Melinda Masson, Founder, and CEO of Lifestyle of Giving tells us how their marketplace allows organizations and their members to earn funds through online shopping.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Melinda Masson: Covid-19 created many obstacles for my family and our company. We successfully increased our internet capacity as we live in a “hilly area” and had limited access that was consistent! Fortunately, our family home is fairly isolated with a large yard, so we could logistically be a bit more active than most.
I, as the CEO, was most concerned with retaining the corporate culture, work ethic and serving all clients timely; remotely. I immediately set up zoom meetings with our key IT suppliers, staff, and other key vendors as needed, PLUS enhanced the tools of use to stay productive.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Lifestyle of Giving.
Melinda Masson: I have had the great opportunity to start, sell and transition to a public company of 4 real estate-related companies in the late 2000s. In an attempt to stay busy in “retirement,” I added a couple of nonprofit Board positions to my already fairly full Board engagement activities. In all cases, the primary focus for nonprofits was raising money; vs. truly being able to help the cause they had organized to support. A former employee had children attending a private school. The primary source of their fundraising was the school buying plastic gift cards at a discount, then selling them using volunteers at face value, so the delta became the fundraising component. After spending almost 2 years in research, we created the company called “scripsense Inc.” to primarily digitize the plastic gift card process” to reduce the risk schools were facing and dealing with on a regular basis.
How does Lifestyle of Giving innovate?
Melinda Masson: Within a month of the pandemic hitting the country hard, we lost the majority of our business as schools had to close, and internally much chaos for the school while reorganizing stopped all programs like ours. My Co-Founder needed to quit as she now found herself homeschooling her 4 children.
I had to innovate quickly and was able, with great help from young great thinking minds, to pivot within 60 days; rebranding, updating the platform for greater flexibility of use; all new staff as consultants to avoid all the HR issues; and much more. The result received two awards: Top 100 Tech Innovators and Influencers from INCOMM; and another from Internet Marketing Association for Brand Reinvention.
The newly Branded and updated company became Lifestyle of Giving, which provides a digital Marketplace for nonprofits, charities, and foundations to invite their members to shop online FREE for their daily needs, all while giving back to their organization, again at no extra cost. We have taken traditional fundraising and crafted it into our unique platform; called Marketplace; it’s easy to use and allows people to support their nonprofits; 24/7 if they want. Whether they are grocery shopping, ordering their favorite food delivery, picking up their necessities, everyone wins through the Lifestyle of Giving Marketplace. We made use of the platform FREE to all member users of the organization. With monetary donations declining, we have made it possible for these organizations to stay afloat and plan for years to come. The ultimate branding that brings the trust to use for their members is that the name of the Marketplace is the organization’s name ( United Way Marketplace).
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Melinda Masson: We were/are hugely impacted as no revenue came in for almost 7 months while we changed our target market strategy. We applied and received the SBA loan, which has saved us! Investment fundraising has been almost impossible due to the phase of our minimal productivity/revenue.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Melinda Masson: The Co-Founder and former employee, as previously stated, quit the company; and we had no new business coming in from schools. I had to let all other employees go as I couldn’t afford them, we had to all work virtually, payroll costs and benefits were increasing, and the list goes on.
What lessons did I learn? I had to make tough decisions quickly and felt the pressure to “fail faster” yet not lose sight that we had/have a great concept; it just needed to be adjusted. My Board members, including my initial funding VC partner, all resigned. I was on my own as to the next phase of fundraising, which was bleak, so I went to the nine investors that I had created a Convertible note with and asked for an extension that they 100% granted.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Melinda Masson: Our customer relationship has several facets. We wanted to stay in touch with our educational clients, so we brought several communication apps to be efficient.
We also used Mailchimp to stay in contact with all of the client members, and a few continued to support their organization using our platform as a result of these reminders.
We hired an IT group to do a deep dive and upgrade many of the apps we had initially used in development so we could have a Chat Room if needed, as well as an email support app to respond to any questions/concerns quickly while using the platform.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Melinda Masson: Yes, as stated previously, the SBA loan was a HUGE grant for us and did keep our business afloat. Unfortunately, we cannot qualify for the latest version coming out in 2021. I am seeking investment financing differently.
Your final thoughts?
Melinda Masson: Out of every perceived failure comes opportunity. We began working with Corporations that wanted to make a difference beyond writing a check. Nolet Spirits (Ketel One) was one. They partnered with their industry’s nonprofit, Another Round Another Rally who became a “clearinghouse” for all displaced hospitality industry workers, especially their clients. Once vetted, an email list is sent to Lifestyle of Giving, and we send a $50/eGift card for groceries weekly along with a personalized note from the Nolet family. The Nolet Spirits pledged 1 Million dollars towards this program, and the email stories of great impact have been incredible. Another corporate entity purchases VISA hard cards of about $1 Million/year and distributes them to individuals in need of health care. We are thankful to be able to assist in their individualized “give back” programs.