Each year, $4.5 billion is spent on children’s birthday gifts, and one startup wants to make sure all children get a piece of the cake.
describes itself as a birthday invitation and charitable gifting platform, but it actually does a lot more. It gives kids in need the opportunity to experience something that so many Americans take for granted each day—a birthday party.
And on Sunday, Dec. 6, the company founded by four University of North Carolina students and with partners like Target, Boys and Girls Club of America and Salvation Army, will hold its official launch in Los Angeles with what else but a party. (Check out TechCrunch coverage of the launch
For Thomas Doochin, one of the organization’s founders, CommuniGift is all about value both to the recipients and the givers. The recipients are able to celebrate their birthdays with a small party provided by the nonprofit with gifts given to them by CommuniGift donors, and the givers are able to find value in giving back to others, he says.
“What if birthdays were rooted in feeling special by helping someone else?” Doochin says.
But here’s the catch—the givers are also children. CommuniGift encourages givers to ask their friends to donate gifts to a child in need, or what the company calls their “birthday buddy,” instead of receiving gifts at their own birthday party.
Convincing kids to give up their gifts so another child can benefit isn’t always an easy sell for parents, but more often than not, kids are more accepting than they might seem, Doochin says.
“We want parents to have conversations about why giving back is so important,” he says. He says it is always encouraging when a donor contacts the team sharing how much satisfaction his or her child felt by helping someone else.
CommuniGift did a trial run during last year’s holiday season
, with an online platform that partnered with “Adopt-a-Family” charities to let donors buy gifts for children from various e-commerce sites. Doochin says that launch was incredibly successful, but the team wanted to find a way to connect kids throughout the year and not just during one month, which is why they looked for ways to move away from their original model.
And as the costs of children’s birthday parties continue to skyrocket, it is harder and harder for parents to give their kids a party, Doochin says. This is just one of the reasons the team at CommuniGift settled on creating a way for less privileged children to have the full birthday experience.
For instance, the birthday party that will officially launch CommuniGift’s efforts is being held for a four-year-old from South Los Angeles. She is one of four children, and comes from a single-parent family where her mother works full time to support the bunch, making it difficult to splurge on extras. With the help of Volunteers of America and CommuniGift, the young girl will celebrate her birthday in style with both her family and friends.
The team has about 1,000 kids based in Los Angeles within its giving system that givers can pair birthdays with. Doochin says each child whose birthday is on the site is matched up with CommuniGift through the site’s nonprofit partners, such as the Salvation Army and Volunteers of America.
But what sets CommuniGift apart from other giving portals is its ease of use. Givers input their own birthday to pair with a “birthday buddy.” They then create their own birthday party invitation just as they would on any electronic invitation website, except this one also explains the donation process and shares the child’s wishlist. Afterwards, both the giver and his or her friends can donate presents online that are automatically delivered to the child on his or her special day. Like this Sunday, sometimes a nonprofit partner will throw a party too.
Doochin says it is the easy-to-use process that makes CommuniGift so attractive to both parents and children.
While the birthday party on Sunday signals the official launch of the charitable startup, it also brings with it a strengthening of CommuniGift’s relationship with its partners, such as Baby2Baby, Mommy Nearest and Target, which provides the gifts that donors purchase.
Another CommuniGift partner within the Los Angeles area is Giggles N' Hugs, which is a family-friendly restaurant and host of Sunday’s party. Giggles N' Hugs CEO Joey Parsi says in a statement the restaurant prides itself “on helping our community and a variety of charities and causes that help children all over the world,” making its partnership with CommuniGift a natural fit.
The company receives a commission based off the sales it generates for Target, but the nonprofits pay nothing to work with CommuniGift.
Doochin says his team is currently focused on creating value, not necessarily profit, adding the team sees long-term potential for the model as they fine-tune their business.
And it appears investors do too. At the start of the summer, the company took a bridge loan from an investor in Los Angeles, and in August, CommuniGift received an angel investment from Charlotte-based investors. The founders declined to share specific dollar amounts. They plan to raise another round early in 2016.
For now the company is focused on making its impact on California, with another launch scheduled for San Francisco in the future. And despite being a company founded by four Tar Heels, Doochin says California was the right choice initially because it was such a foreign market.
“We needed to see how much is the idea and how much is our personal connections,” he says.
But just because California was the right launching pad does not mean CommuniGift is leaving North Carolina anytime soon, especially with university exams scheduled to begin shortly.
“The role of UNC has been huge in getting us here,” Doochin says. “We’d love to come back—be it Raleigh, Durham or Chapel Hill.”
*A previous version of this story stated that CommuniGift is a nonprofit. It is in fact a for-profit company.