The Business of giving

Ask any entrepreneur what drives them to launch a business, and they will almost inevitably reply that its the desire to see a great idea come to fruition.

Its not about making themselves wealthy  even Microsofts Bill Gates will testify to that. His dream was to see a personal computer on every desk  however, in fulfilling that dream he became one of the richest men on the planet (and arguably one of the most philanthropic).

For 21 year old entrepreneur Claire Sawyers, the initial incentive to establish DonateNZ was again not about profit, but more about providing a service and giving back to the community.

Sawyers was destined to be a business owner at a young age, having been raised in a successful family business atmosphere  helping out after school and weekends at the familys commercial flower growing operation near Pukekohe. She later worked in her parents online florist Roses Are Red, based in Papakura  even filling in as manager while her Mum was in hospital for an operation.

Her enthusiasm for photography, web design and marketing enabled her to redesign and relaunch the businesss websites. She also spent time managing the other family enterprise, DocuServe  a legal document service agency which Sawyers ultimately found somewhat frustrating  serving documents was a little too negative, she recalls.

I found it to be such a contrast with the florist business  on the one hand youre sending happy, fun things to cheer people up  but with DocuServe I seemed to always be the bearer of bad news  its just the nature of the business.

Sawyers had tried University for six months but couldnt see the point in racking up a student debt when she was unsure what she wanted to do. Having seen how successful her mother Jane was in business without such qualifications, she was keen to get started right then.

The idea for DonateNZ was sparked by New Zealands most successful online business, TradeMe. Sawyers had been an avid user of TradeMe, and in February 2005 saw the gap in the market after failing to sell certain items on the site  realising that there was a market for donating such items to schools and charities.

However, until realising how this could be a viable business, this is how it stayed  a nice idea.

It wasnt until shortly after returning from a holiday in August last year Sawyers mother reignited the DonateNZ spark again by suggesting an annual membership to recipients which would keep the site ticking over (and bills paid). After consulting with family friends, business colleagues and school principals Sawyers felt convinced the idea of an online charitable marketplace was a goer.

DonateNZ went live in February 2006, and Sawyers says support from New Zealand schools and early childhood centres since has been fantastic. There has been sufficient growth to enable the company to employ a full time general manager since May. The company is now focused on integrating charities as receivers to the site, a facility which is anticipated this month.


How it works

DonateNZ.com is a portal, modelled along the same lines as other leading exchange websites, which connects unwanted resources with community needs.

Sawyers explains that the website consists of two main sections; the Offers, which presents donations available and the Needs, where recipients list goods that they require.

When an interested party wishes to accept an item, they simply click Accept (for offers) or Fulfill (for needs) and the site provides them with the other partys details. Its then up to the two parties to liaise and arrange the stated pickup or delivery which is mentioned in the listing.

Sawyers has a number of checks and balances in place to ensure that donated goods are used by the recipient organisation, and arent taken for personal use  in fact its one of the rules of the site. Donors can also stipulate a first choice recipient from the list on the website, which later defaults to the general list if unclaimed. So if you want your local playcentre to have first opportunity to benefit from an item, you can do so.

All varieties of goods from both individuals and corporate donors can be listed. To date however, theres been a skew towards items which can be used at schools and playcentres - used office equipment, stationery, paper offcuts and surplus product proving especially popular. Sawyers expects a much wider range of items will be listed once charities come on board.

So far the standard of donated goods has been high, with 89 percent being described as in good or excellent condition. Sawyers, who constantly monitors the DonateNZ system acting as a matchmaker says the site is especially suited to retail companies that dont have systems in place to dispose of surplus and unused product.

Anyone can utilise the free service to donate says Sawyers, and it takes less than the cost of raising an invoice.

The outlook for DonateNZ is extremely positive  given the generous nature of New Zealand business owners and their willingness to support a worthy cause. The other driving force is the concerns about a sustainable environment, and the need to reduce, re-use and recycle, rather than waste valuable resources.

Having met Sawyers, who clearly displays bundles of enthusiasm and business talent, Im convinced that DonateNZ is just the beginning of her business journey. Im sure theres another great idea waiting just around the corner.      NZB

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