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Benevolence in a Box: ChangingthePresent.org Makes Gift Giving a Life-Changing Experience

This holiday season, you can save a cloud forest, adopt a tiger and remove 1 ton of CO2.  Although none of it will fit in a box or under the tree, Changing the Present makes all these things possible by giving consumers access to a variety of charitable initiatives so that they can give the gift of hope, health and happiness for a world in need.

Some perks include not having to go near a crowded mall, finding something for everyone on your list, and no lines, returns or exchanges.  Best of all, you’ll be making a tangible difference in the world with the cause of your choice, and it’s something that will last long after the latest retail trends fizzle out.

Changing the Present features more than 1,500 meaningful charitable gifts that users can browse by cause or nonprofit to find the perfect gift for friends or their own charitable giving.

Building on a commitment to changing the social norm when it comes to gift giving, and seeking to spark positive change in the world, Robert Tolmach, CEO of WellGood LLC, spearheaded the team that implemented this important effort, and was kind enough to share more details about the program with me in a one-on-one chat about the future of giving.

There seems to be a strong push toward giving gifts that make a difference this holiday season.  Where do you think that’s coming from?  Have you noticed any market trends that have precipitated a move from flagrant consumerism to more charitable giving?

The tough economy, the growing awareness of the problems we face, and a revived sense of civic engagement all seem to have contributed toward giving charitable gifts in lieu of traditional presents.

What’s the mission behind ChangingThePresent.org?  Why did you decide to start this project?

Many of us are looking for more meaningful gifts.  We want better ways to show our love than another pen & pencil set or pair of fuzzy slippers.  We hope to satisfy that need and channel to nonprofits some of the $250 billion that we spend each year buying presents for one another.  Imagine the impact we could make as this new form of gift-giving becomes a social norm!

What are the types of charitable gifts that you offer?

You can preserve an acre of rainforest, fund an hour of cancer research, provide a child her first book so she learns to read, even restore a blind person’s eyesight with cataract surgery.  ChangingThePresent.org offers more than 1,500 charitable gifts from hundreds of leading nonprofits, plus you can donate to any of 500,000 nonprofits.  There’s something for everyone on your list, all in one place.  Whatever cause you’re passionate about, you can give it as a gift at ChangingThePrsent.org.

You can also personalize a beautiful printed greeting card, which includes a photo and description of your gift, right from the site.

How has the response been so far?  What cause has been generating the most activity?

The response has been fantastic!  I haven’t focused on which activity attracts the most donations. The imporant thing is that whatever cause you care about, we’ve got it covered.

You have a comprehensive list of categories from Basic Needs to Environment to Health and Safety.  You even have opportunities for people to help fund writer’s grants and libraries.  How — and why — did you select these initiatives?

We worked with our outstanding group of advisors to define a list of causes, and to decide which nonprofits to invite initially.  There are large organizations and small ones, but all of them are outstanding.

How does the program work?  What does the user receive to show how they’ve helped their chosen cause?

When you browse the site, you will find a page and photograph about each gift, describing in detail the problem it addresses and the way your donation will address it.  Further, the nonprofits have agreed that they will use your donation for that purpose, so you know exactly what impact you’re making.  Your receipt shows what you’re supporting, and you can also display that on your profile page, if you wish.  In addition, you can send a greeting card, which includes a photo and description of that gift.

I understand that you’ve partnered with Redefine-Christmas.org and JustGive.org as part of your holiday efforts.  Can you tell me a little more about those partnerships and what they bring to ChangingThePresent?

Redefine Christmas has taken a real leadership role in promoting charitable gifts as a social norm.  We and JustGive are delighted to have their support.

Do you think that social media and the viral, spread the word elements of these programs are critical to their success?  Do you think that the social change movement in general has sparked greater activities such as these?

I think by now all companies and nonprofits now realize how important social media and word-of-mouth are to disseminating ideas and encouraging change.

What do you currently do to promote your efforts?

We’re always looking for ways to let people know about this new form of giving and the opportunities that ChangingThePresent.org offers.  StrawberryFrog, the outstanding ad agency, just created two fantastic PSAs, which you can see on the site.  We also have PSA banner ads, which the Frogs also created, and we invite websites to display them when they have unsold ad inventory.  Traditional press helps, too, and we were pleased when The New York Times described the site as an “amazon.com of the nonprofit world.”  And fans of Free Range Studios will be pleased to see their new flash animation, which they contributed as their annual Generosity Grant.

Your program isn’t limited to just the holiday season.  You have an extensive Registries and Wish Lists offering for people to give for weddings, birthdays and other life events?  How has that offering fared for you and how does it compare to the holiday rush?  Are there any other high traffic times of year where you’ve noticed a significant spike?

The holiday season is the time when the most people are thinking about gifts, but people exchange presents all year long: weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, etc.  Of course, holidays such as Valentine’s Day are busy for gift-giving, too.

You also support a healthy network of Nonprofits that people can support on an ongoing basis through ad hoc or subscription services.  Tell us a little bit more about that product and how it works.  What are some of your featured non-profits?

ChangingThePresent.org isn’t just for giving gifts.  If you care about — well, any cause — you can come to the site and actually do something about it.  The hundreds of nonprofits include Sesame Workshop, Ashoka, Grameen Foundation US, IAVI, Room to Read, Kaboom!, and about 350 more.  It’s an outstanding group, and we’re honored to have their participation.

What impact have you been able to make amongst these causes so far?  What is your vision for the future of ChangingThePresent.org?

We’re just getting started.  Our vision — like yours, I’m sure — is a more just, healthy and sustainable world.  We hope to help get us there by making giving more rewarding and by channeling to nonprofits some of the hundreds of billions of dollars now spent on traditional presents.  We want to promote a new social norm: you don’t have to buy something to show your love; instead, you can do something meaningful in a friend’s name.

There’s no time like the present to make a change.

According to the National Philanthropic Trust, the percentage of annual household giving dramatically increased with the advent of online donation and fundraising.  Currently, 89% of households support charitable endeavors, the majority of which use web-based means as a key driver.  With sites like ChangingthePresent.org continuing to emerge, it may not be long before we see 100%  participation, demonstrating that change is possible, one charitable gift at a time.  This year, instead of agonizing over which frivolous item to buy for a loved one, consider sharing that sentiment with those in need, and embracing the true spirit of the holidays.




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