I could only imagine how many people have shied away from building a business like uBack because the opportunity felt limited, the excitement of the industry felt lacking and the commerce element of the business seemed to be inadequate.
But, if you are like Kaitlin Reimann, you would have taken a closer look to realize that every year $10 billion are left on the table from corporate giving programs that fail to engage their workforce in an intriguing way. You would have realized that mobile payments and merchant point-of-sale donation programs are ever-more-present in our day-to-day lives. To put it simple, engaging the next generation of philanthropist and givers is upon us, and the market opportunity to bring efficiency, transparency and impact to this industry is nothing short of massive.
Kaitlin, and her team at uBack are up to huge things in a massive market of good. Check out our discussion below and see how she and the team are changing the game of non-profit fundraising all in the name of doing well and doing good!
CL: It's always nice to speak with a former reporter, someone who's been on the side of telling the stories of other individuals, but can you tell me about your journey from being in news and media to working at Accenture in the human capital world, and now founding U-Back?
KR: As a child my family moved often. We used to be asked "Are you a military family?" My dad worked in Human Resources with General Electric for thirty years and we would move from city-to-city as he was moving from project to project, which meant we were able to see many different parts of the United States. One thing that we learned as we moved from city-to-city was to find ways to connect within the community.
We thought connecting in the communities where we were living was important because we were quite transient in moving from place-to-place. As young people we wanted to create roots as quickly as possible and one of the ways that we were taught to do this was through service in the community. That’s where my love of community service developed.
On the career side, I went off to Michigan State and studied sports journalism because I wanted to be a sideline reporter for ESPN or one of the other large networks. I worked at it getting internships with CBS and the Irish Independent which was a national newspaper over in Ireland for a little while but quickly realized that I was going to need to pay-off my student loans quicker than what a journalism salary would permit.
It was right about that time that I ran into an old friend from college that was working at Accenture and he introduced me to his co-workers and peers and it was a global set of friendly and extremely intelligent individuals. So I went through the interview process and Accenture was willing to take a chance on someone that didn't have the typical business / engineering background.
First I was put into the system integration organization, which was a major divergence in my career for about a year but quickly realized that I needed to transition into something that was more people focused and found my way into the field of human performance, which became my home with Accenture for nine years. My specialty was in financial services working with banks and insurance companies dealing with some of the largest changes and transformations that they had ever gone through in 2008 and the post-2008 aftermath.
CL: So you are working at Accenture putting in long hours and tons of travel, how did you muster up the energy to say we need to found uBack?
KR: One thing that remained the same throughout my time at Accenture was that spending time with my family, friends, and staying involved in the community non-profit organizations that I felt passionate about like Heartland Alliance, and the Cook County Health Foundation gave me the energy I needed to bring my best self to my day-job.
While I was at Accenture, my co-founder, Melissa and I were also tasked with fundraising internally for Accenture and we continually saw the same challenges in front of us which was the process was stagnant. It took too much time and it was inefficient. And because of that, money that could help these non-profit causes that we felt so passionately about was not making it to these organizations. And that’s where the idea for uBack came up in that conversation where we joked with each other and we said you know, “there should be an app for that!”
We thought that somebody had already come up with this idea because there's a number of apps out there that are doing amazing things in almost every industry. And what we found when we looked into it was there in fact was not. And so we looked at each other, did our research and talked to corporate giving and nonprofit colleagues and said let's do it. Let's make this happen. That was the start of our journey about 3 years ago.
CL: For those that don't know can you define uBack as a business?
KR: We are a new mobile, data-driven social impact platform that unites non-profits, companies and donors in one platform that allows you to give time, money and goods anytime, anyplace in 2 clicks. We believe that demonstrating that you care is a competitive advantage. We help simplify the user experience to allow them to give time, money and goods to their favorite nonprofits in 8 seconds or less and we help corporations to turn their giving and volunteering initiatives into a competitive advantage while maximizing time and resources.
For users, our app allows you to simply process financial contributions or time contributions to your favorite non-profit organization in a one-stop shop where you're not going website-to-website or platform-to-platform. We get rid of the process of having to write checks and keep all of your tax documentation organized through your email account. We give users a central dashboard where you're managing that activity straight from your phone. With a couple of taps of the screen you can support any non-profit within a moment's notice.
