4 startups that make ‘giving’ part of their culture

When people discuss the startup sector, the emphasis is often on money – how much capital the founders have raised, profit margins, and even IPO prices – but what if we reversed this formula? Instead of focusing on profit, what if we shifted our attention to how startups give back to their communities? Though often overlooked, many of these same companies have made giving a central component of their overall mission.

Startup-based giving takes many forms, ranging from charity-centered brands whose services are a direct path to giving to companies that use their corporate platform as a launching point for correcting access inequalities. Regardless of how they structure their charitable work, however, what these companies all have in common is a compassionate social consciousness, as exemplified by these four startups.

Playing For Good

At first glance, it would seem we have a retro copycat on our hands. While the 1980s brought us the Garbage Pail Kids, a gross-out trading cards game made by Topps, now, we have TrashCanKidz, a project from a Mauritius-based startup interested in raising awareness about global inequality. When you delve below the surface, however, the gulf between the two products is wide.

The TrashCanKidz brand has several parts, centred on a video game meant to teach children about global resource inequality. Players are tasked with recycling garbage, improving the water supply, and performing other tasks that boost the health and well-being of orphaned and homeless children in developing countries.

The original game is free to play – the message is more important than the money – but upgrades, as well as a line of trading cards and dolls,  are available to purchase, and buyers choose the charity their purchases will benefit. By starting young, the designers behind TrashCanKidz hope to create a culture of social responsibility in the next generation.

Cabs Care for Community

Ridesharing is all the rage these days because it offers a measure of convenience and comfort in a fast-paced world, but would you switch back to a more traditional cab model if it helped your community? Rhett Havener, the founder of Charity Cab, wagered that people would – and he was right.

Charity Cab is a relatively small taxi company based in California, offering traditional services like airport transit, with a portion of each fare being donated to charity. With only four cabs, this may seem like a negligible effort, but the community has rallied around the business, which has resulted in over US$24 000 in donations – that’s a lot of rides!

Work With What You Have

TrashCanKidz and Charity Cab come from similar philanthropic spirits, but what about startups that fall into a more traditional, corporate camp? For these companies, sometimes the best way to give back is by using what you have.

That’s what data management giant Trifacta did when it partnered with nonprofits in an effort to organise and standardise their data. These organisations otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford such services, even though a well-structured data management system is vital to their operations.

Giving Goes Viral

Finally, it’s worth asking how people learn about charitable projects in a digital era. Do they just enter “volunteering near me” into Google and go tumbling down that rabbit hole? No, many people hear about fundraising and charity projects today through social media. Some of these projects even go viral, such as the ALS ice bucket challenge, or more recently the 22-day push-up challenge that’s raising awareness about veteran suicides.

Though knowing what messages will go viral is always unpredictable, the D.C.-based startup GoodWorld is working to boost philanthropy-oriented social media content. Structurally, the site is designed to make it easier for people to give money through social media, but giving alone isn’t enough. At its root, GoodWorld is interested in harnessing the power of social media to create a landslide or cycle of giving. Posting and sharing social initiatives, they believe, is enough to transform how we give – and how much we give.

As seen in these four examples, startup-based philanthropic work takes many different forms, and there’s no right way to approach it. Rather, the best strategy is to start where passion is present. If you’re doing something you love, you’ll have already laid the foundation for social transformation.

Feature image: Alan Levine via Flickr,

Anna Johansson


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