Like many successful ventures, Birmingham-based Planet Fundraiser began with a simple idea – to solve a complex problem.
For company co-founder and CEO Kasey Birdsong, it started with his kid’s ball team.
Of course, it took hard work – research, a solid business plan, recruiting investors, developing the product – before Planet Fundraiser could move from clever notion to thriving business.
“… Kasey – it was his idea originally,” said Drew Honeycutt, Planet Fundraiser co-founder and chief operating officer. “He was asked to go raise money for his daughter’s T-ball team … and like any idea, you got to do something with it.”
Birdsong was frustrated by the challenges of effectively raising money for the team – how to reach out and to whom, how to persuade people to give, and how to make it easy for them to donate. There must be a better and simpler way, he thought.
From there (add the hard work part) sprang the Planet Fundraiser app.
“Right now, we are working on scaling the business,” Honeycutt said. But the mission hasn’t changed since it all began: “to be the smartest fundraising app on the planet.”
Here’s how Planet Fundraiser works: After you download the app, you can select good causes you’d like to support. The app tells you which area merchants will donate a percentage of their sales to the cause. Then, it’s a simple matter of shopping at those merchants, snapping a photo of the receipt, and sending it to Planet Fundraiser. Then, every month, that nonprofit, or school team, or good cause, gets a check with their share of the sales.
“We’re a three-sided marketplace,” Honeycutt said, “connecting local businesses to local organizations, and then the local organizations get their supporters – the people that care about the organization – to download our app, go shop at the local businesses … and they earn back for causes they care about.”
In the two years since it launched in June 2016, thousands of schools and nonprofits across the Southeast have raised money using Planet Fundraiser. Now, with the recent addition of online merchants, Planet Fundraiser is expanding nationwide, with school organizations from Michigan to Texas using Planet Fundraiser technology.
An ever-expanding list of merchants includes a variety of businesses such as Piggly Wiggly, Mountain High Outfitters, Trim Tab Brewing Company, Gus Mayer, Alabama Power Appliance Center, Target and Shipt.
For merchants, it’s an easy way to handle requests for donations while showing they care about community causes. For app users, it’s an easy way to help support the causes of their choice while they shop. And for the nonprofit, school or good cause, they get the donations without complicated or costly campaigns.
But the app provides additional benefits, making it more than the sum of its parts.
In addition to making it easier for businesses “not to say no” to a charitable request, Honeycutt said data they’ve gathered shows the app can help merchants increase sales, as word spreads about their support for community causes. “We’re seeing people spending more at these businesses, so it’s a marketing tool for them.”
On the flip side, the app “makes it easier for more people to give back,” Honeycutt said. Indeed, some individuals and nonprofit organizations use the app to challenge each other in friendly fundraising competitions.
Honeycutt said it was a surprise to the Planet Fundraiser team how the app can affect the shopping patterns of some users, prompting them to visit more often stores that support their causes – and spend more when they get there.
“We didn’t fully anticipate the way that it would change consumers’ purchasing behaviors. People, when they have a care that’s close to their heart, they will go and patronize businesses and spend more money at these businesses to earn back for things they care about,” Honeycutt said.
Data gathered by the app is another benefit available to those engaged in the transactions. Merchants can retrieve aggregate information (no names) about sales generated from app users, and where those app users are located; nonprofits and other causes can see who supports their good works and how often; and individual users can view their own shopping habits and track the causes they support through the app.
“The idea was to create a way that businesses and the local organizations in the community can better work together using technology,” Honeycutt said.
It’s an idea, born in Birmingham, that is now taking off.