On the non-profit side of things, we now have the opportunity and privilege to support over 300K non-profit organizations across the country with their charitable giving programs.
And on the corporate side, we support a wide variety and range of companies that are utilizing uBack to provide a more enhanced way to allow their employees to give back with these matching programs for them to do payroll deductions and to be able to tell their impact story through the power of data.
We recognize that being able to quantify impact is important through our platform, so we have an analytic engine that runs behind the platform and helps companies really understand what is it that my employees care about and what impact it's making in the community. uBack enables these organizations to more intelligently drive or execute towards the engagement points for employees that they want to achieve and also help to increase the difference they make in the local community.
CL: Turns out over $10B in corporate donations are left on the table every year because the process to donate is too bulky. For those that are skeptical of a company like yours playing in the non-profit sector having a major upside, what is your viewpoint of being able to do well and do good?
KR: The billions of dollars left on the table every year is one side of the impact story that we need to tell through uBack. The system to donate is simply broken and not a clear way that employees can engage and take advantage of many of these corporate giving programs.
The other side of the story we need to tell is that demand from this generation of the workforce to engage in community programs and make a difference is very high. Serving employees with these opportunities pays dividends back to the company in ROI and cost savings from reduced turnover and greater employee engagement.
Some of the research that we see out there says that if a company demonstrates a commitment to the community, they can see up to 50% retention over other companies that do not. And for each of those retained employees they can see anywhere from 90% to 200% cost savings on that person's annual salary. Demonstrating that you care can quickly turn into a six-figure value proposition for a company of only a couple hundred employees.
Having a quicker, easier, better, more efficient way like uBack to engage your employees and provide choice in the way that they give back and engage in the community is becoming more or less a no-brainer for organizations that are in tune with that data and really looking to make an impact.
CL: What are some of the biggest barriers you as a team face when trying to drive adoption of the uBack program, both from a corporate and from a not-for-profit side of things?
KR: One challenge early on, on the non-profit side has been getting them to be comfortable with joining one central platform. There is a mindset that this means they are "competing" with other similar non-profit organizations in this marketplace. And what we found is quite the opposite of that. We live in a period where non-profits are faced with the question of, “How do we get and engage the next generation of donors?”
We see 83% of non-profit organizations get donations from donors they did not have a relationship with before joining uBack. We are providing the connection to the next generation of philanthropist for these non-profit organizations, and with our early traction we are reducing this non-profit concern.
On the corporate side the challenge that we face is two-fold. First, we have some companies that get the value proposition of investing in these initiatives, but skepticism around whether or not management really wants to give away all the money comes up. Is the process by design? I don't tend to really believe in that philosophy but it does come up occasionally.
The other major challenges we see is the length of the procurement processes for bigger companies. It could take six to twelve months to become a preferred vendor even if they love our solution and really want us in the door. For an early-stage technology organization like ours it makes a big difference whether we can bring a client on in a three versus six month window.
That is a conversation we are actively having with many organizational leaders right now. “How can we start removing some of the barriers to doing business with an organization that has a product fit for the enterprise so that they can help us innovate?”
CL: In terms of human behavior, are you seeing that people are easily willing to adopt an app to make a donation, and how do you prevent the U-Back app from getting lost on someone's phone after one use or two?
KR: It's just about making it sticky. And making it sticky means that you are continuing to add value to that individual day in and day out. So it's purposing and presenting net new opportunities to get involved in the community and to engage with a network of non-profit organizations that someone may not know about but would like to help support or a cause that they're just learning about and they want to get involved in.
For us we have a lot of dialogue and discussion around how do we continue to add value, make giving social and continue to connect the charitable giving community in innovative and new ways that reduces friction and barriers to use.
CL: Who are the core early adopters of this service?
KR: We support a cross-industry set of corporations. Some of the organizations who are doing a phenomenal job includes a Financial Services firm here in Chicago and a large manufacturing organization out of Atlanta. They are transforming their giving agenda by introducing uBack to provide employees with choice of how they leverage the companies giving platform to drive more engagement around their giving program.
