As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Monica Weintraub. Monica hails from Phoenix, Arizona, where she has temporarily moved back to after living in China for the last seven years. Monica is the founder of donation subscription platform, Down to Donate, where she hopes to increase nonprofits’ low recurring donor base while simultaneously educating her generation about the world’s pressing issues through a crowdfunding-meets-subscription based platform. Her long-term vision is to create the world’s most extensive network of philanthropists while helping each of Down to Donate’s 15 nonprofit partner organizations receive $10,000 every month.
Prior to Down to Donate, Monica founded her first startup in the ESL industry at the age of 23. Monica’s writings and photographs have been featured in various outlets such as CNN, Elite Daily, Inc.com, and SheKnows.
When Monica’s not at her laptop, she can be found looking for new places to visit, new foods to try, new drinks to drink, and lots of dogs to pet.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I built Down to Donate mostly for myself. I wanted a way to learn about unique nonprofits, an easy way to donate to more than one nonprofit with a single payment, a way to manage them all in one place, and I wanted it to be geared towards people in my generation.
A lot of nonprofit websites guilt trip you while suggesting a higher donation amount. The autofill on their donation pages starts around $50, which is fine if you want to donate once and sleep a little better at night.
But the ultimate goal is to have people engaged in your community and your cause. We feel that doesn’t happen with a ton of emails asking for people to donate again, followed by sad photos of a less fortunate child in a war-torn area.
We believe the way to achieve that community is with a lower monthly donation amount and a focus on the donors — a collective of cool people who like to give back.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
It’s far less interesting than it is saddening, but important nonetheless. I’ve just learned a lot about how people choose to spend their money, myself included. We rarely question the bottle of water we buy, the movie tickets we purchase, or the clothes we wear. But often, these things can have some type of harmful history. We don’t sit down and research before we purchase unless the item is really pricy, like a new laptop or camera. We trust the marketing teams and charge it.
When it comes to donating to nonprofits, people feel they need to make a super educated decision, which is great, and agreeably necessary. But that same care should be put into every purchase, especially the for-profit industries we often support without question.
We’ve rallied up some of the coolest nonprofits out there, so we hope people can trust our judgment.
Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?
Yep! Down to Donate is a charity subscription service. Our users sign up, choose 1–3 nonprofits they want to donate to, and enter their card info. Our mission is that we don’t want some people to donate a lot; we want a lot of people to donate a little.
For now, we charge $8 a month, and while we’re in beta, we’re giving 100% of that subscription fee to our partner nonprofits. If we reach just 20,000 subscribers donating to our eventual 15 nonprofit partners, each of them could be receiving $10,000 a month.
After beta, 95% of our $8 subscription fee will go to our partner nonprofits. By hitting our goals, we could be raising just shy of $2,000,000 annually for incredibly important causes like gun control, human rights, environmental welfare, war veterans, and so much more.
How do you think this will change the world?
It’s a new way of donating. It’s a single digit. We don’t guilt trip. We don’t bombard with emails asking for more. It’s set-it-and-forget-it. But most importantly, it’s a stepping stone into the world of philanthropy. We want people to start with us, and then find their path and their way of giving.
Long term, we’d love to create the largest network of philanthropists and redefine the word itself. It doesn’t have to be a single billionaire; it can easily be 20,000 young people who care just as much, if not, more. But they likely don’t have the time or money to research and give back.
Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?
In the way of most new technology, there will, of course, be drawbacks. People can create a mirror site and funnel donations out for their use, or people who don’t agree with the politics of our partner nonprofits can try to smear us. We can later down the line find out we didn’t do enough research and end up partnering with someone who did or said something wrong.
We’ve heavily considered these potential issues, and we’ve taken several preventative measures, but the unfortunate truth is that people who have dark motives can truly find a way to bypass security and trust if they truly want to.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?
Very much so. It was in September of 2017, and I got on Facebook, which I was already completely annoyed with because of people complaining about things related to government, myself included. I found myself thinking, “If you would have just shown up, voted, donated, and educated yourself, things may have turned out differently.” I wasn’t advocating for anyone to side with me but just advocated for action.
