PHILANTHROPY: Austin’s unlikely hero-site, Chive Charities

"There's a heart to The Chive," says Brian Mercedes, executive director of Chive Charities. “There’s a heart to The Chive,” says Brian Mercedes, executive director of Chive Charities.

Scroll through The Chive on any given day and you’re bound to see cute animals stirring up trouble, women in bikinis, and sitcom quote and Twitter hashtag slideshows. But dig a little deeper into the site and you’ll also find Chive Charities, stories about individuals battling life-altering personal challenges — including illness, trauma, and rare diseases.

“The Chive is viral videos, funny photos, good looking women is definitely a part of it,” says Brian Mercedes, Chive Charities executive director. “There’s a heart to The Chive, and Chive Charities is a big part of what that is.”

After starting the Austin-based website, TheChive.com, in 2008, John and Leo Resig noticed that visitors were starting to use the site in a different way. “A lot of what you see on the website is submissions from users and fans of the site and as it began to grow they started getting not just funny photos and beautiful art, they actually started to get people reaching out for help,” Mercedes says.

When help was called for, The Chive community was quick to respond, soon doubling the goals of those seeking crowdfunding, and prompting the Resigs to create a platform to help their audience do what they were already wanting to do – donate.

That platform became Chive Charities, a 501(c )(3) aimed toward helping individuals and other nonprofits that have compelling stories and unique needs. They launched their first official campaign in December 2012, to help raise funds for Zoe Lush, a toddler with severe Osteogenesis Imperfecta — brittle bone disease.

Zoe Lush photo by John Lesig
Zoe Lush photo by John Lesig

“I got to go to the Wishbone Day, which is kind of the national awareness day for brittle bone,” Mercedes says. “It was the first time that I had spent some time with a little kid that had a very rare condition, less than 200 people have it in the U.S., and it was amazing to see this little tiny group trying to raise awareness.” Zoe’s campaign raised $100,000 in just a few hours.

For Melissa Smith, a cancer survivor who developed Transverse Myelitis, rendering her partially paralyzed, Chive Charities helped raise $400,000. “Chive Charities helped purchase hand controls for her car, some therapy equipment, but what she really needed was independence,” Mercedes says. “She was living in a second floor apartment, couldn’t get around and that just really resonated with the Chivers. We put out a goal to retrofit her apartment and they saw that and they were like, no, how about we just buy her a house.”

Today Chive Charities has given out some $3.6 million in grants, and helped raise an additional $2.5 million in “flash charity” campaigns, like Smith’s, that work with individuals’ GoFundMe pages.

“People don’t want to just give to a general fund and maybe not see where it’s going. People do really get that personal connection with those stories; they feel like they know these people that we’re helping,” Mercedes says.

That feeling of personal connection has continued to motivate Chive readers, who tend to be in the 18-34 demographic, to give. “Our average donation is only $35, so another thing that kind of resonates with the community is that a lot of small can make a big impact,” Mercedes says.

Of course, the toughest part may be selecting recipients. “I’d say there are some tears every single week, especially with the initial conversation with [potential recipients]. They’re so grateful that somebody is listening to them and when we just say those words, ‘help is on its way, we’re going to be covering these grant items,’ they start crying and then it gets a little bit dusty in the room and eyes start watering,” Mercedes says, “That’s what we do it for though, to make a real impact.”

LEARN MORE: Chive Charities

Support for our coverage of Philanthropy stories comes from St. David’s Foundation.

 

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