We are also collaborating with Techweek, which is a technology-learning festival, to lead the first-ever Chicago tech giving challenge. Individual companies will compete for good as we work to raise $1M in in-kind contributions along with 10,000 service hours to support the development of the next generation of STEM business leaders within the city of Chicago. We are seeing a great response rate from that, and have about 50 companies already committed to the campaign.
We have a number of organizations involved with us including Motorola Mobility. These companies are excited to engage, log and track their organizations contributions more effectively and on the data side they are also looking forward to truly understanding the impact of their collective giving from an employee engagement perspective.
CL: As we think about uBack as we move further down the road, do you think there will be opportunities to integrate into retailers or organizations that want to do programs like point of sale donations where you're using QSR technology?
KR: It sounds like you've been reading our minds. It's really about reducing friction and it's about making giving social, and social can be used in a variety of contexts, but part of being social is looking at consumer driven philanthropy and how do you do that? With scale, with payment speed, and ultimately teaming up with merchants.
We have integrated with merchants as part of our initiative at Tech Week to wake up the community by helping merchants to ease payment transfer from the donor to the non-profit organizations. By partnering with uBack, we enable merchants to make the donation a part of the merchant transaction experience while being connected to the bank on the backend through U-Back as a facilitator.
CL: Is there interest from non-profits to have a white label version of uBack and would you be open to that?
KR: It’s an interesting debate and something we have wrestled with. There are companies out there that will go to a non-profit organization and essentially create an app for them.
We feel in this world of distraction where you only have a person’s attention for 8 seconds, you definitely need to have one central app and platform to handle this. That's why we believe creating a marketplace like uBack is really impactful for nonprofits. We are seeing an increase of 50% in donations, and an increase of 200% in their corporate giving dollars. It's really starting to make a sizable, noticeable difference for these organizations as a one stop-shop platform. The challenge we have today is someone on average might give to five or six organizations during the course of the year and that someone is not going to download and have on their phone five or six different mobile applications. They might have one and that one could be uBack, but they are not going to go website to website, app to app. It's too much.
CL: Do you have any metrics to date that measure the uptick that uBack can have in terms of increasing funds raised or expanding the reach of corporate responsibility programs?
KR: We have run several test pilots with various organizations and what we typically see is 50 to 60% increase in donation amounts and in overall campaign engagement from employees who may have not opted into the program before. We provide this data to our clients in the form of a "Giving IQ" that provides our point of view around, how smart, efficient, and effective their giving initiatives are based on what is occurring through the platform.
CL: In terms of monetization, how are you structuring payment to minimize costs that cut into donations?
KR: We have had the fortunate opportunity to partner with Bank of America on this initiative. When we started the initiative, we looked far and wide at different merchant service providers to find the lowest transaction cost so that we could get the most dollars back to the non-profit organizations.
We are proud to say that we have one of the lowest transaction cost, if not the lowest in industry at this moment in time. As we continue to grow, scale and increase the reach of uBack we gain even more purchasing power. Then we can talk about negotiating with the merchant service providers around speeds and transaction cost, which is helpful to non-profits because that means we can get more dollars back to them.
We have also taken it one step further by integrating the ability for a donor to cover the processing fee. We see that 82 percent of our donors are happy to cover the transaction cost, which means the non-profit gets 100% of the donation.
CL: With mobile payment tech and corporate responsibility playing a more prominent role in this day-and-age, it appears uBack has positioned itself in a unique market position. What about these trends really excite you?
KR: We're at a point in time right now where a number of different sectors including the corporate sector are doubling down on their commitment to community to help make a difference and to make sure the vital services that are provided across the board in our communities are of help.
It's exciting to be at the forefront of innovation and be helping to lead the conversation in a way that helps innovate and revolutionize the way that a company can participate in making a difference in the community.
The fact that we can not only provide a more efficient mechanism for running giving programs but also pull powerful insights from it like how much impact did we have, what was the level of engagement, and what do our people care about is truly invigorating.
It's really exciting and I think the future ahead of us is only going to continue to grow and develop. We're constantly learning, we're constantly evolving and developing and adapting. We are staying optically focused on our core mission and our goal, which is to help connect the community of non-profits corporations and donors while eliminating all of the barriers and friction associated with making these connections. In that we can make giving social and help create amazing impact stories.
