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Photo by Prixel Creative

The holiday season has changed quite a bit over the last few decades. Our great-grandparents’ Decembers were pre-Amazon and pre-Black Friday—all about connecting with family and, most importantly, expressing love and appreciation through giving.

Now, December is a month when we tend to prioritize business over rest, shopping over time, and spending over giving. For most of us, the holiday season described in “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” is almost entirely obscured by retailers’ Christmas commercials on loop.

It’s standard to blame technology at times like these, but some people think tech can actually help us reconnect with what this time of year used to be about. One of these people is Brooke Currence, the marketing director of Small Token: she’s using this newly-launched charitable giving platform to help put the “giving” back into the Giving Season.

Truly a gift that gives back for the holidays and beyond, and a great way to infuse giving back into your life year-round.” -  Sophia Bush, Actress / Activist / Small Token Registry user

WHAT IS SMALL TOKEN?
Small Token is a charitable gift registry, one that you can set up just like any other gift registry: think wedding registries or Amazon wish lists. (If you’re a listener of NPR podcasts you might have heard of Small Token already, as the platform has been recently advertised alongside early adopter products like Squarespace and MeUndies.) The difference between Small Token and the others, however, is that instead of choosing stuff, you’re selecting charities that you’d like people to give to as a gift to you, providing a way to give and receive meaningful charitable gifts among friends and family.

Small Token is an opportunity to divert the funds that would go to more stuff—who needs another set of dishtowels, really?—to efforts like The Girl Project, the Lifebox Foundation, and many more. This is a gift everyone can feel good about.

“Last year,” says Brooke, “my dad requested that for the holidays we each donate to a nonprofit in his name, and then share with him on Christmas morning why we selected the nonprofit that we did, and what it meant to us. The conversation was so meaningful between my family members that morning, and we all felt a new sense of meaning and bonding over things we were each passionate about and sharing that with people we loved.”

In that sense, Small Token was a colliding of ideas for Brooke, who sensed a gap in the social good landscape for an easier way to do this—a platform that would privilege smaller charities, where larger ones tend to be the go-to.

"What a tremendous concept of giving!!"- Billy Grant, Small Token Registry User, Bay Area, CA

HELPING PEOPLE GIVE
Many people already have traditions of donating to charities within the context of holiday giving, so this is an easier way to do that, with more diversity.

But, Brooke points out, many people don’t know how to give in this way. “We did research and realized that people didn't know what their friends or family's favorite nonprofits were,” Brooke says. In busy times, we rarely get the chance to discuss our week with loved ones, much less our preferred charities; for that reason among others, when it comes to gifts we probably end up resorting to neckties and gift cards more often than we should.

But it goes even beyond the convenience factor. “We realized people wanted a way to express their nonprofits and still provide the joyful and loving tradition of gift-giving, but in a purposeful, and meaningful way,” says Brooke. “The average young person doesn’t donate to charity every day, the way they check their Twitter feed. We want to change that.” As a curation tool for the causes you care about, Small Token makes charitable giving as much about expression as it is about doing good, and this matters. Small Token democratizes giving and appeals to the way we live now, but still helps users reconnect with the giving spirit of the season.

smalltoken

Photo by Small Token

HELPING A COMPANY GROW
Asking people to give differently is asking for a change in behavior, something that is notoriously difficult to achieve, but Small Token has a huge advantage in that they have tech marketer Brooke at the helm, someone who understands how tech marketing and tech adoption work.

Small Token actually falls under the company name Give Lively, an LLC whose mission is to act as tech incubator for tech products promoting social good. When I came to work at Give Lively as Marketing Director,” Brooke says, “I was presented with the challenge of a new way to market Small Token, as a simple donation platform.”

Her task was a complex one: it was about helping the company raise the profile of the product, helping charities reach wider audiences, and helping consumers direct funds toward social causes. One of Brooke’s innovations was to ask trusted charitable networks— NAACP Legal and Defense Fund and Make the Road just to name a couple — to fulfill donations instead of the giver or the nonprofit, which lent the platform greater legitimacy and credibility.

“I also wanted to leverage the customization and personalization that millennials and most modern consumers have come to expect,” she says. “Customizing your own nonprofit gift registry gives the user the power to share their unique position on which nonprofits are valuable to them. The modern power is in ‘uploads,’ not downloads, and I wanted to embody that in a donation tool.”

“Because Civic Nation is a national nonprofit organization spread across the country, it was critical for us to partner - for free- with Give Lively to leverage their technology and marketing expertise to reach our potential donor base,” says Taylor Barnes, Director of United State of Women (a part of Civic Nation). “We used Give Lively’s Small Token Gift Registry platform to successfully launch a long-term campaign after our priorities quickly shifted due to the political climate. We received 100% of the proceeds and Give Lively provided our donors a joyful experience. The creativity, dedication, and agile resourcefulness of Give Lively was absolutely critical in making our campaign happen!"

