When Brandon Black took his first finance class during his undergraduate studies at Georgia State, he didn’t expect a business partnership to come out of it.
After he graduated and entered the workplace, he found himself thinking about entrepreneurship often. He visited his former professor Genna Brown for career advice and, after a quick conversation about possible ideas, Brown shared the idea for a social good startup. They decided to co-found the business and bring technology into non-profit silent auctions.
GIVIN is a fundraising platform that works like an online, crowdsourced silent auction. Donors post any item for auction and, once it sells, the platform sends 100 percent of the proceeds to the non-profit designated by the donor. The platform allows users to donate goods, services, and even vacation rentals. At the end, donors get a write-off for their charitable contribution along with necessary tax receipts.
Black shares more about how the unusual partnership validated their idea and overcame challenges.
How did you and your professor decide to start a business together?
I stopped in to visit her one afternoon. I was telling her about how I disliked the company I was working for at the time. I was essentially working at a call center, and I didn’t get a Finance degree to do that. I told her that I felt like I could be a successful business owner, but that I didn’t have any ideas. She responded with the idea for an online auction site that creates a consistent source of income for non-profits.
What were your next steps to establishing GIVIN beyond that idea?
We had to ask a lot of questions and do a lot of research. We considered what people would want out of our website, how would we make it easy to use, and how would we even build a website — neither Genna nor I knew how to build a website. We had to figure out if we were going to model our business as a for-profit or non-profit.
What problem does GIVIN solve?
GIVIN is a way to modernize fundraising without having to host a charity event or gala. Those are events that involve frivolous spending on things like fancy venues, expensive catering, and gowns. That’s backward if you ask me. The goal is to raise money for a cause, not to spend money.
How does GIVIN work?
We designed the website to be a bartering program, similar to Poshmark. However, the proceeds don’t go to the seller. Proceeds from purchases go directly to non-profits. Users create a GIVIN account, similar to eBay, where you can sell or purchase items. When a seller goes to post an item on our website, they declare which non-profit they want the proceeds to go to.
We have a list of top non-profits that sellers can give proceeds to, but any organization registered as a 501(c)3 can receive proceeds, including churches.
Who are your competitors?
There’s no other site that competes with us. Amazon Smile is a non-profit niche within Amazon where you can donate five percent of a transaction to a charity of your choice. With GIVIN, we’re not going to donate anything less than ninety percent. The most we take from a transaction is 10 percent, but that’s just to cover the cost of running the website.
Another unique factor of GIVIN is that we don’t just sell products for charity. People can also donate the cost of their services to charity as well. For example, I could rent a room in my house for $80 a night and donate those proceeds to a charity.
Is GIVIN funded or bootstrapped?
We’re a bootstrapped company. Genna and I have supported the company entirely out of our pockets. We’re able to do that because of the lower overhead. The most expensive aspect of our company is our website.
How many employees GIVIN have?
We have a contracted web developer, accountant and marketing coordinator.
What’s next for GIVIN?
We want to be bigger than eBay. We want those same customers to use GIVIN to shop with purpose and feel good about helping other people.
If you’re interested in shopping or selling for good, head to the website!
Stephanie Scott is a Georgia State University student studying Journalism. She works as a Social Media Coordinator at GSU’s Entrepreneurship & Innovation Institute.