CL: Is uBack looking to raise capital, and if so what would you do with the capital?
KR: We had the opportunity to complete a round of funding here in the summer timeframe last year with the Atlanta Seed Company and they have been a phenomenal partner in this journey so far. In our next round of funding, we will be looking to expand this concept of social giving and the data implications of the platform. We have many ideas tied to the data we are capturing.
We will also look to invest in strategic partnerships to not only grow within the ecosystem of uBack but also make it an even bigger and better impact in the community by teaming up with other really amazing organizations that are doing social impact work and impact work within the business community.
CL: In terms of the data uBack is collecting, do you look at the data as its own product or just an enabler of more great product features?
KR: It's enhancing current features that we have on the data side. We have an analytic engine that is running right now underneath the platform that is providing us a lot of insights and data to work with around our current customer base. We know that there is a multitude of features that can come down the road from AI and ML that we want to dig into. But the data is really helping us to identify and test exciting new concepts that we can deploy right into the platform and scale in the future.
The Minute Rundown with Kaitlin Reimann
CL: If you could provide one tip to someone considering starting up, what would it be and why?
KR: I would say to be bold and choose your own possibilities. I would say that because starting your own company will inevitably lead to the greatest feelings of excitement in your career, and at the same time new levels of adversity.
There is a lot of learning, a lot of growth, and a lot of trial and error that will happen. With that, you have to make sure that you stay focused on the reason why you started the company and be committed to your values and your convictions.
But with that you have to be a little bit bold and you have to be willing to take your own path and make sure that you can believe in yourself and know that you can make this happen and continue to reassure yourself as you're going through that. You got what it takes.
CL: You are a member of the advisory circle for Indiana University, the Lily Family School of Philanthropy / Women's Philanthropy Institute. Can you tell us more about why these organizations matter to you?
KR: This is a phenomenal opportunity that came up about eight months ago which was formed out of a recommendation from one of our current clients on the on the corporate side. The organization I am involved with is a subset of the Lily School of Philanthropy at Indiana University that focuses on core research projects for incredible women to pursue. It is currently funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They are great supporters of this program that enables a variety of different research projects in a multitude of different research areas to be carried out.
The organization liked that we were thinking about not only the technology side of uBack, but also the behavior adoption and mind structure that is happening both on the non-profit side and corporate side of things. We were privileged enough to be asked to join the group of twelve top leaders from across the country that get together to help serve as an advisory board to provide input into research projects around new philanthropy.
CL: If you could model yourself after one founder, who would it be and why?
KR: So I have had the chance to be part of a network of women that was founded here in the city of Chicago, which is a Google entrepreneurship program where they provide twelve women in leadership positions to go to four months of personal and professional development.
You meet once a week, with eleven or twelve other companies and the founders of those organizations. The number one thing that I can say about that experience, is that the business relationships that you form and the motivation, camaraderie and community that developed out of that type of program is something that inspires me day-in-and-day-out.
I continue to be impressed by the other companies that were part of that program. The other female leaders are accomplishing amazing things in an authentic way while transforming industries. That would be my two cents on role models. It’s the peers and colleagues that you sit side by side with, folks like David Aronson of Peanut Butter that connected us. It's not easy to do this and I have the upmost respect and appreciation for other entrepreneurs that are being bold. They're chasing their own possibilities and they're making things happen. It excites me, it energizes me, and it motivates me to keep going.
Kaitlin and her team at uBack have taken their big corporate experience, financial market savviness, awareness of consumer tech trends, and their insatiable passion for philanthropy and turned it into one of the most exciting and powerful marketplaces for good we have ever seen.
uBack is proving that with 8 seconds of attention span, reaching a new generation of distracted but passionate philanthropist will be more challenging than ever unless you find new ways to engage this audience. With a powerful marketplace that makes donating time and money as easy as buying tube socks, and snacks off of Amazon uBack is positioning itself to win with a new generation of givers.
And with corporations working ever more tirelessly to feed this appetite from their employees to do well and do good, uBack stands to fill a big market opportunity with a truly unique offering that will be exciting to watch.
Kaitlinn, you are an inspiration and a force to be reckoned with. Thanks for investing in truly Simple.Innovative.Change