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Sustainable Philanthropy: Gaming The System For Good

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With extraordinary success, a new breed of nonprofit leverages technology and savvy business principles to make impactful philanthropy fun and accessible -- especially for kids.

DonateGames.org gives kids the opportunity to help other kids struggling with rare diseases by donating their used video games and gear. The organization repurposes the games and equipment to raise funds for research at leading research foundations, including the groundbreaking Seattle Children's Hospital Foundation. The organization also donates games and game systems to hospitalized children, grants Make-A-Wishes and helps provide support for sick children and their families.

The organization's newly launched online games store gives kids the opportunity to buy video games at a significant discount, enjoy playing them, then donate them back again to help raise funds for kids who are sick. Families can even earn a tax deduction DonateGames' innovative approach and sustainable philanthropic business model empowers kids to generate significant funds to help ease the burden of kids with rare diseases, and to fund research that can help eradicate these diseases.

DonateGames began when Taylor Carol, at age 11, was diagnosed terminally ill with a rare form of Leukemia. Taylor and his family refused to give up hope, and after extensively researching their options, relocated to Seattle to situate Taylor at the Seattle Children's Hospital. Taylor and his family struggled with his disease, including a year in the hospital undergoing chemotherapy, before a life-saving bone marrow transplant from a stranger helped saved Taylor's life. Taylor and the other kids at the hospital were terribly sick, scared and isolated, but passing time playing their video games played a big part in helping them get better. After three years of an intense battle with cancer and subsequent rare diseases, his family acknowledged that it was both the kindness of strangers and Taylor's video games that sustained him with joy and hope during his darkest days, and they decided they wanted to pass that hope on to other kids struggling with rare diseases.

Taylor's father, award-winning software entrepreneur Jim Carol, recognized that a powerful opportunity to give back existed in tapping into the $18.6 billion U.S. video game market. His research revealed that used video game reseller Gamestop earned over $1 billion in profit in 2009 -- without a strong charitable component. Carol combined his entrepreneurial business spirit with his passion around his son's triumphant recovery to conceive DonateGames. The company has achieved astonishing growth in its first 12 months, moving from a small "mom and pop" operation out of the Carol's garage to attracting partnerships with major brands like video game behemoth EA, The UPS Store and national nonprofits like Make-A-Wish and children's hospitals.

"Jim's passionate and contagious persona... attracts help from some of [the] strongest talent pools," says Nicole Provensal, head of corporate sponsorship for Angels Baseball in Anaheim, CA. Provensal volunteers with DonateGames, helping out with marketing and social media. She recently nominated Carol for Orange County Business Journal's Excellence in Entrepreneurship award for his efforts in founding DonateGames, along with Eve Kopp, director of development, corporate annual giving for the Seattle Children's Hospital, and several others.

Kids are also responding strongly to DonateGames' innovative model; as word spreads about the organization, they are sending in more and more games and game systems from collections they've set up at their local schools and around the world. Parents appreciate DonateGames, too, feeling it connects them with their children, bridging the gap through philanthropy. X Games three-time Gold Medal winner Ryan Sheckler's mom and newly appointed DonateGames board member, Gretchen Sheckler, believes that today's generation is "benevolent at heart", and appreciates that DonateGames enables children to give back in their own community. The power is in the model's simplicity. "As the mother of three teenaged boys... video games [are] a part of my life," Sheckler says. "When I mentioned DonateGames' business model to my sons, they immediately understood their ability to help sick children without changing their existing lifestyle."

A rare disease is one that affects fewer than 200,000 people. However, if you aggregate the number of people in the U.S. who are affected by one of the more than 6,000 rare diseases, the number totals about 25 million Americans, according to the National Organization for Rare Diseases, Inc. (NORD) The largest population afflicted with these genetic life-threatening or chronically debilitating diseases are children. However, because the population is so fragmented, support for medical research and clinical trials are difficult to come by. Organizations like DonateGames, NORD, Lybba, the Global Genes Project and others are helping to raise public awareness and to get the attention of lawmakers to get support for research, clinical drug trials and more. International Rare Disease Day is February 28th.

Last year, major video game publishing companies donated vast quantities of games and game systems to DonateGames to help raise funds for children with rare diseases. DonateGames has also partnered with The UPS Store locations in Western Washington on a video game donation drive, where residents are able to drop off video games and gear at any of the 87 participating The UPS Store locations in the Seattle area through April 30, 2011. All proceeds from this donation drive will benefit Seattle Children's Hospital.

DonateGames is run by a largely volunteer staff, and approximately $.79 of every dollar generated goes to fund rare disease research or to support children struggling with the diseases. To help manage its explosive growth, DonateGames has moved into a new office facility after filling up donated warehouse spaces. In its first year, DonateGames was able to donate more than $26,000 to Seattle Children's Hospital for research, to donate more than 3,000 new video games to hospitalized children and to grant many Make-A-Wishes. With the launch of its new online store, and it's strong support from kids and other consumers, and its partnerships with corporations, children's hospitals and others, DonateGames expects to be able to generate more than seven figures this year to help combat children's rare diseases. DonateGames is truly a social enterprise with an innovative and sustainable model that is "gaming the system" for the good of others.

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