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From Corporate to Non-profit: How Business School Helped Three Students Realize Their Vision

From Corporate to Non-profit: How Business School Helped Three Students Realize Their Vision main image

Between increasing fundraising costs, the rise of cashless finance and a lack of engagement with younger generations, the non-profit sector has suffered a significant hit in recent years.

Research shows between 2015 and 2018, 70 percent of UK charities saw a decrease in cash donations, and the non-profit sector lost a further £92m after inflation in 2019.

While these figures might seem discouraging, William Conaghan, Co-Founder and CFO of Change Donations, explains it’s not necessarily an indication of people’s unwillingness to donate.

He said: “Recent reports show that philanthropy has gone down, but then people are still volunteering at a staggering rate and mobile giving has gone up 70 percent in the past five years.

“There’s clearly a gap that needs to be addressed, and there needs to be a tool that makes the process easy for people who want to help.”

Helping non-profits with fintech

William and his MBA classmate Lizzy Hayashida founded Change Donations, the Ireland-based start-up in 2018.

The digital platform helps non-profits by allowing donors to round up their card purchases and donate their spare change to the causes they most care about.

Lizzy said: “We’re charity agnostic. Our theory is that donors should be able to give to whatever cause they want to help, as long as the charity is legitimate. Our goal is to get as many charities in the platform as possible.”

William and Lizzy say this fintech-powered solution could narrow the gap between charities and younger generations, who notoriously prefer more efficient transactions.

Lizzy also believes this could solve one of the main challenges non-profit organizations face: the lack of incentives to use innovative fundraising methods.

Research found, as of 2018, over 74 percent of UK and Irish charities had never tried contactless systems for donations, despite government predictions that the country would see a staggering decrease in cash payments.

Lizzy said: “There’s a lack of understanding of the charity sector. Charities face so many challenges that they shouldn’t have to face. Everything they spend is scrutinized, and it discourages them from taking the risks that could benefit them in the long run.”

From MBA project to start-up

William and Lizzy met at Trinity College Dublin during their MBA – the spot where Change Donations was born as a student project for their first class modules.

Lizzy said: “When we were setting it up, it was really important to create something that could do good and give back to society. And that’s why we came up with this idea.”

Lizzy and William both come from a business background, which gave them the necessary knowledge to start the company.

Before moving to Ireland, Lizzy spent eight years working in Silicon Valley for a wide range of tech and e-commerce start-ups, while William worked in corporate finance between New York, Washington D.C. and Chicago.

A year after setting up Change Donations, William’s brother Matt – then a copywriter based in Chicago – relocated to Ireland to pursue an MSc in Digital Marketing Strategy from Trinity and join the team as Head of Marketing.

Matt said: “It wasn’t too hard for William and Lizzy to convince me to come here. It wasn’t a hard sell given how generous and kind the Irish government and start-up community were towards our mission. It’s refreshing to see such a collaborative mentality.”

William, Lizzy and Matt say their b-school experience was essential to realize their vision and creating Change Donations.

William said: “Working with the charitable sector had been a passion of ours for a while. Then I moved to New York and got involved in the finance industry and I sort of lost my way.

“Coming to Trinity helped me find that passion again and made me realize that non-profits should be treated like real businesses.

“Lizzy and I did a great job of aligning our skills and the skills we’d amassed during our careers and putting them into the non-profit sector.”

Lizzy says that Trinity helped them not only develop the skills necessary to run a successful business, but also find charities to collaborate with.

She said: “The Irish community is fantastic. The amount of support we received from Trinity was huge. We love being a part of a smaller Irish ecosystem.”

Matt added: “The time at Trinity taught us to teach ourselves and be able to be quick and learn things on the fly. Those are helpful skills to have and to grow every day.”

Going global

Since the coronavirus pandemic struck, Change Donations’ charity base has grown by 54 percent, and the organization now helps close to 40 different non-profits in Ireland.

William, Lizzy and Matt believe this is a sign that digital fundraising will constitute most charity donations in a post-Covid world, where the usage of cash will continue to decrease.

In September and October 2020, the platform is set to launch in the US, helping its founders go global and access a wider network of non-profits.

William said: “I think fundraising not only will change, but has to change. We have global aspirations and we’re taking the theories, learnings and assumptions we’ve gathered and tested here and applying them to charities abroad.”

Lizzy added: “I really got to see how fintech and business can be used for good. It’s been amazing to really focus on forming the mission and vision of the company.”

Written by Linda Mohamed

Linda is Content Writer at TopMBA, creating content about students, courses, universities and businesses. She recently graduated in Journalism & Creative Writing with Politics and International Relations, and now enjoys writing for a student audience. 

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