that even though they want to focus on their online campaigns, they don’t have the budget to do so.
This is a huge stigma we’re trying to fight. For example, nonprofits get so much flack when they use donor dollars for anything besides the cause. This is particularly unfair because it doesn’t allow them to spend on ads or new campaigns. It keeps them in the stone age when they can’t even run an Instagram ad with a $20 donation and turn that $20 donation into perhaps a $100 donation through that ad. We want to give them dollars for advertising purposes, but also advertise for them and take the risks they may not be able to.
The other issue is possibly even bigger. Everyone has this old school belief that you’re supposed to do this type of work “out of the kindness of your heart.” The problem is, kindness doesn’t pay the bills.
This mentality has stopped nonprofits from being able to hire and keep on incredibly talented and dedicated staff who might be able to truly change the world at a faster rate. If a full-stack engineer has the option to make $120K annually starting at Facebook, or take on the same job at a nonprofit out of the kindness of their heart making a max of $46K annually, where do you think they’re going to go?
That person can not only donate a third of their salary to a nonprofit as a Facebook employee and still make more than they would working at a nonprofit, they can also write that donation off, and probably even get on the board of directors at the nonprofit because of their one-time donation, with little involvement in the nonprofit.
It’s not fair. And if we hope to change anything, that’s it.
We read that one of the trends for charitable giving forecasted for 2019 is the rise of impact investing among millennials. It’s described as one investing money to local entrepreneurs that are committed to making social change for profit and on a long-term basis. Most importantly, one expects a financial return on their investment. What’s your opinion on this trend? And how do you think it’ll impact the philanthropy space?
I love this question because it goes hand in hand with the financial issue I just mentioned for nonprofits. Why can’t people make money and do good for the world? Why have we baked this into the crust of our society that nonprofit and social work means you don’t want to live a financially stable life? Imagine the talent the space would have if people could get better salaries while doing meaningful work? Imagine the world-changing ideas that have gone unshared because people were afraid to profit off of them?
It’s taken decades for us to have a public dialogue about fast fashion polluting the planet and plastic water bottles destroying the oceans. Yet we don’t even think twice about making a quick, cheap purchase from Forever 21 or a gas station for a drink. Where does that money go? Who does it benefit at the top? What other problems does it cause? Are people profiting from it? Yes. Do the majority of us care? Not so much.
So if corporations can profit off of your basic needs while causing damage to people and our planet, why can’t we profit off of the people trying to undo the shortcomings of these conglomerates?
I am going to shamelessly plug my podcast here, Good Work, where I interview people profiting off of social good on this exact topic.
How would you like to expand Down To Donate in the coming years?
On the tech side, I really want DTD to be the crowdfunding-meets-subscription platform it was meant to be, but I also really want to give nonprofits the tech that can truly streamline donations at offline fundraising events. In China, QR codes for payments leave credit cards and cash in the dust. A quick scan and your transaction is complete. I want this for nonprofits so anyone with our future app can scan and make an impact in seconds.
On the IRL side, as I mentioned, I just want people who partake in social impact to come together in any way. You don’t have to be a saint to do good, and I feel like a lot of people think they have to give up their daily lives in order to help. You don’t. You can have a beer after a day of volunteering. You can party with a purpose. And people love to have fun, especially when they know they are serving the underserved while doing it.
Interviewed by Reneé