A profitable pivot (sorta) for Digital Donations

Profit prophet: Digital Donations co-founder Keith Orlean sees healthy bottom-line opportunities for his "lost potential" technology.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

They’re thinking big at Digital Donations Inc., as in Big Data.

The Melville tech manufacturer has made its bones providing “alternative fundraising solutions” for nonprofit organizations, including ATM-based and point-of-sale-centered donation options. It even founded a virtual school to train charity-group founders, directors and staffers.

Now, the 2014 startup is focusing its tech on for-profit customers – not abandoning its nonprofit doctrine but adding to it, according to co-founder and President Keith Orlean, who senses a lucrative opportunity in his firm’s “cause marketing” platforms.

“Our unique solutions all have to do with recapturing lost potential,” Orlean told Innovate LI. “How to connect those dots has always been our focus.

“But this technology is not just good for the nonprofit industries,” he added. “It works for both nonprofits and for-profits.”

The thinking is that the same data-modeling, data-analysis and data-enhancing tech fueling Digital Donations’ nonprofit efforts can energize commercial concerns. The proprietary data-crunching is designed to seal the deal with potential donors who fill out online forms but don’t commit, visit charity-focused websites but don’t act, or otherwise qualify as “lost potential.” Those same algorithms can bolster bottom lines at for-profit companies, according to Orlean – by extrapolating buying habits from cellphone numbers and email addresses, for instance.

“Everybody thinks of ‘data’ as buying a list of names, addresses and cell numbers,” he said. “But there are so many more elements available, because of all the connections between offline and online.

“We’re able to capture from a mobile ID really targeted information,” the president added. “About a person’s shopping habits, buying habits, donation habits.”

From there, the commercial possibilities are obvious and virtually endless: steakhouse coupons sent directly to the carnivore’s inbox, “preferred customer” bonuses, even location-based “beacon” advertising that identifies likely consumers – coffee-lovers strolling past a Starbucks – and beams out on-the-spot discounts.

“When the user is within a certain range you get a message – so you’re passing by a Starbucks and get a dollar off a coffee,” Orlean said. “This can actually move market share from Dunkin’ Donuts to Starbucks.”

While Starbucks is yet to sign on, other national retailers and major-league sellers have, including U.S. subsidiaries of Japan’s Honda Motor Co., which use Digital Donation tech to track “lost potential” that may have visited Honda websites and other online car-shoppers.

Also onboard is California-based concert promotor Live Nation, which “uses the technology to better target their audience and recapture lost opportunities,” Orlean noted.

“Everything in today’s online world is moving so fast,” he said. “How do you compete? How do you differentiate yourself? If you just go out there with a wide focus, it’s difficult to maximize the return-on-investment in your marketing.

“By focusing and narrowing your audience – if you know someone is shopping for a Mercedes or likes seafood – you start getting into the deep dive of people’s personal habits.”

The commercial push comes as Digital Donations, currently privately held, prepares to go public. The company has received preliminary Securities and Exchange Commission approvals and is currently applying for a ticker symbol. The stock will be offered over-the-counter to start – in lieu of appearing on a major exchange, shares will basically be traded by individuals via online bulletin boards.

It all fits: The same tech empowering Digital Donations’ nonprofit clients can boost for-profit bottom lines, according to Orlean.

But OTC or not, going public is still a major step for the three-year-old enterprise, according to Orlean, who expects shares to be moving within 90 days.

Meanwhile, partner organization United Charitable, the Virginia-based registered 501(c)3 with which the Melville startup launched the Digital Donations Learning Center, has taken over management of the virtual how-to-run-a-nonprofit school, which is now “powered by more than managed by” Digital Donations, according to Orlean.

None of this should suggest that Digital Donations is veering too far from its original focus. Orlean referenced ongoing work with the American Heart Association, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America and other big-time national charities. Digital Donations this week launched a new fundraising platform for Hurricane Harvey victims and “soon we’re going to have to add Irma to that list,” Orlean said.

All told, the company offers on-the-spot charitable-donation options at some 12,000 independent ATMs across the nation, the kind of non-bank-affiliated machine you might find tucked inside a 7-Eleven or pizzeria. Focusing the burgeoning tech firm’s wares on for-profit markets “is not a huge pivot,” Orlean noted, but “all about finding value for both the profit and nonprofit industries.”

“Our slogan is still ‘connecting cause with commerce to make a difference,’” the co-founder said. “Obviously, nonprofits are always stuck in situations where they need more money but can’t get into big marketing expenses, and we have solutions for that.

“And most for-profits generally have marketing budgets already,” Orlean added. “But there are definitely things we can do to produce better data solutions and help them improve their return-on-investment.”


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