Web app links shopping to giving
Eric Kovalak was looking for a way to combine commerce and charitable giving.
What he ended up discovering was a new business model and a new business.
Kovalak is the founder of Givinci, an online shopping platform that links merchants and consumers to charitable giving.
Walker-based Givinci, which is striving to be the da Vinci of giving, launched this month, just in time for the holiday season, and has raised about $6,000 for different charitable causes, Kovalak said.
Here’s how it works: Givinci serves as a platform for users to shop online through Givinci-registered merchants. A percentage of their purchase goes toward a cause of their choice, by either electronic transfer or check within 75 days, just in case people return the product.
The percentage varies by merchant, but each merchant has its percentage listed on the page. A percentage of each purchase also goes to Givinci.
Online merchants and users can sign up for Givinci for free, and both are in a win-win situation, because the businesses are getting altruistic-minded customers and the customers are doing their normal shopping.
About 3,000 merchants, including Amazon, Meijer, Target and Groupon, are in Givinci’s network.
Givinci’s model allows people to give simply, without having to go through the donation process, Kovalak said.
“We advertise the store, and in exchange for bringing a customer to their store, they give us a percentage of the purchase price,” Kovalak said. “We’re trying to get good customers to go to stores and make good purchases.
“As for the customer . . . just buy what you were going to buy for yourself anyways.”
Causes on Givinci can be created by anyone for just about anything, as long as it’s not illegal, Kovalak said, adding that the system is monitored to ensure users aren’t taking advantage of donations.
Users sign up for Givinci through Facebook, Twitter or an email address and can create a cause and a fundraising goal for that cause to meet within a certain timeframe. Those causes and goal pages can then be shared on social media, allowing them to share local causes and raise awareness.
“The biggest determining factor is how successful you are to promote your goal on social media,” Kovalak said. “It doesn’t require a lot of technical stuff. Just explain what you’re trying to do, but after that, how often it’s shared will determine it.”
Kovalak said he is especially eager to see West Michigan groups, churches and businesses get their time in the spotlight by using the website as a tool to spread their stories and raise money from all over the country and world.
That's why he made it so easy to start a cause, he said, which can be anything from a nonprofit’s campaign to a little league team needing money for jerseys. Givinci is intended not just for large groups to raise funds, but small ones.
“You don’t have to have to wait to get a nonprofit status to earn funding to do something good,” Kovalak said. “This allows people to just do what’s in their hearts.
“It’s not just about raising money. It’s also about raising awareness. It gives the causes easy methodology for marketing and at the same time, they can raise money.”
So far, about 1,000 users are on Givinci, and about 20 new users and one new cause are signing up every day, Kovalak said, adding that he hopes to see 10,000 users by the end of 2014.
More than 50 organizations have posted their causes, though not all have published their goals yet.
An iPhone app is also in the works, but still months away, Kovalak said.
Kovalak said the four-person startup would like to eventually add more staff to help nonprofits with fundraising.
“Once we start hiring, we’d like consultants who can work with the causes to help them generate a revenue stream and help their causes become successful,” Kovalak said.