Sevenly: Using Social Media for Charity
27 Feb, 2012
At twenty-seven years old, Dale Partridge has already done more than some people will do in a lifetime. He started his first company at 17, and ended up selling it two years later for $50,000. He then established several other companies, including a faith-based entrepreneurial conference and a chain of rock-climbing gyms that still produce considerable revenue. But his heart truly lies in his current venture, Sevenly, which, since its opening in 2011, has raised nearly $250,000 for charitable causes around the world.
Sevenly has its roots in the severe dichotomy Partridge and his business partner perceived between the people who have money and those in dire need—and the apparent lack of flow from one to the other. “My business partner, Aaron Chavez, and I had a conversation about the complex global issues of poverty,” Partridge told Organic Connections.“We had a light bulb turn on: we realized the problem wasn’t them.It’s not the billions of poverty-stricken people across the globe; it’s the billions of people that forgot how to care and forgot how to give.
“We wanted to build a model that took people through the road of generosity: from getting them to donate a tweet or a ‘like’ on social media to having them buy a product that gave to a charity. It would move them toward the greater mission of generosity—getting them next to make stand-alone donations, and ultimately having them become lifelong givers and supporters of causes.”
Sevenly is based on a simple—yet powerful—model. Every week of the year, the company partners with a different charity. A unique and fashionable T-shirt, promoting that particular charity, is offered for sale through the Sevenly website. For every T-shirt sold, Sevenly gives $7 to that charity. At the end of the 7-day campaign, the charity is sent a check for the money raised.
It’s one thing to formulate such a worthwhile goal, but it’s another to actually be clever enough to reach it. It was definitely cleverness—in this case with social media—that elevated Sevenly so quickly. “When Aaron Chavez and I got together, we had some influential social media followings—a few million fans combined,” Partridge recounted. “That is how we started, and we are unlike any other company. We don’t do print advertising, radio or TV; we barely even do Google ads. It’s almost entirely social media. Nearly all our revenue and our giving are driven from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram and Pinterest. I’d rank us as probably in the top ten current companies in the world as far as social media success is concerned. Our marketing model doesn’t exist elsewhere; it’s completely innovative and customized for us. It’s scalable, it’s low overhead, it’s high return on investment, and it also fulfills our mission in spreading the words that we need spread about our company. It’s a very good balance and it’s extremely powerful.”
Partridge and Chavez have built social media communities—many of which have followers in the millions—around topics such as inspiration, comedy, doing good, fashion, art and faith. “We build these really big communities, and then we just plug Sevenly into them,” Partridge explained. “They then funnel down into Sevenly’s core community, where we have maybe 50,000, and it just keeps growing and growing.”
Another vital aspect of the business is the selection of charities. “We have an interesting vetting process that we work through,” said Partridge. “We typically try to pick out causes that we really believe in and that we have heard about or have been brought to our attention. We do a lot of vetting in terms of the campaign direction. We make sure that we sign an agreement that the money must be used for exactly what the campaign is supposed to be used for. It can’t go to operating expenses; if we raise $10,000 for Darfur, $10,000 is going to Darfur—not $8,000 of it and $2,000 for operations or whatever.
“We don’t pick based off of size or influence; we really pick based off of impact. Sometimes a smaller charity can make a heck of a lot more impact than a bigger charity—they might be faster and more agile. We do work with a lot of big charities, but there are some small ones in there. It really just depends on the issue that we’re working with.”
Are the charities actually utilizing the money for what it was intended for? Partridge also makes sure of that. “We’re now making it a part of the charity commitment that we get follow-ups throughout the year,” Partridge explained. “Like, ‘Hey, thank you. Here are some photos from what you guys have done.’ We have a four-week update for everybody that purchased a product. We send them an e-mail update with photos, how it has changed people’s lives, and maybe a story or two from that village or that area of the world.”
In hearing back about how their donations are put to work, Partridge gets some incredible accounts, and he shared one with us. “Mercy Ships is a charity that takes cruise ships and turns them into medical ships,” Partridge related. “They go to third-world countries and offer free medical care and surgeries. Well, they had to shut down a surgical center on one of their ships because they didn’t have enough people to donate their time. That meant that people with tumors the size of baseballs on their faces who had been outcast from their societies in places like Sierra Leone, or people who’d had cleft lips until they were 25, or people who had cataracts, were not able to be cured because the ship was lacking employees and volunteers. They sent us a letter saying that, through our campaign for them, they ended up having six people who were already either physicians or nurses apply to be on the ship. They took four of them and actually opened back up the surgical center.”
Partridge is very happy with Sevenly and plans to continue and expand it. He feels he has learned some extremely valuable lessons about helping people to contribute. “I think if people know and are educated on the issues, they’re much more likely to give,” he concluded. “If you can connect the cause with people in a way that is practical and quantified—meaning like $7 provides 35 meals, or $7 provides a family with clean water in Peru for a year—that’s a real return on investment to somebody. When people understand how it works, I think there’s a lot of value in terms of individuals opening their hearts and their wallets. They also get a great product in return, and we like to think of the product itself as a way to spread and share the mission. They get a reminder when they put their shirt on that ‘I did something for somebody else; this problem still exists and these people need me.’”
Visit the website at www.sevenly.org.
Check out the Sevenly Facebook page at www.facebook.com/sevenly.org.