Aron Shelton, 28, and Alyssa Snyder, 29, are of the generation known as "Millennials," young men and women who came of age in front of a computer and prefer to text their friends rather than make a call. When they want to know something, they turn to cyberspace, and when they learn something they pass it on through social media.
So when Shelton and Snyder graduated from the University of Arkansas's Walton College of Business they knew their market. But they also knew they wanted to use their education "in a way that is meaningful," Snyder said, rather than solely remunerative. How, they wondered, could they create a business that would help their generation get involved and provide a new tool to fund-raisers?
How to get younger people involved in philanthropy is a question that non-profits everywhere are asking. There's no substitute for the cultivation of personal relationship — that is the prime way major institutions get their significant support. But reaching a new audience? For that, non-profits large and small are getting creative. For Shelton and Snyder, it turned into a business.
Shelton and Snyder let their business idea bubble in the back of their brains while they got involved in their own charity work — tackling the problem of hunger in the area.
Fayetteville is booming; the fact that one in four adults and 37 percent of children live in poverty goes largely under the radar; it was certainly a surprise to Shelton and Snyder, who'd studied a variety of community needs before deciding on hunger.
They began with an awareness campaign, Seeds that Feed, setting up at the Saturday Farmer's Market at the square. That evolved into CareCropping, which Shelton described as "the antithesis of sharecropping." They met with farmers and home gardeners to find surplus harvest — fresh produce that the farmers could neither use for their animals or themselves — that they could distribute to the hungry. "It was a huge learning process for us," Snyder said. Over six months, CareCropping grew to involve 40 suppliers whose surplus was enough to supply 10 to 12 food pantries on a regular basis and others irregularly. The vegetables "were exactly what [farmers] were selling to people shopping," Snyder said. "They were so generous."
Those who regularly sign up for local-food baskets will not be surprised that their first donation was 130 pounds of sweet potatoes, from Summer Kitchen Family Farm. Now they get "every vegetable you can think of."
Six months into the project, they've distributed more than 16,000 pounds of food, or 47,000 servings.
With their experience in mind, Snyder and Shelton began to see how they could build a business that would help other community projects. Their idea: SpareTime, a website that would allow young adults — the Millennials — wanting to help but not quite knowing how find the groups that need them, from non-profits to school groups needing donations of time or money.
"If you're not plugged in, into a community, there's a barrier to getting involved," Snyder said. SpareTime is an "interface that is attractive to young people. Young people tend to want to get involved visually, through social media networks" and easy-to-navigate websites.
At the suggestion of Fayetteville designer Will Collins of Archetype Productions — himself a Millennial and entrepreneur — Shelton and Snyder decided to apply for a grant from ARK Challenge, a tech business accelerator that would fund 15 startups. There were 83 applicants from 14 countries; SpareTime was one of the winners. The $18,000 grant allowed them to quit their day jobs and focus on SpareTime, sharing workspace with other entrepreneurs in The Iceberg at 509 W. Spring St.
SpareTime is similar to other fund-raising websites like Kickstarter in that it connects non-profits with supporters. There are key differences, though. SpareTime users will be able to create a site profile that will track where they've worked, who they've given to and what their interests are. Users can upload transcripts to the profile, so that it can serve as a resume. The site, by tracking user histories, will then be able to suggest to individuals projects they might like to get involved in.
SpareTime will also generate impact reports — what sorts of projects are getting what kind of traffic and by whom — information that should prove valuable to the non-profit community.
The user behavior tracking technology that SpareTime will use was developed by fellow ARK Challenge start-up MineWhat, which won $150,000 in investment in the ARK Challenge competition held Nov. 1 in Bentonville.
SpareTime goes into Beta testing in January. When it goes online — Shelton and Snyder hope that will be later in the spring — non-profits can post their projects on the site for $5. If the posting fills a long-time position, SpareTime will get another $5. SpareTime will also get a transaction fee of 5 percent off donations. SpareTime can also create pages for non-profits, another revenue stream.
Snyder and Shelton have found a way to make money and satisfy their desire to get community projects more quickly off the ground.
