David Harrison – Tech, Philanthropy & Senior Discounts
David Harrison, 66, is turning coupons into causes. He and his wife Cindy have started Boomerang Giving (www.boomeranggiving.org), a non profit dedicated to supporting our generation in giving back to causes we believe in, using a traditional (and perhaps cliche-ridden) institution to do it: the senior discount.
The Harrisons were shopping in a grocery store in Eastsound, on Orcas Island, WA, and noticed that the store was offering shoppers the chance to “round up” their purchases and give the difference to a selection of local charitable organizations. The organizations were listed on a large bulletin board, along with information and brochures to help people decide where their money should go. It got the Harrisons thinking that there could and should be a way to expand upon this concept, and to tap into the vast potential of using senior discounts to fund charitable organizations. With Boomers turning 65 at the rate of over 3 million per year (from now until 2029), the installed base of eligible users for this concept is only growing bigger, and it seemed to the Harrisons that if this market could be tapped, and technology used to facilitate the process, they would have a win-win.
No stranger to the non-profit world, David is the former director of the Nancy Bell Evans Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Affairs. He is president of the Bainbridge Island Land Trust, and became chair of the state association Washington Non Profits in the summer of 2014.
To launch this non-profit platform linking donors, retailers and recipients, the Harrisons compiled research showing that approximately 30 percent of seniors who use discounts need the discounts to live on, but for those who are still working, or who are more comfortable in their retirement, there is significant buy-in for the idea. Their polling indicated that 65 percent of men and 75 percent of women in the target age range said that they would be willing to donate at least some portion of their senior savings at least some of the time.
For a number of years, “electronic scrip” services like eScrip.com have facilitated fundraising through retailers willing to donate a portion of their sales to specific educational institutions, charities and non-profits. The Harrisons are looking to take this concept further by applying it specifically to retailers who offer senior discounts, and then channeling those discounts directly to the organization(s) designated by the recipient. Boomerang Giving launched in the fall of 2014 and is operating in what David calls “phase 1.” Users interested in donating their savings are asked to estimate their aggregate monthly savings from the various senior discount programs they’re using (public transportation, movie theaters etc.), and to then use the Boomerang Giving website to donate that amount to organizations listed through their partners GuideStar and Network for Good.
The heavy lifting will occur in “phase 2,” where David intends to directly connect donors to organizations at the point of sale. He is currently working with his investors and partners in Seattle to develop the technology solution that would use both credit cards and affinity cards to facilitate the process. Ultimately, we will be able to pay full price for, say, a movie ticket, and the senior discount will be automatically funneled to our chosen organization.
Even though, at 66, David doesn’t fit the profile of your classic millennial startup social entrepreneur, he says that he has gotten strong support for his venture from the Seattle tech community, including from established venture firm Social Venture Partners, who, as David says, are “looking to improve human conditions through technology.” While it’s clear to David that he is not the most tech-savvy guy in the room, the focus is on what Boomerang Giving is trying to do, and the service it is trying to provide. The technology will be the enabler, not the star of the show. The key is going to be making the service accessible and easy across all devices.
David is very optimistic about arriving at a practical working solution: “We think that five years from now, with the aid of technology, this will be a common practice.” He is also very bullish on what a process like this can do for charitable giving on a broader scale: “Boomeranging your discounts is really a wonderful democratization of philanthropy.” One of the main reasons he believes he has gotten so much buy-in from his partners is that Boomerang Giving is a way to pay philanthropy forward. If grandparents are using the platform to donate to charities and non-profits, David believes that they will involve their grandchildren and teach them the value of giving. This will make Boomerang Giving an educational, values-driven application that can propagate philanthropy across generations.
But will Boomers use it? Receptivity for a technological approach to philanthropy is high among Boomers, according to David’s polling. While seniors over 70 may not quite get it, our generation is definitely tech savvy. When David launched the website and began driving traffic, he was gratified by the response and reception on social media, which continues to grow.
Is Boomerang Giving a way to rekindle some of the 60s-era activism that many of us seem to have lost track of? For David, the answer is yes: “We’re trying to capture a thread of how we acted and felt then. We’re the generation that cared about social impact in 1965 and 1969 and proved it in meaningful ways … but there are all sorts of 67 year olds, and we welcome everybody who feels the same way.”
Regardless of whether people have maintained their interest in giving over the years, David believes that Boomers are entering a more reflective time when we engage with activities and projects that matter to us. This will, he believes, draw us back to our socially conscious roots, and encourage us to give back. If that is true, it might just define the legacy that we will leave behind as inspiration for future generations.