When Hitha Palepu’s son, Rho, was about to turn one year old, she was overwhelmed by the generosity of friends and family wanting to get him presents. But when everyone asked her what Rho wanted for his birthday, she shot back with a simple answer: “No gifts.”
As Palepu looked around her typically small New York City apartment, imagining it cluttered with gifts her family didn’t need, she came up with the idea for NO.GIFTS an online charity platform helping users go giftless, just in time for Black Friday.
Co-founded by Palepu and Cisco executive Samira Panah, the new site enables users to mount personalized donation pages for their favorite nonprofits, in lieu of physical gifts. They can also upload videos and photos, explaining why they don’t want friends and family to shop for them on Black Friday a day that seems to arrive earlier and earlier every year, and has even turned deadly.
This year, Palepu and Panah argue, “don’t give stuff give impact.”
“The idea of bringing joy into your home during the holidays, whether it’s a smaller, more meaningful gift, or giving impact versus giving things, is something we’re starting to see more and more and more of,” Palepu told Mashable.
“Being able to leverage what I had already built with my desire for all of us to give back on a regular basis just kind of came together.”
NO.GIFTS is an offshoot of Palepu and Panah’s previous venture, Bridge2Act, which launched in 2015 and works with big charities and publishers so people can take action in real-time. Palepu said it has raised more than $20,000 for more than 60 charities.
It was on Bridge2Act that Palepu originally set up a donation page to replace gifts for her son’s birthday. She ended up raising $2,000 for three children’s organizations.
“That was sort of an a-ha moment,” she said. “Being able to leverage what I had already built with my desire for all of us to give back on a regular basis just kind of came together.”
Rooted in the idea that people still want to give something, NO.GIFTS currently runs through the Bridge2Act system. Users go to the website and fill out a short questionnaire name, birthday and the causes they care about most. NO.GIFTS sends them a personalized list of five charities, and users choose three. Then they can set up a custom page to show why they’re passionate about these causes, and why they’re going giftless, and can then send out the link to others.
While it might be difficult to convince people to be 100 percent altruistic during the holiday season, NO.GIFTS could also prove useful for weddings, anniversaries and birthdays. And that’s not such a farfetched idea think of everyone “donating” their birthdays to the digital-savvy nonprofit charity: water over the years. (Looking at you, Bieber.)
“I think it’s about offering solutions that can fit into everyone’s life, and make it very easy.”
Palepu thinks it’s all about offering an entry point. It can be intimidating to find the right causes to support; NO.GIFTS helps, and could get us to establish a habit of philanthropy in our day-to-day.
“There will be people who truly don’t want anything and will go full-on altruism. And there are people who maybe just want to dip their toe in the water … it’s about offering solutions that can fit into everyone’s life, and making it very easy,” Palepu said.
In that way, NO.GIFTS definitely goes beyond Black Friday, and can even become a powerful tool for Giving Tuesday a global day of giving that takes place on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving. Over 2015’s Giving Tuesday, more than $116 million was raised online for good causes.
NO.GIFTS is launching its own Giving Tuesday campaign, called the “I Dream Of” challenge, with social influencers like Marley Dias and Dr. Mike posting about what they want to see in the world. NO.GIFTS will be the donation platform their followers can use to take action over the course of the 24-hour challenge.
“We’ve been thinking a lot about [Black Friday] as an organization, and we came to this idea of how we could do something bigger and better on Giving Tuesday as a result,” Panah said.
The goal is to have NO.GIFTS become its own standalone platform, which is why Palepu and Panah are running a campaign to raise $50,000 on iFundWomen, a crowdfunding platform for women-led businesses. They’ve already raised more than $10,000, with 99 days left in the campaign.
“I think so much of us building Bridge2Act was wanting to change what being a woman in tech, science and male-dominated fields looks like,” Palepu said.
In that vein, Panah, who runs media and entertainment at Cisco Systems and has worked with several anti-sex trafficking organizations over the past decade, says she’s always been a fighter.
“I’ve always fought my way through tech,” she said. “And I think what we’re trying to do here is not only pave the way for women in tech, and fight to create that level of equality … but also fight for a better world.”