Gift site Yiftee comes up with a way to use tech to turn our impulses to good

No doubt the coming holiday season will see a flood of tech-enabled ways to give to those who need help. Face it, the winter holidays are prime time for philanthropy and just like a business, nonprofits have to strike when the time is right.

Yiftee, a Menlo Park social giving company with a funny name, is giving a jump start to the trend I’m betting on by coming up with a way for do-gooders to give a turkey dinner to Silicon Valley families in need.

“We obviously didn’t set out to be a donation site,” Yiftee CEO Donna Novitsky tells me. “But we thought, look, we’re all about gifting. We’re all about local community. Here we are at the holidays. Isn’t there something we can do?”

What they did was tweak what they do — provide a way for friends to order up a gift (latte, beer, cupcake etc.) at a local shop or restaurant and notify the recipient by Facebook, email or text. The lucky recipient goes to the shop and presents a code to collect on his or her friend’s generosity.

OK, never mind that Yiftee provides a way for someone to give someone else a gift without having to actually see or talk to the person they’re honoring. It is convenient and it’s better than one of those lame virtual birthday cakes that are so popular in the social networking world.

The turkey dinner deal works the same way. You, the giver, go to Yiftee’s site and click on whether you’d like to donate $10, $20 or $30 (enough to feed three adults and three kids) to a Thanksgiving feast.

Yiftee sees that the money goes to two Peninsula churches — Menlo Park Presbyterian Church and Verbo Church in Redwood City — that have been working together to feed hundreds of people on the night before Thanksgiving.

The Yiftee idea, and no doubt scores of others out there, is another flavor of the new kind of giving that takes almost no effort on the part of the donor. Remember after big natural disasters, like the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan, how well-meaning people flocked to their cell phones to send the Red Cross donations by text messages?

“We don’t want people to have to think too much,” Novitsky says. “We want them to follow that impulse to do something nice.”

Why not? If marketeers can rack their brains to come up with ways to get us to impulsively buy things we don’t really want or need, why can’t those ideas be turned for the good of those in need?




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