Vikram Bellapravalu is a cofounder of pledge4good, a startup that allows users to peg small donations to minor feats. Instead of hitting up your friends for $50 or $100 when you run that marathon, why not get them to pledge $1 every time you make a smaller achievement, like a couple miles on the treadmill. In its belief that small donations can have a large effect, pledge4good is something like a miniaturized version of Kickstarter, only organized around feats and charities rather than a product. It’s an idea that’s in the air more generally; the branding agency Mono recently ran a campaign for Virgin called Do Whatever It Takes, which similarly coupled donations to homeless youth with feats small and large.
I gather pledge4good comes out of your experience as a compulsive gambler.
I’m the guy who on the golf course will want to throw a couple of quarters onto every single hole, or if I’m out with friends, will find some fun way to find who pays for dinner. It’s not about money at all, it’s about the competition. My dad’s a large fundraiser for an organization in Phoenix, and their biggest fundraiser in the State of Arizona is a golf tournament each year. He said, why can’t I do something throughout the year where someone gives $5 per birdie to an organization?
Maybe I’m just a bad person, but if I achieve something difficult, my first impulse is to probably to reward myself, rather than to give to charity.
At the same time, it’s a nice way for people to talk about the things they care about, and to brag about accomplishments in a semi-socially acceptable manner. Do you want to hear a guy saying he got five birdies on Facebook? But if he couches it in different terms–“Hey, I got these five birdies, but it will benefit this organization,” we think that’s fun and powerful. We also require you to pledge a small amount yourself. We want to keep you honest. We don’t want you to say you got 10 goals in soccer when actually you’re the goalie.
What this reminds me of most is the friends who ask for donations when they run marathons. I always give, but I’ve never understood the exact correlation between their feats of athleticism and my making a donation.
It’s interesting. It’s the sense of the fact that someone is willing to go outside their comfort zone, to suffer a little bit.
So really it has a lot in common with a dunk-tank fundraiser.
My college roommate would squirt mustard and all sorts of gross things on a banana peel, and then ask people how much they’d pay him to eat it. He’d walk away with 50 bucks.
We had a very successful pledge on the site recently. A Wharton classmate of ours was wiling to ski down a ski slope in a Speedo to raise money for a military charity.
How much did he raise?
A few hundred dollars. That’s a big differentiator for our site: it’s about small donations. It encourages donors to donate to an organization that they would not donate to otherwise.
So that’s why my university is hitting me up for five-dollar donations now. They hope it’ll be something bigger later.
There’s a ton of research around this. This is one thing the universities figured out before everyone else. The most valuable indicators of whether you’re likely to give is how recently you’ve given, and how frequently you’ve given. That’s why colleges and the smarter nonprofits focus on getting you to give any amount, say on a one-year interval, just to make sure you’re still there, that you’re not an inactive or “dead donor.”
Is pledge4good itself a nonprofit?
We’re for-profit. It’s a simple model; we’re already generating revenue. We take a percentage of every donation, and that percentage varies depending on the size of the campaign.
You won the People’s Choice Award at the Wharton business competition. Your pitch involved push-ups.
That was one of the better publicity stunts we’ve come up with. I got up on stage and said, “Look, why bore you with a verbal description, when I can show you in person how the site works?” So I got up and said, “Who wants to donate for every push-up I can do.” I got people to commit, and then did push-ups right in front of the audience and let them count them out. I said, “I just raised x amount of money for a great nonprofit. Imagine how powerful it would be if I did something similar online, engaging my friends and followers.”
How many push-ups did you do?
I won’t lie to you. It was only a two-minute presentation. I just did a dozen and then stopped, so I could continue my speech.
Sure, that’s why.
Yeah, let’s go with that.
This interview has been condensed and edited.