Down to Donate is almost like an homage to the lazy — the slacktivists. In a few clicks, you can be donating to incredibly talented nonprofits. It’s people putting up instead of shutting up. That way, if someone like me comes along and tells them that instead of complaining on social media, they could be doing x,y, or z, they can rebuttal and take pride in being a monthly donor to awesome organizations who do all of the legwork they may not have time to do.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
Money! For a good team and advertising. That’s the obvious one.
But mostly, I need trust. I am not well-known by any means in the nonprofit or startup communities. Aside from me pestering execs with emails about why they should partner with us, no one has ever really heard of me. So why would anyone want me to be in control of their donations? It’s a reasonable question that can be answered by practicing transparency.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1.) Have a CTO.
I wish I would have known this early on because it would have saved me tons of time when it came to applying for accelerator programs or pitching VC’s. In the tech world, if you have no CTO, you’re SOL.
2.) Being a lady is hard.
The odds are already stacked against me not having a CTO, but the whole genetic makeup thing is a bigger challenge, being that women secure just 2% of VC funding.
3.) It’s lonely out here.
Most people create a good chunk of their personal relationships through professional settings. I work remotely and at very strange hours, making my social life almost non-existent.
4.) Location, location, location.
New ideas require open-mindedness. I started building Down to Donate while living in China, but my target audience is users in the US. Because of family issues, I had to relocate back to Phoenix, AZ for the first time in nearly a decade. You can find in places like this, and people may not be ready for your ideas.
5.) Don’t quit your day job.
I was lucky in the sense that my day job was another startup I helped found. At the time when I decided to fully dive into DTD, my first startup was being acquired, which would have given me a great monthly salary to sustain myself for a few years while I built Down. That fell through, as things like that often do. Fortunately, I made some good investments a few years ago that allow me to survive financially, but that isn’t practical for most people, and it’s slowly becoming impractical for myself.
If you have to get a job, keep it in your niche and learn the industry from the inside out.
The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?
I’ll play Devil’s advocate here.
This seems like an impossible question to answer, and I am mostly not optimistic because of 1.) I have done a lot of world traveling and know that not all opportunities are created equal, and 2.) AI.
I am mostly concerned about the latter because even incredibly new careers like being a social media influencer are becoming quickly replaceable. Just look at Lil Miquela, the “robot influencer” whose loyal following treats her just as they would a human influencer. Companies have begun creating human faces with a new algorithm referred to as a generative adversarial network, or GAN.
Their images were indistinguishable from actual people. I feel most people thought that AI was only relevant to replacing jobs in tech, but at some point, it will be so advanced that the human touch won’t be relevant, or even remembered. Companies will be able to create what we want to see, hear, and feel at a fraction of the cost.
Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?
Full-stack engineers, videographers, customer service, sales, advertising, influencer robots…joking. My co-founder and I have no shortage of marketing and functionality ideas that we truly believe will stop people in their tracks, but like any startup, we need good people who can help us bring our concepts to life.
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
My mantra is that constraint creates creativity. When you know you have few resources, but you believe in what you’re doing, you will find a way to make it work, even if you’re starting with nothing.
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “successful habits” or “successful mindsets”?
I read an interesting Reddit thread that spoke volumes to me. And it was that often times entrepreneurs are told they need to stay motivated to be successful. But the writer argued that it wasn’t motivation that was necessary, it was discipline.
This hit me like a brick because I have no shortage of motivation. I truly do want this, but if I’m honest, I lack discipline. No one tells me what to do or when to do it. And as an early founder, I am most definitely not making any profits. The only way to make my vision possible is through self-discipline, which is so much harder to gain and sustain than motivation.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?
Being in the social good space doesn’t have to equal low or even no profits. We’ve built a product that solves problems for both nonprofits and people who are ready to give back. We’ve built something that other companies are scrambling to mimic. The unfortunate truth is that social good is “in.” We’re not doing this because it’s in. We’re doing it because we know it’s sustainable and can open up significant opportunities for both our users and nonprofits who receive our donations.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.