Interestingly, Small Token is a project run with no revenue, operating at a loss, founded and funded entirely through the generosity of philanthropists. The founders believe that by funding a tech company instead of strictly donating to a nonprofit, they can inspire a catalyst of modern gratitude and democratized giving.

“Love what you’re doing!”- Nachi, @CallMeNachi, Small Token User, Chicago, Il

HELPING NONPROFITS RECEIVE 
There’s more to it than simply giving, however. Large, well-funded nonprofits (not necessarily the most effective) tend to dominate the charitable giving sector. One of the advantages larger charities have had is access: large marketing budgets, and their ability to develop apps, for example.

According to Brooke, mobile technology “is changing the way that consumers behave. That means that all nonprofits—not just to big ones—need the ability to capture that mobile spend. Without a tool like Small Token, smaller nonprofits often get left behind.”

Brooke wants to help these small-but-worthy charities, nonprofits that may not be at the top of a consumer’s mind, but can often represent a new and vulnerable cause, and are many times more efficient than some of the big nonprofits in terms of how they get funds to those in need.

With Small Token’s help, a number of small nonprofits are already amplifying their reach: Small Token recently launched a project following the US Presidential election with partner Civic Nation, as part of the United State of Women campaign.

We engaged with the United State of Women's 300+ nonprofit partner organizations, to create the Give 5 Campaign that encouraged people to take a pledge to "Give 5" to a non-profit every month,” Brooke told us. “We worked night and day to come up with integrating the nonprofits into our system to fight: Girls Education, Economic Empowerment, End Violence Against women, Women's Health, Civic Engagement, Human Rights and created specific registries for each of the causes, as well as integrated a paid social and email marketing strategy to involve users.”

Along with a large and growing number of nonprofit partners, Small Token is also partnered with Be Social Change and the Fair Trade Coalition to sponsor and put on events in NYC for the holidays. Every partner, Brooke says, is vetted and assured to be a “for-good” enterprise.

RESPECTED AND GROWING
Perhaps not surprisingly, Small Token has been making a stir in the media, landing in publications including Glamour, Fast Company, and CBS MoneyWatch since its launch in November.

But “it means more, in a way, to get meaningful reactions from users,” says Brooke. “I got an email recently from a woman who is getting married. After the election, she felt she needed new ways to help the causes she cared about, many of which are now at risk; our platform was perfect as a wedding gift registry, she said, and every cause she and her fiancé are including on their registry represents them as a couple. This is exactly what we’re about, this is the need we’re trying to fill: to help people express their passions and feel joy in giving and “receiving”.”

While there are other charitable giving platforms, Small Token is the only one that takes zero fees, and provides access to all 1.5million+ nonprofits for free — and provides the simple gift-registry format, as well as including a personalized card for the for the person in whose name a donation was made.

“You'd be surprised how meaningful it is for a friend to receive a personalized card from you that you donated to a cause they care about,” says Brooke. “I’ve used a Small Token gift to send to a friend for housesitting, getting my mail, meeting me for coffee, congratulating a friend—it’s not just about the holidays.”

This makes the platform both unique, and accessible: anyone can use it, even kids. While the platform requires an email address and a credit card to actually donate, parents who want to cultivate charitable giving in their children can request that they set up a registry, and have a budget for donation each year (or even each month).

“Our goal is a create a ‘December every month of the year’,” Brooke explains. December is traditionally a big giving month, but “our goal is to foster this spirit, with the help of creative digital tools, throughout the year—to support nonprofits, and support people in gifting for good, year-round.”

“I like this service - I think I'll incorporate this into my Christmas and birthday gift giving... I will definitely be sharing this with my friends."- Marcus Tyler, Small Token Registry User, Aurora, CO

HOW TO GET INVOLVED
Any nonprofit can be searched and donated to through on Small Token if they are a registered 501 (c)(3). Nonprofits are simply asked to provide a high-quality picture so they can be featured prominently in one of the platform’s curated categories.

Small Token sends wire transfers directly to the nonprofit selected by the giver, without any middlemen, within a few business days. If you’re interested in joining Small Token as a charity, you can reach out to nonprofit partner manager Jamie Feldman to sign up.

For those interested in creating a registry, you can use it flexibly: you can set up a registry for just one nonprofit that you love, or as a larger cause that you care about (for example, including all nonprofits in the “Future is Female” category on the site). You can, of course, include a range of different causes also. You can start creating your registry here.

WANT TO STAY IN TOUCH WITH SMALL TOKEN?
“We would love to add people to our email list where we send out weekly blogs and curated events,” says Brooke. “We also love for users or people to write us with feedback at support@givelively.org.”

FROM THE EDITOR
At Conscious, we are inspired by stories that cause us to think differently and think big-picture, and so we set out to tell stories with the help of leaders and influencers within the social good community. You can read more stories like this when you join as a member.

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