November 25, 2013

Creative Chatter: Web Startup Seeks To Match Donors With People In Need

Adam Parker  /  Post and Courier

She heard about it from a friend. Then she went online to check it out.

The website was "very enchanting," Kimberley Porter said. And the new Charleston-based company behind it, Creative Chatter, was offering a service too good to pass up.

Soon after the site's official launch this summer, Porter created an account and the "de-cluttering" began in earnest.

Various items –- curtain rods, old shutters, closet doors, garden items, clothes, pots and pans –- accumulated in the garage. Soon those items were gone, picked up by someone on the other end of Creative Chatter, someone representing a local organization looking to serve people in need.

The web startup is in some ways an effort to disprove a common assumption: that resources are limited.

"We don't believe that," said Chuck Coward, Creative Chatter's "community architect." The web startup is mobilizing donors and coordinating the delivery of needed items and services. "It's about unleashing the abundance of resources, both goods and skills, that are sitting dormant," he said.

And if enough people sign up, this centralized exchange mechanism can make it easier for charitable organizations to manage their daily operations, Coward said.

A few years ago, Coward was instrumental in getting local nonprofits, especially Trident United Way, to adopt a software application called Charity Tracker, produced by Simon Solutions. Charity Tracker allows multiple organizations to access information about individual clients, making the delivery of aid and services more efficient, and enabling charities to better measure their results.

Charity Tracker is a system invisible to all but nonprofit administrators and program managers; Creative Chatter, instead, is meant for the public, Coward said.

Porter, a pharmacist and West Ashley resident, used to take things to drop-off charities in the area.

"But I didn't like to dump and run," she said. "I wondered about what will happen. This is whole different scenario, because I know exactly how the item will be used."

Recently, Porter donated items to Harvest Covenant Faith Ministries, which is renovating a home on Johns Island. She said it's satisfying to know who gets her stuff and how the material will be used. Her interaction with Harvest Covenant Faith Ministries' Diane Pyatt also has inspired Porter to become more involved, she said.

Clay Braswell, CEO of Creative Chatter, said the website launched Aug. 15 and has made more than 100 matches so far. To prevent fraud, the system requires that donors and receivers sign up. Goods are distributed only to legitimate and qualified organizations, not individuals, and is monitored.

Participating organizations must be directly involved in tackling social and economic problems in the community, Braswell said.

They open an account with Creative Chatter because there is an immediate need to be filled, but if that's all they do, little is likely to change, Chief Marketing Officer Shaun Ratliff said, calling the website a tool meant to aid these nonprofits and other groups in achieving their mission.

The Creative Chatter team is using social media to get the word out. When matches are made, a notice gets posted to Facebook, for example.

So far, about 60 organizations and 200 individuals have signed up. The company has five corporate sponsors.

Braswell, Coward and Ratliff said that already they are talking with organizations that have national reach and considering ways to expand their business through partnering. In the meantime, they hope to reach about 10,000 local accounts, Braswell said.

The matchmaking is done in real time, and this can help reduce the need to stockpile goods, Ratliff said. A donor can post anything using a computer or the Creative Chatter smart phone app. On the other end, an organization makes its request for, say, school supplies or a toaster or door or light fixture or bicycle.

The system then makes a match and sends notification to both parties. The actual hand-off is coordinated directly between giver and receiver.

Using the system costs nothing. The for-profit company makes its money through corporate sponsorships. Businesses currently pay an annual fee that ranges from $900 to $1,500 depending on how many locations they have, Braswell said.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Web Startup, Creative Chatter, is currently located at the Flagship incubator in downtown Charleston.