One thing that repeatedly intrigues me in philanthropy is the way that women leaders put together the components of giving and social progress in new and creative ways, in order to maximize deployment of funds to important causes. Nearly every week, I come across a new combination of philanthropy and social action that a woman is pioneering.
This week’s amazing tale of women doing good in the world comes from the online retail sector and a new hub for online shopping called Union & Fifth. This nonprofit online store makes it easy for you to donate women’s designer clothing, shoes, and handbags, and choose a cause for where the money will be donated.
I have to admit: like a lot of women, I have a few (okay, more than a few) things in my closet that I don’t wear much. That’s where Union & Fifth comes in handy. They will take your flaw-free designer goods and wring the donation dollars out of them for a good cause. They keep a list of all the brand-name designers they accept, so you can check the list before you pack your stuff off to them.
And they make it very easy to pack your stuff off to them. You can either print out your own shipping label or request a prepaid bag that will arrive at your door in 4-6 days and holds 20-30 items. If you print out your own pre-paid label, you can stick it on any size box you want.
“Women like to connect,” said Christena Reinhard, one of the two co-founders of Union & Fifth, and veteran of the nonprofit development sector. “They like to give in a way that’s meaningful and that they can involve their network in.”
“It’s a lot easier for women to ask their friends, to say, hey, let’s do this fun closet clean-out,” said Reinhard, whose organization was born out of a dare that one woman took to raise money by selling her designer goods. She ended up netting $40,000 for her charity, said Reinhard.
Reinhard has a message for women givers who want to tap a new resources for giving: throw a “Party with a Purpose.”
“It’s like a tupperware party for philanthropy. It goes back to that connectivity. We have a 90% participation rate when women gather at a woman’s residence, and they officially launch a Union & Fifth campaign over wine and cheese. Everyone is asked to bring a qualified item, so whether they bring one item, or a trunkload, we see the inclination to get involved and engaged socially from women.”
One of the signature campaigns of Union & Fifth is with the Eileen Fisher Foundation. Reinhard shared how that connection developed. “The Eileen Fisher Foundation has been incredible. They ran a campaign where you could bring in an item to a store and get $1 off a new item, so they ended up with over 100,000 items in their warehouse that they wanted to sell.”
That’s when Union & Fifth stepped into the picture. The platform now has hundreds of Eileen Fisher items for sale, and the proceeds go to the designer’s foundation, which helps women start-ups, working to address some of the huge gap in venture capital available to women. “Eileen Fisher is committed not only to being ecofriendly and green, but also addressing gender equality,” said Reinhard.
Reinhard is also a big fan of giving circles and has seen the potential for great collaboration with the Union & Fifth platform. “We are always looking for fundraisers to launch campaigns with. Featured charities get a page on our website and are given a donate or shop link they can distribute. We also build out impact videos for the different charities we collaborate with, because I think it’s important to help people understand how their donation is getting into the charity stream.”
Union & Fifth also works with Ebay, co-listing their items on the widely-used platform. “We also have a brick and mortar store,” said Reinhard, and items are rotated to that store as well. “We are always looking for ways to get the items sold, so that we can get the money over to the charities, so they can keep doing good things.”
“I remember being at a nonprofit and trying to get people to pay attention to what we’re doing,” said Reinhard. So now, with Union & Fifth, she is an active player in that attention-getting for no profits. In fact, Union & Fifth recently collaborated with designer Nicole Miller for an event in Los Angeles, and brought in two celebrities from Dancing with the Stars. For the event, Dancing with the Stars judge Carrie Ann Inaba launched an exclusive Nicole Miller collection at Union & Fifth, in order to raise money for the Animal Project Foundation. As part of the event, fans were able to stop in at the Nicole Miller store in Los Angeles on May 12 for a consultation from stylist George Brescia.
“We want to give that spotlight to the givers, and to the nonprofits,” said Reinhard. “I don’t succeed if they don’t succeed.”
Reinhard got me so interested in Union & Fifth, I decided to test out the system with a donation of my own. I chose a pair of Sam Edelman sandals I picked up last summer, but never wore. The process was pretty straightforward — I chose Women Donors Network as the recipient of the proceeds from the sale, and Union & Fifth will take care of making sure the donation gets there, should the sandals sell. Union & Fifth also has a searchable database of accepted designers on the site to make sure the designer of your item is one they accept. The process of printing out out the label was also no sweat.
So here’s to my sandals finding a new home through a buyer on Union & Fifth. And here’s to the process resulting in another few coins of funding for gender equality. If this goes well, I may have found myself a new hobby, and a new way to turn over my resources for women’s empowerment.