Sellr: A New Website That Lets You Support Education by Buying Local Now You Can Support Education by Buying Local Sellr: A New Website That Lets You Support Education by Buying Local Now You Can Support Education by Buying Local
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Sellr: A New Website That Lets You Support Education by Buying Local Now You Can Support Education by Buying Local

by Alex Goldmark

June 25, 2011

A new startup is about to launch that wants to link teachers with local businesses to boost education and help mom and pop shops at the same time.

Swellr is similar to Donors Choose but without donations—it's more like consumers choose. "Donors Choose and Kickstarter are great mechanisms to fund projects, but we are giving people the opportunity to support education needs in their community by shopping local," co-founder Nathan Rothstein tells GOOD.

Teachers post a need to Swellr—for more pencils, cash for an event, a classroom computer—then spread the word. Local businesses sign up to sell "good certificates," a.k.a. vouchers, on the Swellr website where 5 to 25 percent of sales go to pay for these teacher requests. So anyone who wants to help Springfield Elementary's 4th grade class go on that field trip can then log on and pick out what local shops they want to patronize. They click which project they want to support, and which business, pay up front through Swellr, and a percentage of the transaction goes to the school.

"Swellr so far is the only social enterprise that allows each customer to pick which cause they care about and which business to support. Each purchase triggers a donation to the project of the customer's choice. Local businesses often do not have the capacity to run the cause-marketing campaigns like Target and Pepsi, and we believe this is a great way to get people to shop local rather than going to the chains," Rothstein says.

In this model the teachers, or even the students, become the marketing plan for local businesses. Swellr takes 10 percent of the sales from the business, which may seem like a lot, but is a far cry from the 50 percent Groupon and other daily-deal sites frequently charge to bring in new business. The percentage that goes to charity is decided by the business.

One of the best parts of Swellr is the way it encourages businesses to increase the percentage they donate. Swellr will keep track of how much each business gives back to the community on a business profile page. Customers deciding where to buy their baby clothes, or get their oil changed, can check to see which businesses are more generous. It harnesses a little of that competitive spirit inherent in business, and some of the game mechanics booming in the online app world, to make companies outdo each other with their generosity.

The site launches next month in Cambridge and Somerville, two cities in the Boston area that already have strong "buy local" movements. If the idea takes off, it will be ready to expand from there.

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Sellr: A New Website That Lets You Support Education by Buying Local Now You Can Support Education by Buying Local