If you don’t have time to read the full article, here are the highlights:
We have just hit the one year mark! This blog is all about sharing our learnings from the first year of Chive and what’s next.
We exist in multiple spaces—the start-up community, the impact community, and the charity community. While navigating these spaces, we’ve focused on creating a great product that delivers on one goal: making giving easy, empowering, and effective. We’ve made progress, and we have plenty of work ahead.
We hope you receive this with kindness. We can be super hard on ourselves because we want to honour the communities that charities intend to serve. Instead of this blog being the performance of a slick, well-oiled start-up, we are leaning into being authentic to create change thoughtfully, making the space for honest kōrero, feedback, and reflection. As always, we welcome feedback, ideas, critique—it’s important to us.
At the start of the Covid pandemic, we began exploring the charity sector. We knew that Aotearoa had over 27,000 charities and a very generous population, but through desk research and countless interviews, we discovered that digital representation of charities is a challenge. It is not easy for givers to find charities online. You can’t do a keyword search on the Charities Services database, and Google prioritises those who pay. Alongside this, charities’ number one problem is consistently fundraising.
We were sitting with the question—how might we empower people to connect to causes they care about while supporting all charities to have accessible means of being found and supported online?
Enter Chive. We built version one and launched it at the Fundraising Institute of New Zealand’s conference, focusing on the essential features which enabled us to test before going all-in. It listed charities across Aotearoa, designed to be easy to navigate for givers and to tell stories of inspirational charities in an empowering way.
We bootstrapped this build ourselves and used no-code tools to save time and money (we highly recommend this, thank you, Connor Finlayson). We were reluctant to seek funding at such an early stage—we didn’t have the validation yet for investors, and we didn’t want to take philanthropic funds away from charities at that early stage. Bootstrapping was the most values-aligned approach to getting a product out there, enabling learning, and understanding Chive’s value.
We decided to set up Chive as a social enterprise, generating revenue from sales for our purpose. Our thinking at the time was that if Chive wasn’t solving a problem for charities, they wouldn’t buy it, and we wouldn’t waste anyone’s time. We created tiered plans for charities. Every charity could access the platform for free and unlock features to boost their visibility online (e.g. higher ranking, targeted ads, a dashboard to monitor key metrics).
We felt that a user-friendly ‘database’ of charities is a vital first step to understanding the charity sector and a valuable tool for givers, funders and charities.
We wanted to shine a light on the ‘system’ of charities, not have it hidden in inaccessible data. Beyond that, we hypothesised that if we can increase the visibility of small-medium sized charities, we could increase their donations, increasing their ability to impact the communities they serve. We wanted to create a community of givers empowered to be thoughtful about their giving strategies and the causes they care about.
We currently have registered 195 charities on the platform, and in our first year over 7,000 on-site users. Many of these are small charities that don’t have a big team or a huge marketing budget, just inspirational people serving their community.
Because we run targeted ads on Facebook and Instagram, we’re part of the attention economy, trying to grab your attention to get you to do something. We initially thought this was bad, but then we realised that instead of seeing clothes or crap on Amazon that you don’t need, we’ve been creating visibility for impactful causes in your community and encouraging generosity. As a result, we’ve reached 168,000 people this year and have made over 387,000 impressions.
We (Alice and Stephen) run Chive alongside our mahi with other organisations we’re part of, freelancing and studying. Some days we’re pumped, excited, optimistic. Others we’re in self-doubt, scared, and embarrassed. It’s important to highlight this—it is a rollercoaster, and we often question whether we’re doing the right thing.
Chive’s values are to be systems-led, big-hearted and considered.
That said, we have found that our business model and values can come into conflict and that having the charities as our customer creates this tension.
What we’re ‘selling’ is visibility. But often, and understandably, there is an expectation we will generate thousands in donations. We’ve quickly come to realise that the way individual giving works doesn’t always align with this expectation. Not all charities will receive donations; not all givers on our site will connect with those causes, and many charities aren’t receiving any donations. Further, it puts the online presence inequality problem back into play—where if you pay, you get better outcomes. It perpetuates competition.
Philanthropy (or giving) can be problematic, with substantial power dynamics at play. Sometimes, money that is given to create good is generated by causing harm somewhere else. If you donate $1000 to a climate-change charity but made that money from investment in fossil fuels, that’s not ideal.
