10 Questions With Givatron / Benevity’s Bryan de Lottinville

For this installment of 10 Questions with we talk to Bryan de Lottinville CEO of Benevity which brings us the Givatron app for Android that we just reported on. We chose Bryan because we’re in the Christmas spirit. Although in the interview Bryan says he’s “Old” he’s definitely experienced in the online world having been COO at istockphoto.com

Enjoy! And Merry Christmas

1. Who are you, what’s your position?

Bryan de Lottinville, Founder and CEO of Benevity.

2. How did Benevity Start and What was your experience before Benevity?

I was originally a corporate finance lawyer (venture and mezzanine finance) who morphed into a growth company executive. Most recently, I was COO of iStockphoto.com  which we sold to Getty Images in 2007. I was first introduced to the charitable sector in a meaningful way as an advisor to a Toronto-based company that was looking to develop a consumer loyalty program that generated donation currency instead of toasters and iPods.  Although they had a well pedigreed group of operators from the loyalty/consumer brand world, none had any start-up or growth company experience and the initiative struggled (IE. they burned through all their cash).  In the process of assisting that company, I acquired/refined a perspective on the charitable space that had me thinking about trying to make a macro impact on the landscape.  I came from a user-generated content site (iStock) that has turned an engaged community into a wildly successful business.  I have seen first hand the power of micro payments, crowd-sourcing, empowered choice and (to use a slightly worn term) democratization.  So it was through that lens that I looked at the state of philanthropy and donation efforts.  I was troubled by many aspects of the philanthropic landscape (and still am).  The vast number of duplicates not-for-profits across all pillars, the lack of transparency that contributes to consumer/donor misinformation, the high cost of fundraising, the relatively small percentage of annual donations coming from corporations and notably, the duplication of infrastructure across NPOs and their costly struggle with the allure of the destination giving site – there are literally hundreds of thousands of charities trying to get people to come to their site to donate and build an online community.

In a world where time is the true scarcity and people across all demographics seek greater meaning in all that they do, why not go to where the people and the transactions are already aggregated, create a mechanism to easily donate gifts of any size to any charity through a variety of means on sites they already trust, and create a win-win-win for corporations, individuals and charities?  With those goals and issues in mind, Benevity was born in the Spring of 2008 and has created an embeddable, user-driven micro-donation platform that can be integrated into any company’s existing transaction environment, on their terms and under their own brands.  Although our principal focus is on B to B integrations of our platform, we also power other destination sites that have a charitable component, as well as consuming our own API for certain other applications, such as our SaaS workplace giving solution and now, the Givatron!

3.How much does Benevity expect mobile to impact charitable giving in 2011?

The glib answer is that it depends on whether there is another global crisis… I think mobile giving is still in its early stages, both from a user perspective and in the context of how NPO’s and companies can integrate this venue into their fundraising campaigns and cause promotional efforts.  The Haiti crisis realized part of the potential for mobile giving by aggregating text-based donations globally to great effect.  What most people don’t realize is that text-to-donate solutions are extremely inefficient, costly to the charities and typically available to only the largest of charities, which is part of the reason we launched a Benevity-powered mobile giving platform with Obopay earlier this year.  With programs that go through the carriers, despite the claims that “100% of the money goes to charity”, by the time recipient charities actually get the money and after the charities are finished paying the various fees, most text-to-donate fundraising is not quite what it appears.  It’s main benefit is convenience and relative ubiquity, which makes mobile extremely effective for event-based giving.  As user interfaces continue to evolve, more full featured mobile capabilities are possible that increase the likelihood that people – particularly younger demographics – will use mobile as their principal mode of making donations.  In a world where less than 5% of the $310 billion in annual giving is still offline, there is still a long way to go to move donations further online and to mobile.
I think the real potential of mobile giving will come with the continued evolution of the virtual wallet as mobile commerce, mobile marketing and cause marketing more meaningfully converge.  I will walk around with my personal foundation in my pocket, perhaps rounding up each purchase I make and pay for on my smartphone, aggregating micro-donations of my money with donation currency and matching incentives from merchants and other corporations that I patronize and perform targeted behaviours.  These full-service location-based mobile campaigns will eventually supplant conventional approaches to loyalty and cause marketing, principally because they work.

