Courtesy of Cornell University

At right, GiveGab CEO Charlie Mulligan, MBA ’11, works with Chief Operating Officer Aaron Godert, M.Eng. ’05, MBA ’11.

November 14, 2019

CEO of Ithaca-Based GiveGab Discusses Entrepreneurial Journey — $1.5 Billion Donations Later

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With up to $410 billion donated by Americans to nonprofits each year, charity is big business. If one Cornell alumni-led startup has its way, that business could get even bigger.

Ithaca-based GiveGab, a for-profit company innovating in the nonprofit space, seeks to make the process of connecting nonprofits to donors seamless, user-friendly and secure, according to Charlie Mulligan MBA ’11, company CEO and co-founder.

Primarily a technology company, Mulligan said, GiveGab helps streamline its fundraising process in a variety of ways, including peer-to-peer collection, year-round fundraising and customized donation forms embedded in websites. For these services, GiveGab earns revenue by charging a combination of platform, monthly or custom fees.

“We also have technology for Giving Days, [and] sometimes these can involve hundreds of nonprofits at the same time that are kind of having friendly competition to win prizes for the most donors, for most donations and things like that,” Mulligan said. “It’s a really great way to promote philanthropy in a certain area.”

Nonprofit universities rank among GiveGab’s largest clients. Besides Cornell’s annual spring drive, GiveGab helps run Giving Days for Georgetown, Vanderbilt and Notre Dame, among other institutions of higher education. Cornell’s 2019 Giving Day raised over $7.8 million from 13,800 donors using the platform.

According to Mulligan, inspiration behind the philanthropic platform was rooted in a desire to seek fulfillment in charity rather than income.

“When I was getting my MBA, I read an article on how people that volunteer once a month increase their happiness as if they doubled their salary,” he said. “I was around other MBA students, a lot of us were there to try to double our salary. For me, I was really there to try to be more satisfied and be happier.”

From there, one thing led to another, and Mulligan, along with Aaron Godert M.Eng ’05 MBA ’11, founded GiveGab in 2011, which originally kicked off as a social network for volunteers.

“We kind of evolved, listened to our customers and added fundraising and now we have had more than 30,000 non-profits use this to raise money, and we’ve helped nonprofits raise roughly $1.5 billion in total over the years,” Mulligan said.

Since founding GiveGab in 2011, Mulligan noted that the Ithaca startup scene has undergone a dramatic shift in recent years — becoming a far more hospitable landscape for entrepreneurs than it was when he first set out on the path of business-building nearly nine years ago.

“A lot of times when we were first trying to get funding, it felt like most people we talked to were just like ‘when are you moving away from Ithaca?’” Mulligan said. “Now Ithaca is a real hotspot for startups and investors don’t ask us when we are going to move anymore. They are totally fine with us being located here.”

Mulligan largely attributes the evolution to the 2014 founding of Rev Ithaca, a business incubator that has served as a launching pad for dozens of area startups.

“It brought the whole startup community together and really got more people excited about it, and we could see that there were more of us [entrepreneurs],” Mulligan said. “It’s nice to see other startups which are totally unrelated to us that we can talk with and learn from and exchange ideas with.”

Having spent almost a decade growing GiveGab from a fledgling social network to a platform that serves some of America’s most prestigious universities, Mulligan emphasized that success always comes down to sales.

“People look at sales like it’s some sort of sleazy thing,” Mulligan said. “Whereas sales is actually a very positive thing about connecting with customers and listening to them and engaging with them.”

Emma DiGiovanni ’21 contributed reporting to this article.