Right now, people all over the world are giving up something for Lent; soda, chocolate, meat, Netflix. In fact, a survey by Ohio University shows that one in four Americans give up something for Lent.

Fargo local Jordan Maahs was aware of this fact as he brainstormed what would become the first place winning idea of Startup Weekend Fargo 2016.

As the Missions Manager of local non-profit Unseen, he was also aware of the struggle to engage their volunteer network in meaningful fundraising.

“The non-profit fundraising system is broken,” he said during his pitch. In Unseen’s case, it’s not that there aren’t enough people willing to help out, he said; it’s just a matter of giving people a way to help out in a meaningful way.

Inspired by people like John Sweeney of Suspended Coffees, a champion of the pay-it-forward mentality, and paired with the fact that people like to practice self-discipline, as illustrated during Lent, Maahs came up with an idea for a project called Givv app.

The concept is this: A person gives up something, such as coffee or soda, and pledges the money they would spend on those items towards their favorite non-profit instead.

Say, for example, you want to give up drinking coffee three times a week. The app gives you an estimate for how much that coffee would cost: about $9.00. You can then select to either pay now or pledge the money, as an accountability tactic to hold to that pledge. A variety of non-profits would join the platform and users can donate the money to their favorite one.

Givv app

When Maahs pitched the idea on pitch night, March 4, participant Ryan Benneck was in the audience taking notes.

“A lot of the ideas sounded like ‘the Yelp of blank’ but with Jordan’s I couldn’t think of what it would relate to,” he said. “That got the gears turning.”

The winning team assembled that night, including Maahs as team leader, Benneck and McCal Johnson as graphic designers, Adam Baumgartner as social media guru, Concordia students McKenzy Diehl and Skyler Stoner as research analysts and Nick Waverek as a developer (whom they poached from another team.)

The team was unique in a few ways; for one, it was the first Startup Weekend experience for many of them. It was a first for Maahs, although he did intern with last year’s Honorable Mention team Fargo Hotcakes.

“They taught me everything I know,” Maahs said.

It was also much bigger than the recommended size for a team, which is five.

“So right off the bat we were biting off something really big,” Maahs said.

The main turning point in the development of the idea, which they christened Givv App, came on Saturday after Maahs spoke with Startup Weekend facilitator, the legendary Shane Reiser.

“The shift for us was realizing that the best way to validate this was to build it by tomorrow at lunch, …and see if people are willing to put money on the line,” Maahs said.

Givv app

Thus ensued a jam-packed Saturday wherein they built a working web application. But they did so without writing a single line of code.

“People see this as something that’s super complex, but at the end of the day it’s really a front end WordPress website, attached to a Typeform, attached to a Stripe account, attached to Mailchimp,” Benneck said. “That’s what I think is brilliant about this. We didn’t reinvent the wheel, we connected the dots and created a tool.”

By Sunday morning they were ready to launch. Five hours before presenting in front of the judges, they released it to the public, hoping for validation. Unseen partnered with them as a beta tester, and they began reaching out to those volunteers.

They came through.

“It was super scary for two hours,” Benneck said. “But as soon as the donations started rolling in we all got pumped up.”

In those few hours, over 30 people pledged over $300 through the Givv app platform. This result was a clincher for judges later that afternoon when the team presented at the Fargo Theater.

“They’ve got money validation, which I always like,” said James Burgum, a judge from Arthur Ventures.


Judge James Burgum takes the mic

Another judge, Howard Dahl of Amity Ventures, pointed out similarities between Givv app and the very successful “Donate Your Birthday” campaign by Charity:Water. The majority of the judges agreed that the app has huge potential to expand.

Even before being announced as the first place winners, Maahs said he was being approached by people in the audience involved with non-profits wanting to start a Givv app campaign.

“I’ve already had several non-profits reach out and express interest,” he said.

For now, they are taking careful steps forward, Maahs said. The team is planning a meeting to discuss the next steps. The plan is to continue with the project, Maahs said.

Although their original business plan was to take 5% of the cut from each transaction, all the money may just go towards non-profits as well, the team said.

“None of us are in it for the money,” Maahs said. “It’s about how can we get people to not only better themselves, but also give back to the world.”

Check out Givv app here!


Photos courtesy of Brittany Sickler and Nick Friesen, with Friesen Photography.

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Marisa Jackels