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Local Entrepreneur And Philanthropist Looking To Revolutionize The Use Of Gift Cards

Nicole Barylski

The Donorsunite.org homepage. (Courtesy Photo)

Sag Harbor-based entrepreneur and philanthropist Myron Levine, who founded All for the East End (AFTEE), has set out to transform how gift cards are utilized with the launch of Donorsunite.org, a new charity gift card giving website.

After the tragic passing of his son, Josh Levine, Myron felt a calling to give back to the local community whose support helped the Levine family through that incredibly difficult time. "We had a personal tragedy 6 1/2 years ago where my son unfortunately had an accident at Quail Hill and died in a tractor accident. We've lived out here for many years and so many people think of the Hamptons as being this place of glitz and glamour, but to us, it was more like Andy Griffith's Mayberry, that fictional town where everyone helps everyone out and the town was just incredible - all over the East End," noted Levine. "My son and daughter-in-law, they lived in North Haven, and I think my daughter-in-law had someone sleeping over her house literally every day for six months, bringing her and the kids food. It was just really pretty amazing."

Myron Levine. (Courtesy Photo)

Founding All for the East End was a way for Levine to give back while familiarizing himself with many of the vital local non-for-profits. "I have been involved in a number of charities over the years and I decided I wanted to pay back the community. I was at one point in time on the board of Southampton College, when they had the All for the Sea concerts to raise money for the Marine Science department," he explained. "So I started a charity and I had to become really familiar with all the non-for-profits on the East End, called All for the East End (AFTEE). I founded AFTEE to pay back the community and raise money for charities on the East End, and one of AFTEE's biggest supporters was David Okorn, who's the Executive Director of the Long Island Community Foundation. He thought it was an incredible idea and we eventually had a concert in 2013."

It was his work with AFTEE that made Levine realize that there had to be a more efficient way to raise funds. "Over the past three years, we've gifted out over $150,000 to charities, but I'm an attorney by training and I've been an entrepreneur most of my life, and in doing the work I did with AFTEE, it just became woefully obvious to me how difficult it is for charities, especially the small to mid-sized charities, to raise money, even from their most ardent supporters," he said. "The reason is the amount of money people allocate for donations, while it's huge, last year it was $375 billion, it's basically finite. It doesn't go up or down much any year - it'll go up marginally if the economy gets a little bit better or down marginally if the economy's not quite as good, but there's no dramatic movement in that amount of money that's allocated. Accordingly, if you try to access that money by seeking donations, all you're really doing is reallocating money from one charity to another, and the ones that are most successful at getting the money are the ones that benefit."

For smaller charities, it can be a constant struggle to stay afloat."The smaller charities have the most problem because it's the chicken and the egg, they don't have the manpower, they don't have the budget, they don't have anything, and they can't compete," he said. "I just felt there had to be a better way."

With Donorsunite.org, Levine recognized that charities could tap into the retail gift market, and provide a truly unique gift that gives back to the recipient's local community. "The only better way really related to accessing a totally different pool of money, because if you're looking to the same pot of money, you're not accomplishing anything - so I tried to figure out is there another pot of money that could be accessed that could go towards charitable missions? And eureka, it came to me that oh my God, all the money spent on gifts every year," Levine explained. "That number is staggering. Last year, in America, the actual number is close to $1.3 trillion. Mother's Day, Father's Day and Valentine's Day alone account for $50 billion in gifts. Christmas and holidays account for $650 billion in gifts. That doesn't take into account birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, confirmations, bat mitzvahs, just normal thank-you gifts. Nor does it take into account the money that businesses spend on gifts."

Those who purchase a gift card from Donorsunite.org - whether it's an individual or business - can choose to buy a gift card for a specific charity or gift claim code, so the recipient can select the charity they would like the donation to be bestowed to. "The gift code, in my opinion, will be the thing that generates the most money for charities because under gift code, you can purchase a gift code, then make a card and have the individual use that code to donate to any charity," Levine said. "In most cases we believe the purchaser is not going to name a charity and leave it to the recipient to name a charity." The website's easy to use, comprehensive search engine allows both the giver and receiver to effortlessly search for a local cause (in a 5 to 100 mile radius or by cause), and gives a brief background about each organization.

Levine believes Donorsunite.org could have a huge impact on corporate gifting. "Of the $375 billion that was spent on charities, most of that money came from individuals. Corporations and businesses only donated to charities $18 billion of the $375 billion, however, businesses spent $88 billion on gifts. You add up all that money and you're coming close to $1.3 trillion. So much of that money is really spent on gifts purchased more in a sense of obligation than passion," he said. "So the idea was, and especially now in a time when people are thinking more about corporate social responsibility and personal social responsibility, if a website could be created that enabled people to purchase a gift card - just like they purchase a gift card for Starbucks or Amazon - and have the gift card go to benefit charities, that could really be something. That was the genesis of the idea and the site has every single solitary charity in the U.S. The site has over 1 1/2 million public charities - easily searchable."

Not only does the website have the potential to tap into a new market, non-for-profits can become a Donorsunite.org member for just $25, which gives them a major advantage. "As a member they get to be listed first on the search," he noted. "This really gives an incredible advantage to the smaller charities because, for example, a small charity - a food pantry - that is a member in the same location as the organization for United Way would come before United Way. So it gives them that access."

The website, which launched in early May, is already getting quite a bit of buzz. "It's been received very well. We have major businesses that we're talking to about utilizing it as gifts for their employees and clients." Levine shared. "When you're talking about $1.3 trillion dollars, if only .01 of 1 percent of all money spent on gifts were reallocated to a charitable gift card, you're talking about $1 billion. So you don't need much of a major impact to have a major impact on charity."

Levine hopes that the tax deductible charity gift cards become the goto gift for all. "My hope is that it becomes so well known, eventually, I'll analogize it to Airbnb. Before Airbnb there were loads of sites on the web that anyone could have gone to to have a home anywhere in the world, but it wasn't something that people really knew about doing, so it just wasn't done all that often. Once Airbnb started, and they publicized, and they marketed, now everyone knows anytime you want to have something like that anywhere in the world, all you have to do is go onto the web. You might be getting it from Airbnb or elsewhere, but everyone knows about it. It made available something that wasn't available before," he added. "Ten years ago the number of people that would rent a home like that was virtually nil and today it's gigantic. It created a totally new business and product and service and market. Same thing with Donorsunite.org, as we get traction, the more people that purchase gift cards, the more people that get them, the more people that feel good about giving it and receiving it, the more it will be used, the more it will be known, eventually my hope is that within two years everyone knows that anytime one needs a gift for any occasion, whether it be a wedding or thank-you or anniversary or corporate event or anything, you always have three options: 1. The material gift that you would have gotten before. 2. A charitable gift card or 3. a combination of the two."

So, when you're searching for that "perfect" gift, think about buying one that gives back - because not only is Donors Unite an affordable option (you can purchase a gift card for as little as $10) it can also make a profound difference in your community.

For more information, visit Donorsunite.org.

Nicole is the Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com where she focuses on lifestyle, nightlife, and mixology. She grew up in the Hamptons and currently resides in Water Mill. www.hamptons.com NicoleBarylski NicoleBarylski

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