Shopping isn't usually considered a philanthropic activity.
Bob Molhoek wants it to be. He's the founder of iMyne, a local company that gives online shoppers cash back for their purchases while also donating to the charity of their choice.
"We believe that the change in people's pockets is what will change the world," he said.
That's a tall order. But Molhoek, a veteran of local advertising firms Olson and Fallon, said it's possible by letting shoppers tap into the $4 billion affiliate marketing pool.
What's affiliate marketing?
It's when companies pay "affiliates" for sending people to their websites to buy things. For instance, a blogger might talk up a great pair of shoes and then link to a website where readers can buy those shoes. Readers click the link and make a purchase, and the blogger gets a cut.
It's the same concept used by online shopping cash-back sites such as Ebates.com and MrRebates.com, but those don't have a focus on charitable giving. On the other end of the spectrum, Amazon Smile gives to charities chosen by registered Amazon shoppers but does not give cash back.
In this case, iMyne is the affiliate. The company keeps a portion of the kickback (24.5 cents of every dollar), and passes the rest over to shoppers, earmarking 10 percent for their chosen charity. Sign up, download the iMyne Web browser extension and shop. There are more than 300 online stores that work with iMyne.
If a retailer offers a rebate — most range from 2 to 5 percent cash back — iMyne stashes the money in your account. Cash out via PayPal occasionally, or donate your earnings to charity.
"It's found money," Molhoek said.
The payout isn't instant. It takes 30 to 90 days for companies to process the affiliate marketing payments and send the money to iMyne. That time lag, especially now as iMyne is beginning, makes it hard to say how much people will choose to donate or keep for themselves. So far, 35,000 people have signed up for iMyne.
"My hope is that everybody donates all the money they've made," he said.
Change adds up
Even if people donate just pennies, the nonprofits that receive them will be happy. There are a few featured charities on iMyne, but users can pick from more than a million nonprofits across the country.
Lya Hurst, with Edina-based nonprofit Taste of the NFL, said $1 is enough for that organization to provide eight meals to hungry people.
"When you think about it in meals and not change and dollars, it's amazing how doing your regular online shopping can help," Hurst said.
She recently earned a $4 rebate and 40 cents for Taste of the NFL by shopping online through iMyne.
Libby Utter, vice president for development at Ronald McDonald House Charities Upper Midwest, said iMyne could be a way to reach new donors.
While there still are donors willing to write checks, she said, that kind of fundraising is a harder sell for younger donors who are more interested in events, being involved with charities or getting something in return. The iMyne model lets them donate while shopping and earn a little cash for themselves.
"It's not asking people to become major donors with us; it's just asking for a piece of a penny a lot of times over," Utter said.
The convenience of iMyne attracted Anita Hawkins, wife of former Minnesota Twins pitcher LaTroy Hawkins. (Athlete participation and social media have been big parts of iMyne's marketing strategy.) She is using it to raise money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
"So many people shop online," Hawkins said. "You don't have to go out and ask for money. It's an easy way to raise funds."