About two years ago, I finally did it. I borrowed €50,000 from various family members, convinced a good friend and colleague to join me, and started working nights and weekends. I wanted to do something good, and I wanted to make it easy for lots of others to do good as well. That is how StartGiving came into existence.
There are a lot of ways of giving or doing good for people and for companies alike, and there are enough organisations (including the big four consulting firms) willing to help companies set up programmes for a hefty fee. However, at StartGiving, we believe that no matter how big or small your company, there should be no barriers to doing what you believe in – even if it’s only contributing a very small amount per year. That is why we offer companies all the basics for free. This includes a corporate governance codex, draft policies and processes, as well as draft contracts with potential third parties – the foundation for a good ESG (environmental, social, governance) compliance program. For us, this is the bare minimum any company can and should do, with no need to spend any hard-earned money. We then offer companies the means to take further steps, such as finding volunteering opportunities for their employees, donating into our sustainable fund or implementing other strategic projects (carbon-neutral travelling, bike plans, fairtrade coffee & snacks, third-party checks, supply chain optimisation, etc.). Companies can track all their efforts directly in a personalised version of our platform, so they can engage their employees, report to shareholders, or inform the public without having to spend money or time on expensive reports.
We observed that many companies only do something in the field of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) when a specific employee or maybe a supervisory board pushes for it. However, as soon as this person leaves or the board changes, the efforts scale back. Those responsible work on it either in their spare time or only at half-capacity, so the projects do not reach their full potential. Doing good is not the core business of most companies – they usually do not have a specialist for CSR. Anything that is not your core business, but important nonetheless, should be outsourced to companies with expertise. CSR is a difficult and complex landscape, and we help companies navigate it easily.
Our sustainable fund is only a small part of our services, but it is something that no one else offers at the moment. Any company or any employee can donate into the fund, which is managed by an independent third party and focused on sustainable investments. Every year, donors can then give the investment returns to the causes that lie closest to their heart. The fund ensures that only the proceeds are granted, so the fund will grow and provide a steady stream of money to those causes that are important to donors or their company. This way we make it possible for anyone to make a lasting impact, year after year. Our vision with the sustainable fund is to harness the power of the financial industry, which is normally only accessible to the ultra-wealthy, to do good. Our true goal is to make this happen across generations – someone’s grandchildren or employees can go back in time and see what impact they had over their entire lifetime and continue this legacy by contributing themselves. Teaching the next generation to value what they have been given and to share with others is something that I personally think is very important.
Building StartGiving has not been without failures. After developing our platform, we learned that the product was just not that much in demand. We focused too much on the fund and our target audience was too broad. However, instead of giving up we decided to keep our heads up and pivot the offering to be more in line with what the market is asking for. Ultimately, we want to be able to offer our donors projects that we run ourselves. This way we could be 100% transparent and accountable, and our community would be able to influence directly what they find important. In the meantime, we are looking into technologies such as blockchain (yes, I know it’s a bit of a beaten horse) to make donations more transparent until we are able to offer our own projects.
I want all companies in Europe to take more responsibility, and I also believe this to be good for business. Companies that innovate now on social and environmental issues will be ahead of eventual regulations. I want to be able to show companies that in the end, this is the best for everyone, including their own business.