Sag Harbor’s Myron Levine is on a mission. In his own words, “[This is] something that will revolutionize charitable giving. I believe it will go viral and become a nationally known entity. And it all originated because of what happened to me here on the East End of Long Island.”
“Unfortunately, Donors Unite’s genesis was due to a personal tragedy. We lost our eldest son Joshua in 2010 due to a tragic accident on a farm in Amagansett. The outpouring of love and support Sue, I, our grandchildren and daughter-in-law received from the East End community was amazing. The community was more like the fictional town, Mayberry, from The Andy Griffith Show than the place people associate with ‘the Hamptons.’ So, I decided to pay the community back by founding the charity All for The East End (AFTEE), which raised and—through a grant process administered by the Long Island Community Foundation—granted in excess of $100,000 to East End charities over the past three years. (AFTEE still exists and can be found at aftee.org.)
“My work with AFTEE put me in direct contact with many leaders of the not-for-profit community on the East End. In talking to them, it struck me that they were faced with an almost impossible task in trying to increase their funding to support their respective missions. Traditionally charities are all funded through access to the same pot of money—charitable donations. While that pot is large, $355 billion last year, it’s basically finite and does not go up or down much from year to year. To the extent, if you look to that pool of money to raise additional funds for charities, all you’re doing is reallocating money from one charity to another. In effect, it puts charities in competition with each other.
“So, I put on my entrepreneurial hat and tried to think of a solution. Eureka! I needed to find a different pot. That pot is the money spent each year on gifts. Americans spent $1 trillion-plus last year on gifts for all occasions. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Valentine’s Day alone accounted for $50 billion. Businesses spent approximately $80 billion on employee appreciation awards, event giveaways, holiday gifts to clients, etc. None of this money goes to charitable organizations that work to make our lives, and the lives of our family and community, better. Plus, material gifts are taxed.
“That led me to dream up the idea to form Donors Unite Inc., a 501(c)(3) donor-advised fund and Donors Unite Management Corp., which provides all the infrastructure to enable the charity to operate its unique gift card program. Simply stated, its mission is ‘To provide a unique and affordable way for individuals and businesses to support millions of charities and local communities, with a customizable charity gift card for any occasion.’
“We all know those generic gifts one feels they must purchase—the bottle of wine for the dinner host, the bouquet of flowers as a thank you, etc. I founded Donors Unite to enable people and businesses to start thinking about the importance of their gift and about social responsibility. The Donors Unite website, which [at press time is set to] go live on May 3, has a ‘Give Where You Live’ search engine with over 1.5 million public charities, easily searchable by entering a category, zip code and radius. Every public charity in that geographical area is then listed. One can then purchase a charity gift card to send to someone who then gifts the card to a charity named by the purchaser; or better yet, lets the recipient name the charity by using the redemption code printed on the card. The total cost of a Donors Unite charity gift card is 100% tax deductible.
“While even one charity gift card can truly make a difference, imagine the impact if large numbers of individuals and businesses start to use them as a substitute for material gifts they might normally purchase. Just .01% would amount to over $1 billion in new funding for charities. I believe that most of this funding will go to support the smaller community-based charities that do the heavy lifting in our local communities. My goal is simple: add Donors Unite to the equation. Consider replacing one bottle of wine, one bouquet of flowers, one generic gift card with a charity gift card. This small shift in mindset, as individuals and as businesses, has the potential to be transformative and revolutionize charitable giving. I believe that in two years it may be possible to convert as much as 10% of that money to charity gift cards. That would really make quite a difference.
“I’m not alone in my conviction that Donors Unite has the potential to be a game changer. Below is what David Okorn, the Executive Director of the Long Island Community Foundation, which is a division of the New York Community Trust (The fourth largest such trust in the United States with over $2.5 billion under its management) has to say about Donors Unite:
‘As nonprofit organizations continuously struggle to raise sufficient dollars to fund their work, the Donors Unite charitable gift card program could be a saving grace that provides them with the funding needed to maintain and expand their programs. It’s a simple, low-cost way to potentially raise additional funds, enabling nonprofits to stay focused on the activities required to carry out their mission, and hopefully less time on fundraising activities.
‘As most nonprofit 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 nonprofit fundraising.’
“I’m very passionate about the potential for Donors Unite. I believe it has the potential to dramatically increase funding for charities, especially the smaller locally based ones with little or no money for marketing. If that happens, we will reap the benefits.”
“We have developed a presentation for business partners, a number of which have indicated that they are going to participate. Those include Bridgehampton National Bank, Norsic, Southampton Hospital, Peconic Bay Medical Center, The Retreat, Bay Street Theater, Peconic Land Trust, All For The East End, East End Arts Council, Peconic Public Broadcasting, Renewable Energy of Long Island, Slow Food East End and the Sag Harbor American Music Festival. We have also made presentations to some major corporations who are interested including UBS, TD Bank and Chubb.”
Check out the easy-to-use website for yourself at donorsunite.org.