From galas and sponsorships to annual giving and federal grants, fundraising can be one of the most daunting tasks for a non-profit. Now, a New Orleans entrepreneur has created a unique tool to assist with some of those fundraising efforts, as well as connect people in the community with individuals who are otherwise hard to reach.
LinkedIn meets eBay for social good with Connect for a Cause, an online platform that allows registered non-profits to raise money by auctioning one-hour lunch meetings with VIPs, celebrities, and business executives who support the organization. The innovative tool also is a means of providing motivated networkers the opportunity to win a meeting with mentors or decision-makers who could influence their professional lives – an opportunity that is potentially difficult to secure.
“Part of our mission is to connect people who might otherwise not have the ability to reach those individuals who can have a big impact on their businesses and careers,” said Jason Nicosia, founder of Connect for a Cause. “Often, success is all about who you know, and now we can provide that introduction while helping worthy causes at the same time.”
Nicosia spent many years working in sales, and quickly realized how difficult it is to cold call and establish relationships with high-level executives and influential leaders. After winning a lunch with an Entergy executive, who remains a mentor to Nicosia, he realized how impactful one face-to-face meeting can be on someone’s life. So he decided to take the concept online.
In essence, the platform benefits all parties – the non-profits, the bidders, and those who are being auctioned off. It is a simple, risk-free way for non-profits to raise funds as well as awareness, with the support of their recognizable board members. The bidders have a unique opportunity to meet role models, celebrities, local influencers, or business leaders. And, while the “VIPs” have the opportunity to raise money for their favorite organizations, they also have the chance to impact someone’s life both personally and professionally.
Nicosia, who joined LaunchPad Ignition’s 2012 class in February with an idea and minimal viable product in tow, has raised his first round of seed funding and launched the beta version of the site just last week with the help of the accelerator program. His focus now is to engage Louisiana non-profits, reach out to national organizations, and raise at least $1 million for the site’s registered groups within the next six months.
With 1.5 million non-profits in the United States, Nicosia’s ultimate mission is to scale the product on a national level. However, the New Orleans-born founder plans to keep the business based in New Orleans, and focus on helping Louisiana-based organizations first.
“I had the opportunity to start the company elsewhere,” he says. “However, non-profits took care of New Orleans after Katrina, and our way of helping back is through our successes and the business.”
Several organizations, including the Downtown Development District, St. Bernard Project, and New Orleans Women’s Shelter, are scheduled to add lunch-meeting opportunities to the site in the near future. As of now, auctions of meetings with executives from the New Orleans Hornets and Iberia Bank are available online, to support Family Service of Greater New Orleans and Louisiana Technology Council.
With an impressive roster of local headliners and celebrities — including the likes of James Carville and Hugh Webber — set to go up in the near future, Connect for a Cause will help organizations through a new kind of fundraising, and continue to foster entrepreneurship in the city by facilitating mutually beneficial connections.
Hopefully, I still have ample time to start saving up for my lunch date with Jake Gyllenhaal.
Free registration is now open for non-profits and meeting-seekers at www.connectforacause.com.
Adriana Lopez writes about the entrepreneurial community for NolaVie and Silicon Bayou News. She also showcases local start-ups through her non-profit organization GenNOLA. For more information on NolaVie, go to nolavie.com.