Donors Unite Gives the Gift of Charity
By Rachel Bosworth
Though the Hamptons may be thought of by some as a place of glitz and glamour catering to the socially elite, there is a strong community backbone within the East End towns. It was the outpouring of love and support Myron Levine and his family received following the tragic death of his son, Joshua, in 2010 that inspired the 75-year-old Sag Harbor resident to pay back the community by founding All For The East End (AFTEE). In collaboration with the Long Island Community Foundation, AFTEE granted more than $100,000 to East End charities over the past three years.
Through his work, Mr. Levine has met many leaders in the non-profit community with a similar struggle; increasing funding for their respective missions. In an effort to help these organizations, he created Donors Unite Inc.; a 501(c)3 donor-advised fund and Donors Unite Management Corp. to enable charities to operate a unique gift card program online. The website, donorsunite.org, launched Wednesday, May 3.
As an entrepreneur and philanthropist, Mr. Levine explains that last year in the United States approximately $375 billion was donated to charities, $260 billion coming from individuals. “It’s very misleading because that number is basically finite in that it only goes up or down marginally depending on the economy.”
Realizing how difficult it is for charities to increase donations, Mr. Levine began to think of a solution.
“The only way I figured out this could change would be to actually go and access a totally different pool of money. If you’re trying to access that same pool of money all you are doing is taking money from one charity and reallocating it to another. It’s just moving the dollars around; it’s not solving the problem.”
What he discovered is that there is a more than $1 trillion market for gift giving. Just the Christmas holiday alone $650 billion dollars was spent. Businesses attributed $18 billion to charitable donations last year, but spent around $88 billion on gifts. “It dawned on me that there’s so much money spent on gifts and much of that is more out of a sense of obligation than passion,” Mr. Levine says. “I’m not saying the gift giving is not appropriate, but there is some balance needed.”
This is where Donors Unite comes in. In lieu of a physical gift, an individual or business can purchase a gift card or code online and allow the recipient to gift the monies to a charity of their choosing, or the gift giver can choose the charity on their behalf.
Every public charity in the United States is on the website as it is powered by GuideStar, an information service specializing in reporting on non-profit companies. For a small fee, charities can sign up to be members, allowing for greater visibility, extra funds, access to more supporters, and marketing materials, said Mr. Levine. There are currently more than 80 member charities on Donors Unite.
One of the most exciting options Mr. Levine feels is the physical gift cards that can be customized and ordered in bulk. “These cards are more compatible with the way people give gifts and use cards now,” he says. “They can order these cards, have them at home or in their business, then the process becomes incredibly easy. All they need to do is instead of going through the process of making the card, they click ‘Buy Gift Code,’ select the number of codes, the amount, and after checking out you receive an email with the code.” The email will also include a receipt, as all purchases are tax deductible.
Donors Unite has already received great support from the community, said Mr. Levine. Bridgehampton National Bank is a lead sponsor, and East End Arts Council, Peconic Public Broadcasting, and Peconic Land Trust became member charities before the launch.
David Okorn, executive director of the Long Island Community Foundation, says, “As most non-profit organizations rely on a rather small contingent of donors, the Donors Unite gift card program could truly open new sources of funding by getting individuals as well as businesses to rethink what would be a meaningful gift to show someone they care, while at the same time benefiting charities of their choosing. Donors Unite really has something here that can be revolutionary for the world of non-profit fundraising.”
Mr. Levine also says there are plans to create a “Teach Children Philanthropy” program, promoting the Dignity Act in schools and teaching children about the causes within their own communities. Of what Mr. Levine hopes will have a national impact, he says, “Donors Unite is something that’s very unique; it got its origin locally, and has the potential to be as big as it is on the web.”