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SocialVest: Philanthropy, Without the Fuss

Adam Ross sees donating to nonprofits as a slippery slope: Dabble just a bit, and if you’re not careful, you might find yourself actively engaged in service. By that analogy, the Atlanta-based Ross is a noble kind of pusher. His company, SocialVest, is trying a deliberately undemanding model for giving. SocialVest users begin by registering credit cards on the company’s website. When they make subsequent purchases at an online mall, or from any of a list of retail partners, a small rebate (ranging from 0.5 to 10 percent of the purchase, and determined by the store) goes into a personal account. That money can then be redirected to the user’s favorite NPOs.

For Ross, that account is central to the concept, both because it creates a lightweight commitment (just dip into the fund at your leisure) and because it personally engages users. “[It’s not] this idea of the man in a suit giving a big check,” he says. “I want the ability to give back in my own community.”

The SocialVest group also sees a strong social dynamic at work. Ross argues that a personalized donations setup makes giving more approachable. “There’s a lot of work and social pressure and anxiety normally associated with [service],” he says. Yet there’s also an upside to peer pressure. “I think people want to be able to share that they’re doing good,” notes Amy Elkins, the company’s CMO. And so SocialVest plans to thickly thread social networks through all the donating, figuring that users can nudge each other to sign on, and hopefully up the ante. It’s gateway giving at its finest.

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