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The Mutual: Giving Gets Perky

The Mutual is a environmentally minded “membership for good” that merges charitable giving with online rewards.

These days, the seemingly selfless act of “charitable giving” has been transformed: giving has also become receiving. Witness the trendy BOGO (buy one, give one) shoe and specs shops that seamlessly kill two birds with one stone, merging altruism and style in a single purchase. While giving for giving’s sake is great, these side benefits are powerful incentives. In fact, rewards might be just what people need to support environmental causes.

That's the idea behind GOOD Maker finalist and Brooklyn-based online social enterprise The Mutual. The company, which took part in GOOD Maker's Sustainable Brands Innovation Open Challenge, was one of eight teams chosen to pitch for the grand prize at the SB’12 Innovation Open.

The Mutual is a smart, Groupon-esque online coupon book that scores deals for its community of givers. Donate $10 a month to a charity related to earth, air, water, education, or reform and have unlimited access to more than 140 “Perks,” courtesy of local businesses like Luke’s Lobster, Brooklyn Brewery, and Uncommon Goods. While its home base is currently in New York, the hyperlocal company hopes to expand to other cities down the road—but for now, perks from online retailers like Steve Madden are readily available.

The idea for the company was born from a statistic that CEO and co-founder Dan Vallejo encountered when he worked for OgilvyEarth: 66 percent of U.S. adults claim that they want to live environmentally responsibly—but fail to do so. Vallejo and his team decided they wanted to bridge the gap between intent and positive action.

“The mentality is ‘If I spend, I expect something in return,’” Vellejo said. “People are inherently driven by their self-interest. It’s easy and advantageous to get economic value by rewarding people and giving them something in return.”

The Mutual is currently working with, Oceana, The Trust for Public Land, Center for Ecoliteracy, and World Resources Institute. Eighty percent of donations going to charity; 20 percent are used to grow the community. There are roughly a couple hundred members in The Mutual network as of now, but with a Brooklyln-focused relaunch by the end of the summer, Vallejo expects the numbers to jump to a couple thousand. The Mutual’s future plans include working with larger companies interested in using the "Perks" as an employee rewards program. Bringing in more charities and implementing more creative extension strategies, such as working with the New York City Marathon to offer its racers a paid membership, are also ideas in the works.

National expansion is further off, but the team is optimistic. “The way I see us growing is like a flight map in the back of an airline catalogue. There will be hubs with high populations with perks being offered in cafes, bars, or boutiques in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, New York. National brands and online retailers will ultimately connect the dots between the hubs,” Vallejo says. “The bigger we are, the more values we create, and the more people and businesses sign on, the larger amount we’ll be able to give collectively to these charities.”

Images courtesy of The Mutual

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