4. Briefly take us from client contact, to idea, to going live with a charitable campaign via Benevity

“Briefly” is the hard part, because so much of the answer to this question is “it depends”.  Benevity’s platform generally is API-based, so if the client contact is an enterprise with consumer-facing goals, the process very much depends on what they are trying to achieve, and the contact/ideation/launch cycle can vary widely.  We don’t really build charitable campaigns as much as we provide a utility to power them.  Tools like the Givatron and Spark! workplace giving are exceptions.  So if it’s a web-savvy business looking to embed a donation currency incentive into their e-comm shopping cart (eg. buy this product and we’ll donate x% to the charity of your choice) or a loyalty or incentive provider looking to add a charitable redemption option to its catalogue of rewards, they could be up and running inside of two weeks.  If it’s a bank looking to add a Philanthropy tab into its online banking interface, it could be a year or more (and already has been!).

5. Obviously Givatron is an Android application because of Apple’s woes with donation based programs, how do you think Apple’s decision to not support donation apps impacts the charity space?

To be clear, I think it is only in-app donation applications (like the Givatron) that they have excluded.  Given the challenges that are facing the charitable sector these days, I think the absence of an iPhone donation app isn’t necessarily the most pressing but given the user-base and potential growth of mobile as a donation venue it is obviously significant. I think the bigger issue is the increasingly closed nature of the platforms.  It is indeed a surprising day when Microsoft’s platform is more open than Apple’s or Facebook’s.  If Apple really wants a kick-ass donation app for the iPhone that addresses all the challenges they’ve cited, they can white-label the Benevity platform 🙂

6. Is there any criteria to ending up in Givatron’s database or is it more of a conduit of sorts?

So long as a charity is registered and in good standing with the IRS or CRA, it should be automatically in the database.  Charities that want to increase the likelihood of being selected by improving the richness of their profile in the database can go to https://causes.benevity.org/causes

7. Apple often says they don’t do donation apps because of Fraud, are there fail safes in place to protect users from fraud with Givatron or are paypals buyer protections sufficient

We work with donor advised funds in Canada (Canadian Online Giving Foundation) and the US (American Endowment Foundation) that perform the typical charity vetting that occurs (registration, filings, anti-money laundering, etc.).  There is no such thing as a “fail safe” for fraud (hello Bernie Madoff) but this type of additional scrutiny is one of the benefits of using a donor advised fund structure to distribute the funds to chosen charities.

8. Besides downloads will there be any metric data available for Givatron, for instance without naming charities or donators, will you be able to report next year how many total dollars were donated via Givatron?

Because Benevity is a platform that has multiple integrations, there is a significant reporting component and capability.  Having regard to compliance with applicable privacy legislation, we will be able to generate a lot of aggregated (ie. non-specific) analytic information regarding donations made through the Givatron or any other integration.

9. What are some other big initiatives using Benevity’s API’s

The social responsibility/community investment and cause marketing space is very hot right now, principally because we have evolved as a society to the point where we all recognize that there is a broader responsibility that exists than just making and spending money.  Companies need to be doing more and consumers and employees are expecting it of them.  We are working on a number of large initiatives involving some monster-sized companies that have the potential to change the landscape of personal and corporate philanthropy in North America.  At the same time, we’re powering all manner of smaller initiatives, from start-up social enterprises that have a charitable focus or component, to incentive providers, to e-comm players.  Virtually all of them are under NDA so we can’t talk about much, but we’re pretty psyched about 2011.

10. The fun question: What kind of smartphone do you carry

I was afraid you would get to this one…The fact is, I’m old.  A Boomer in fact, so I’ve got a BlackBerry.  I think there are two iPhones in our shop and the rest are Android, which may explain why we started there.  I’ll come over to the dark side eventually 🙂

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