We need to continually remind ourselves that the flow and concentration of wealth, privilege and capitalism are what makes philanthropy possible.
We need to recreate existing narratives around charity. We need to ask whether this charity has a long-term view to empower recipients, whether or not that charity is involved? Are they heroing the community? Do they care about the people on the ground beyond the brand, the office, the staff and the identity of the charity itself? Many charities exist as a result of market and government failures. We need more charities that have an end goal to tackle the root cause of problems.
This question around the narrative is valid for givers as well. Should giving be about the giver? Think about it, so many campaigns, images, and emails seeking your donations know one thing: if we can make you feel like a hero, you’ll donate.
This is no secret; we’ve seen this at fundraising masterclasses, explicitly showing someone in a bad situation and that, by donating, you can help to solve and feel good for having helped. You become the hero, and it’s designed into how many charities fundraise. When we create this narrative, social outcomes start to depend on how we (privileged folk) feel about something. With this in mind, charities place fundraising as their number one issue.
Should this narrative of heroes and saviours be the measure of what does and does not get funding? This goes for all givers and is accentuated in grant-making and major philanthropists.
Charities spend countless hours trying to please givers, putting valuable resources into grant applications, corporate relations, giving campaigns, all on this narrative that the giver is in control and needs convincing. These narratives draw us away from where the change is happening and ultimately can lead us to lose sight of what we’re even trying to change.
There is an obvious lack of diversity within charities. We are also part of that problem, as a predominantly pakeha team. We would love to see the Aotearoa charity sector have more candid and critical conversations about racism, rooted in honesty, humility and hope; to publicly acknowledge that institutional racism exists in organisations; to prioritise anti-racist work, to embed it into whatever institutional mechanisms are available and to dismantle the ones that are preventing change.
We don’t want to burn the sector down, we want to be a part of making it better.
This isn’t to make anyone wrong. We’re all doing the best we can with what we have. We’re the first to put our hands up in perpetuating these systems. We constantly churn these systemic questions in our minds. We don’t believe that our business model or platform is currently getting to the root cause. We want to be open and frank in this self-reflection, and we do not want to be a glitzy start-up that rates short-term solutions without addressing the long-term transformation needed. Hold us to account on this!
Phew, that was a lot. And it’s not even all of it! It’s our first attempt at authentically sharing our learnings, and we could be completely wrong about all of it. We acknowledge our blind spots, and we’re excited to continue uncovering them and learning about the sector. We’re open to feedback, insights, ideas and critique.
We’re taking some time to reflect on all of this—to reevaluate, to research, to listen, to design, to experiment, to work with our advisers and figure out how we can more closely align our model with our values and a long-term view to shake up the system. Chive is here to stay, and we’re welcoming charities to join on our free plans. Our time to reflect has our mission in mind: to make giving easy, empowering and effective.
We need to work out what a Chive that tackles systemic problems looks like, which requires thinking space. We’re choosing to slow down in a world that wants us to move fast.
We want to express our gratitude to all of the people we work with. We simply wouldn’t be where we are today without the incredible network we’ve built. People across Aotearoa have advised, critiqued, high-fived, deep-dived and realigned our baby, and we cannot thank you enough.
Ngā mihi nui to these supporters, creators and advisors—
Connor Finlayson, Julia Arnott-Neenee, Saphron Matua-Crawley, Angus Pauley, Rachel Butler, Mackenzie Dowson, Wade Pearson, Fi McPhee, Paul Moodie, Logan Philpot, Claire Williams, Nicolai Bain, Stephen Knowles, Richard Jeffrey, Gavin Coopey, Kerwin Wilson, Sophie Lewis, Alex McCall, Kate Frykberg, Dave Moskovitz, Wayne Hudson, Charlie James, SODA, FINZ.
And we’re thrilled to be a part of a growing community of giving solutions that we’ve loved getting to know and are constantly inspired by, specifically—
Guillaume Dehan and Courtney Ennor from Supergenerous, Pat Shepherd from One Percent Collective, Stephen Moon from Chooza, Cheryl Spain from The Gift Trust, Sue McCabe from Philanthropy NZ and Erin Anderson Scott from Comm.Unity. We know there’s many more that we love from afar and look forward to getting to know, we see and acknowledge you! The Good Registry, GoGenerosity, The Good Sell, Rewardhub and more!