Giving Where It Counts

In varying degrees, we’ve all heard the gloomy statistics that often paint perceptions of the African American community, frequently deeming it a “lost cause.” But it was precisely that view, and issues such as the lack of adequate healthcare and the prison and poverty rates, that prompted Vince Martin to get involved. But instead of starting another nonprofit organization, the entrepreneur and software architect decided to create, a site that helps fund charitable causes that already exist.

“I spent [some time] thinking about how we could leverage technology in conjunction with our tremendous economic power [because] you hear about our problems but you seldom hear about solutions,” says Martin, 33, a 1993 graduate of Tuskegee University. Martin, CEO of Integral Technologies Inc., a software development and consulting firm in Georgia, used his technical expertise to launch in 2002. Aside from the Website’s graphic design, Martin did the work himself, and says the site cost roughly $250,000 to launch. The Website combines social awareness with consumerism for the online marketplace.

After developing several prototypes, Martin approached retailers to see if they were interested in his plan, which was to use his Website as a way to reach African American consumers. When a consumer signs up for a free account and purchases a product through the link, the retailer pays a marketing commission to the Website; at least half of the commission is donated to one of the nonprofit organizations registered with the Website. The consumer chooses the organization they want to support, and as soon as the purchase is credited, they receive a “thank you” e-mail. The consumer can log on to the Website to track their donations. Some of the organizations registered with include: A Better Chance, the Rockstone Foundation, the California Black Women’s Health Project, the Tavis Smiley Foundation, and the Minority Prison Diversion Project Inc.

“Initially we approached two companies just to gauge the response, [but within] the first six months we had 40 retailers on board,” says Martin. Currently, there are 134 retailers, such as FTD, Dell Home Systems, and Reebok, advertising roughly 3 million products. Along with shopping, the Website also offers a monthly e-newsletter featuring charity and community updates.

So far, the Website has donated roughly $1,300 to various nonprofit organizations. While the dollar amount is by no means staggering, Martin remains convinced that the site will be a success. “It’s been a significant risk and a journey, [but] I think we all have a responsibility. … Part of why we’re here is to help people. Every penny counts.”