The Arkansas Arts Center was thinking outside the box when they decided to create the "Party in a Box" drive to attract a new crowd. Here's how it works: For $500 an Arts Center supporter can buy a party for 12 — details about the party come in a box — and the Arts Center takes care of the rest. The partying newcomers are welcomed with a reception, food and drinks and a tour of the galleries and the stacks with curators, for example, or a get-together with Museum School or Children's Theatre staff — whatever the box buyer wishes. The idea, Arts Center Director Todd Herman said, is to "build relationships, so when people write those checks it's not just to a brick building but people they've met, programs they now know about and spaces they've toured."
A long overdue rehab of the Arts Center's website will, like SpareTime, offer a personal member page that will keep a record of what classes you've taken, tickets you've purchased — "a personal account of your relationship with us," Herman said. "It helps us know what you are interested in" and target pitches for support accordingly. The new website will, of course, have a blog that Herman and staff will contribute to, linked to Facebook.
Another new event — an adult evening for a children's theater performance. This year, the Arts Center's "Vampires, Bunnies and Bloody Marys" drew about 100 grown-ups who made merry and then who saw a "slightly altered" version of "Bunnicula," the kids' play about a vampire rabbit. A party tied to children's theater was a membership lure for parents of youngsters who may not be familiar with the Arts Center's offerings. Feedback was great; the event will be repeated every season for one particular play.
The bi-annual Tabriz fund-raiser, a pricy, black-tie dinner and auction, will again target younger folks who can wear high heels but are not yet well-heeled with a late-night "studio party" following the big event.
Another new idea: An opening night lecture for every major exhibition, to make seeing the work a "more enriching experience."
The Arts Center also reached out to a new audience this year with its "Tattoo Witness" exhibition, which brought in more inked skin that the center's ever seen. It's not known that new memberships were generated by the "Tattoo Witness" show, but the ticketed opening night lecture had a standing-room-only crowd of decorated Millennials and a local tattoo artist signed up for a class in the Museum School. Too, exposing more people to art in Little Rock has its own rewards.
The annual gala dinner has been around as long as fund-raising, right? But Heifer International, which got started with a shipment of 14 heifers from Mobile, Ala., to Puerto Rico in 1944 and now works to help people become self-sufficient in more than 125 countries across the globe, threw its first annual ticketed bash this year. The "Beyond Hunger" gala was no small affair, but a $15,000-a-table event in Hollywood hosted by Jane Fonda, Diane Lane, Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt, Nina Jacobsen and Tracy Ullman and attended by llamas as well as the loaded.
Heifer is also reaching out in the cyber world, said Cathy Sanders, vice president of philanthropy, finding a way to reach young adults via so-called "mommy blogs" whose writers — like thirdeyemom — spread the word about Heifer's mission and whose audiences are "highly educated ... and socially conscious." Heifer's World Ark magazine has been available in an iPad version since October and its online catalog is available at the Coffee Table shopping site, which also has an iPad app. Tweeting and Facebook are old hat by now. Founder Dan West would be astonished.
At a higher level, Heifer partners with multinational corporations like Dannon, which supports Heifer's projects to help farmers get milk to market, and is still working to get a Ben and Jerry's ice cream brand. But the many small gifts, the $120 that folks give to Heifer to buy cows and pigs and chickens and bees and sheep and clean water and geese and stoves — you name it — in honor of friends and family at Christmas are important. This year, Heifer has added "Heifer at Hanukkah," appealing to the Jewish tradition of philanthropy — tzedakah. You can see Ed Asner and Mark Feuerstein dressed in a cow suit doing a funny YouTube routine for Heifer at heifer.org/heifer-at-hanukkah.
Raising money the rest of the year is "where we have to do a better job," Sanders said. Key is getting people to understand the "richness of our mission," how labor intensive Heifer's work is and "that it works."
"And it's more than a cow. It's the cow, but also the change that goes on inside someone ... . I've seen it, man. You understand it when you see it."
The younger staff members of the Arkansas Children's Hospital Foundation, which is in the public phase of a $160 million capital campaign, are working on web-based initiatives to raise money from Millennials, senior vice president Fred Scarborough said. "They understand that culture," Scarborough said. At 48, Scarborough is barely a boomer, but he says he's "more Motown" than Facebook. "We are having to be students. It's an entire language and entire culture ... [we're learning] how someone who gives online likes to be engaged." He said the hospital, with the help of the Committee for the Future, reaches hundreds of young adults with its "Breakfast with Santa" event, which brings hundreds of families and healthy children to the hospital and financial gifts as well.