At Milaana we love to shine a light on socially conscious organisations who welcome student volunteers. Please welcome Alison Gray, the founder of Gifts4Good, an online shopping portal where every purchase contributes to a good cause.
How did you get the idea for Gifts4Good?
The inspiration came from two places:
1) I stumbled across several websites in the US and UK that help people fundraise for their favourite cause for free by shopping online. These sites have raised millions of dollars for good causes. I thought earning free charity donations just by shopping was a great concept and thought to myself, “why don’t we have this in Australia?”
2) Secondly I was looking for a meaningful gift for a friend’s birthday … a gift that would also give back in a social impact sense. I knew these kinds of products existed. However, it took me such a frustratingly long time to find what I wanted, I realised there was an opportunity to provide an online service that brings purpose-driven retailers together to make it easier for consumers to find them.
Gifts4Good brings together these two ideas … my vision is that it will be super-easy for consumers to have their shopping dollar make a difference. Whether that’s by fundraising for their local community group through shopping, or by buying from a social enterprise retailer creating employment opportunities, or other positive impact.
Who are your customers and what are they interested in?
My customers are socially-minded consumers, interested in making a difference in the world. They like to choose thoughtful gifts for friends and family, and are probably already involved in volunteering for a charity, supporting their local community group, or giving time to help out at their kids school or sporting club.
What has been your greatest challenge starting up?
Before entering the world of social entrepreneurship, I was a senior manager in a large organisation. I had the benefit of a great team of skilled people and the resources of a big business at my fingertips. Being a solo entrepreneur is very different – my greatest challenge has been working out how to use my limited time and funds for greatest impact. There’s so much to do just to get a start-up off the ground! I’m very grateful for the support I’ve had so far through the School for Social Entrepreneurs, GIVIT and my wonderful first volunteers, Emily and Nicole.
What are your ongoing challenges?
The major ongoing challenge is building awareness about Gifts4Good. A shopping portal is only helpful if shoppers know about it.
I’d love Milaana readers to like Gifts4Good on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter, to help spread the word! If there are any students who are expert in other social media channels who would be interested in creating and managing a Gifts4Good profile on these platforms, please get in touch.
I’m also keen to partner with a digital agency to help me improve the website platform, build extra features etc. Striving for a great visitor experience is really important for an online business, as it’s harder to build relationships and an engaged community when you can’t meet your customers face-to-face.
What developments do you have planned for the future?
I plan to add more stores – there’s now more than 360 retailers participating in Gifts4Good; my goal is to reach at least 500 stores where you can shop online and earn free donations.
Very soon, shoppers will be able to choose which cause they want their shopping to support. At the moment, all funds raised go to national charity, GIVIT. However, I really want to enable consumers to shop for any non-profit community group or charity that is personally meaningful to them.
And of course, Mothers Day is just around the corner! We’ll be posting lots of gift ideas from our social enterprise and mainstream retailers to help you make Mum’s day really special … and have a positive social impact at the same time.
Why do you need student input?
During the start-up phase of any business, the challenge is lots to do and limited revenue to pay for work. Student input and assisting with all the facets of starting-up will help fast-track the development and establishment of Gifts4Good. And that will mean together we achieve the social impact that is possible by unleashing the power of online shopping, which is a $15 billion market in Australia, to do good in the world.
What kind of skills do you have a demand for?
Through Milaana, I’ve linked up with Akanksha, a marketing student who wants to learn about digital marketing. I’m keen to get her input on raising awareness about Gifts4Good, and she’ll be helping me implement search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques. I really need more student help to develop content for the website about gift ideas (so writing and creative skills), plus some more marketing know-how to help build the Gifts4Good brand would be great.
What are your sources for inspiration?
I get most of my inspiration from the people I meet and biographies I read about amazing individuals like Muhammad Yunus. But as an online business, I’ll give a shout out to a few online sources of great inspiration too: IdeasHoist (A digital magazine for Australians making ideas happen), TED talks and Ashoka.org (the largest network of social entrepreneurs worldwide).
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