by Michell Spoden
In today’s world of nonprofit organizations innovative ideas abound to create solutions that work. Our world is becoming ever aware of the need to expand our territories and our minds to generate financial opportunities, raise awareness and solve problems.
Today we have an incredibly creative man who has a dream to drive the world into place where we have fun and help others at the same time. Meet Mike Last, 48, the founder of Charity Helpers, LLC.
Michell: Mike, please tell us a little bit about your background.
Mike: In 1998, I founded Last Minute Tee Times, Inc (LMTT) to help golf courses sell more tee times. In ten years, LMTT grew to serve 560 golf courses, 610,000 active golfer members, and hundreds of thousands of tee time reservations yearly. LastMinuteGolfer.com (LMTT’s national brand) became the nation’s largest community of golfers as LastMinuteGolfer online community members enjoyed an extensive customer loyalty program. LMTT was purchased by Comcast in October 2008 and it is now promoted as GolfNow. I served as VP of Marketing at Comcast (at Golf Channel) until March of 2009.
Michell: Can you please tell us how you started Charity Helpers, LLC?
Mike: We were using our vacation home charitably (donating it to Lighthouse Family Retreat) and I’d also seen how the typical silent auction goes (low bids, haggling over blackout dates, etc) and I knew that there was a LOT of room for improvement. Once I looked into the industry closer, I realized it was a lot more like GOLF than I thought… golf course owners are like property managers (vacation rentals) and with 6M homes sitting vacant 80+% of the time, I realized that we had a chance to make a real difference for a lot of charities. In fact the VACANT inventory of these homes represents well over $50B in potential donations waiting for charities. THAT can really move the needle.
Michell: How does it work?
Mike: We make it EASY for property managers and owners to post some spare weeks to our “hub” and we market the posted vacations on Geronimo.com, private label websites we build (onespareweek.com), and at live silent auction events. We make it very easy for a charity to “claim” a vacation on their OneSpareWeek site and we provide all the tools to print flyers and promote the vacations as well. Property owners have the option of donating half the rent or donating all the rent if they have a nonprofit they care a lot about.
Michell: So these fundraisers are for nonprofits only?
Mike: Yes, the fundraisers are purely for nonprofits; however we make it super easy for nonprofits to bring on the support of their for-profit partners and sponsors. We make it easy for nonprofits to promote their business partners and to add special incentives from those partners to encourage supporters to take a vacation. Example – “Book an off season vacation to Hilton Head South Carolina and get dinner for two at Jake’s Steak House.”
Michell: Is there a standard amount of money each charity receives or is it different for each vacation?
Mike: It’s different each time and can vary WIDELY.. we had one property that was $100k / week retail value at one point and we have vacations that are $50/ night… and everything in between.
Michell: Are most of these vacations requiring long distances of travel or can you find any local to your area?
Mike: We continue to add more and more inventory so that everyone will be happy with the vacations they find. We now have nearly $20M in donations (the donation part of the vacation) and we’re hoping to get that to $50M within a couple months. We want to make sure our selection of vacations is sufficient to support a vacation that is an hour drive away from most donors and also give supporters a chance to see places that require a 12 hour flight, like the vacations in Greece and South Africa that we posted recently.
Michell: If anyone wants to be a part of your network is there criteria?
Mike: Vacation rental owners need to verify that they own the property (Geronimo is a great way for owners to realize some extra revenue in the off season) and property managers are all verified so that we know the properties are real and that the renter will get a good experience. Non-profits in the US must have a valid EIN number. We are also now beginning to seek some national promotional partners that can help get our message out to renters/owners/charities. We can really help build a company’s “brand halo”.
Michell: Can you please tell us what your future goals are for this company?
Mike: Near-term, we’re adding lots and lots of vacations in lots and lots of destinations and we continue to build a tremendous amount of technology to support our operations, charity events, integrations to property managers and silent auction providers and more. Longer term (given the fact that the unused inventory is now over $50B/year), we should easily be raising $MILLIONS for great causes each year. As we grow, we’ll be able to do more and more marketing to promote the Geronimo brand. Lastly, the founders of Charity Helpers, LLC (behind Geronimo.com and OneSpareWeek.com) are also committed to donating any personal proceeds that may result from these projects.
Michell: Thank you Mike!
Get updates on the work at at www.facebook.com/CharityHelpers.
About the Interviewer
Michell Spoden is the author of Stricken Yet Crowned and is also pursuing a transitional housing project for woman with an agricultural aspect. She has a degree in Business Science Administration and is finishing her bachelor’s in Project Management.