The art of giving back - lavishly
A new business that combines commerce with philanthropy has taken root in Cincinnati and may serve as a new outlet for the socially-conscious consumer. The brain child of transplanted entrepreneur, Jane Pennells, the recently-launched site is a testament to the founder, and cancer survivor's, never-surrender attitude.
"The concept is that we sell interesting products in a number of categories and give 20 percent back to the customer to donate to their charity of choice" says Jane Pennells, owner and founder of LavishGiving.com
One outgrowth of the economy's rapid decline over the last few years has been an increasingly growing interest in creating opportunities to counteract a perceived culture of greed with one of generosity.
Nationally, corporations and non-profits are recognizing the growing importance of 'generosity' as a leading societal and business mindset. Organizations that care are in demand right now from an ever increasing group of consumers looking to use their dollars as a means of activism. We may not be able to cure the auto industry, but maybe we can make small advances through our everyday purchases.
Online retail shops such as TOMS Shoes, who donate a pair of shoes to an international child in need for every shoe they sell online, or LJ Urban out of California who matches the sales of homes in the states with funds to build homes in the impoverished African nation of Burkina Faso are leading the innovative trend on a national level. Even credit card companies and airlines are offering give back incentives in an effort to connect with a consumer base looking to give back.
Pennells' foray into the "getting, giving and giving again" trend is a much more personal story, however. In the summer of 2005, Pennells was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Devastating as the news was, a close friend to Pennells back home in England began her own battle with end-stage kidney cancer – and all this just 5 years after losing her brother to the same disease. With the realization that tomorrow is never promised, Pennells took inventory of where she was and where she wanted to be.
Following surgery and six months of chemotherapy treatment, Pennells' ovarian cancer thankfully lapsed into remission.
"I was truly happy to have been in Cincinnati during this time given the great medical support and expertise that is all right here. If I hadn't been in Cincinnati and had the care I did, I'd probably be toast," says Pennells.
The recovery left within her a burning need to build something new.
Already a successful owner of Poême stationery shop in Hyde Park Square, Pennells had the tools and the confidence to take a risk on something different. "I was determined to create a retail business through which I could give back to some of the organizations that have touched my life so profoundly," says Pennells.
Inspiration struck while preparing for her annual Poême holiday party for top clients. Pennells traditionally offered her clients a significant discount around the holidays, but this year she spun an innovative twist to her annual gift. Instead of taking the discount for themselves, Pennells provided the option of donating 20 percent of each full-priced sale to one of four local charities.
"It was an outstanding success. Customers loved the idea, they bought more than they had in previous years and during that one evening we raised $750 for local organizations. Not one customer took the discount," says Pennells.
Encouraged by the success of her home-grown fundraiser, Pennells created the skeleton for Lavish Giving.com - an online retail site that provides customers an effortless way to make substantial donations to their favorite causes, while shopping for the things they want to buy.
The site offers a diverse collection of products from top designers. For every purchase of $100 or more, shoppers receive 20 percent back in the form of a Good Card – a gift card for charity – which they can donate to any one of the 1.7 million non-profit organizations in the country through the online charity portal, NetworkForGood.org
Pennells originally intended to have a select list of charities for her shoppers to choose from, but because Lavish Giving is not a non-profit organization itself, some of the country's larger charity organizations would not endorse the site or allow the use of their name. Pennells circumvented the small setback by opening her list of non-profit organizations to well, all of them, through the help of Network for Good - an online clearing house of all registered non-profits.
"Now you can choose any charity you like," says Pennells.
The site has a sophisticated look and feel thanks to the work of local design agency, Blue WhiteSpace. One of the challenges to the site was being able to logically and attractively organize both products and giving opportunities into a user-friendly design. Launched in April, the site has already seen significant growth. "The intention is to start small and grow slow and strong," says Pennells.
Pennells' love for entrepreneurship began in her home country of England at her family's pipe organ building business. "I moved to Cincinnati in 1991 to trade places with a local organ builder and immediately fell in love with the city," says Pennell. Cincinnati became the US base for the family organ building business. "I was on call to service our instruments all over the country. From CVG, everywhere is easily accessible so it was the perfect fit for me personally and also for our customers. When the structure of our business changed, I decided to stay in Cincinnati and pursue my own dreams."
"Cincinnati has a European feel," says Pennells, who now lives in Mt.
Lookout. "It's such an easy city to make friends in – my initial
worries about not knowing anyone when I first came here in 1991 were
completely unfounded. I quickly found my way around and living in Mt
Adams was the perfect place to meet and make new friends."
Future plans for Pennells and Lavish Giving include a UK expansion of the site that will open up a new line of imported European goods to sell in the US.
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Photography by Scott Beseler