How blockchain helps donors track their charity dollars

The D.C. region holds countless individuals, companies, and organizations that are involved in social venturing in myriad ways. Clay Buckley, a D.C.-based entrepreneur, is involved in helping many of these organizations find their way to money and sources of funding. As president of Cause Network, Buckley has become an expert in this process.

ABERMAN: Tell us about Cause Network, and what it is.

BUCKLEY: We give digital, customized fundraising platforms to charities for free to help augment their fundraising activities. So, a lot of them already will ask for cash, they’ll do their megathons and whatever, but the fact of the matter is, only fifteen percent of supporters on average will donate cash. Leaving 85 percent of us who are looking for some other way to help. So, in our platform, we try to build other ways, in addition to giving cash, that people can help support their charities.

ABERMAN: Give me some examples.

BUCKLEY: So, what we give to the charities, and again, we give it to them for free, is a branded website, a mobile app, and a browser plugin, and then we’ve started building in these different ways to raise money. So, we started with shopping. Almost everyone knows Amazon Smile. We’ve got a marketplace with a thousand retail stores that donate a portion of every purchase to the charity you support.

We also have travel. So, any of the major travel booking engines, if you book a travel, they’ll make a donation. And now, we’ve started to get into some other ways to donate that are kind of interesting. We started with consumer electronics. So, you can donate your old iPhone, television, computer. One that really kind of raised some eyebrows is, we went into car donations. So now, every charity that’s a partner with us can have their own car donation program.

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ABERMAN: Because it’s not and easy thing to take a donation of a car.

BUCKLEY: It’s not at all. It’s complicated. There’s paperwork, and/or logistics, that just make it too hard. There’s over 700 thousand cars that are donated in the United States every year, but less than one percent of charities can accept. So, we’ve now made it so any charity, large or small, can have their own car donation program.

ABERMAN: I’ve been covering here on the show recently a lot about blockchain, and how the distributed network is really going to change how a lot of businesses function, because of the way data can be checked without an intermediary and so forth. My understanding is that you’re looking at using blockchain to actually change the way that charities raise money.

BUCKLEY: Absolutely. This is actually one of our most recent things. At the beginning of this year, we launched the first universal cryptocurrency donation tool. So now, anybody can donate any major, listed cryptocurrency to whatever their favorite charity is, among over a million listed in the IRS database. But, we’re planning on taking that to the next level. Because we see the power of blockchain technology as something that can really make donating easier, better, more flexible, cheaper, more accountable.

What I mean by that is, if I’m donating to the Red Cross, to help Houston flood relief victims. Once that twenty dollar check leaves my hand, I have no idea where it’s going, but you can build into the smart contracts the ability to track and report back on when that money, that digital currency, gets to the actual location that you want. So, we can validate that it did go to Houston relief victims, through the blockchain technology.

ABERMAN: And that, I know, is a really big issue to a lot of people, both to the organizations that want to demonstrate accountability and to the donors. It really does enable cause-based giving in a significantly new way.

BUCKLEY: Yeah, and it’s particularly important to millennials. So, the next generation of donors, they are particularly bent that way. They want to see and touch where their money is going, and understand that it’s actually helping. This will enable them to do that.

ABERMAN: Why did you decide to do this? When I think about all the different entrepreneurial activities that any of us can be involved in, what is it about this particular issue that became your wild rabbit?

BUCKLEY: Well, I worked for a lot of large companies. I worked at AOL, I worked at AARP, which is not-for-profit, but really a different kind of not-for-profit. This opportunity allows me to help folks that really need help. I’m talking every day with folks that are trying to raise money to support their great causes, and large organizations, small organizations, PTAs, animal shelters, you name it, they just desperately need help. And I see the tools that we’ve created, the tools that we’re providing, the ability to raise additional money in different ways, as something that they really need, and they really need help with. That’s something you can feel good about getting up out of bed every morning.

ABERMAN: Which is important, isn’t it?

BUCKLEY: It really is. And we’re really making a difference, which is awesome.

ABERMAN: Well, without embarrassing you, I want to point out that you were a major college athlete, and before you were injured, you were a really well known basketball player here in the nation. What’s the analogy to being a really successful team athlete, and an entrepreneur?

BUCKLEY: Well, I was definitely fortunate to have been able to play. I played at Duke in college, and we had a lot of good fortune up in the National Championship my senior year. But being an entrepreneur is a lot like playing in a game, in a team sport. Things are always changing, you have to adjust to bumps in the road, and things that you don’t expect, and you’re fighting for your life. So, I see a lot of things that I learned through playing basketball, and aspects of teamwork that are applied every day in what we’re trying to do to make this company home.

ABERMAN: It’s interesting to me that, when many of us cover or talk about entrepreneurship, we create this impression that every entrepreneur is a single-combat warrior, but my experience is that that’s completely not the case.

BUCKLEY: No, it’s not the case, I mean, I’m not saying we have a huge team, but the team that we have, I mean, you have to be covering each other’s back, helping each other out. Every single person is chief cook and bottle washer in order to get it done. Because there’s so many things that you have to do, and so few of you to do it, you have to be in lock-step.

ABERMAN: Yeah, if you’ve got an attitude, entrepreneurship probably isn’t the right thing for you to do.

BUCKLEY: No, not at all.

ABERMAN: Well, Clay, thanks very much for coming on the show and sharing with us this innovative approach for a big problem.

BUCKLEY: My pleasure, thanks again for having me.

ABERMAN: That was Clay Buckley, president of Cause Network.