Four years ago I was standing outside a bar in Philadelphia with a few of my buddies who are chefs and had just gotten off of work. It was probably close to 1 or 1:30am - the time most bar patrons have begun that gradual decline from the pleasant “sing me a song you're the piano man” level of intoxication into more of that “You don't know me!" level of insobriety…which is why we were OUTside the bar as opposed to INside the bar.
So, there we were, standing by the front door catching up and sharing funny stories and I notice this homeless guy sitting a few feet away on the ground with his back against the wall and an empty cardboard vegetable case placed on the sidewalk in-front of him. Our eyes met and he looked at me, with his hands pushed deeply into his jacket pockets, as if to say: “ Can you help me out?” (as homeless guys in Philly at 2:00 in the morning usually do).
I think there are generally two options with regard to how one might respond to panhandlers at any time of day. You can either ignore them and pretend like you didn't see them or you can be a little more of a human being about it by looking them in the eye and saying “I’m sorry. I don't have any cash on me.” And that’s what I usually do… not only because I don’t want be less human or because I don't want to give strangers the money I worked so hard for, but also because I usually don’t have any cash on me.
But this time was different. I did have cash on me. I had just flown into Philly from Sioux Falls that morning and when I’m traveling, I usually hit an ATM to get some cash.
So before he could ask, I looked at him and said: “I can help you out brother...you’re in luck. I don’t usually have cash on me but tonight I do.” I was a little annoyed when I reached in my pocket and discovered that the smallest bill I had was a $10…but I dropped it into the guys box anyway.
The man’s reaction of intense gratitude was trumped only by my friends’ who all agreed that $10 was a little crazy…and one of my buddies says: “Whoa! 10 bucks! You going to be giving those out all night?!"
The truth is, that if I had a smaller bill, I would've given the guy less but it was the smallest bill I had and the guy clearly needed it more than I did…not to mention the fact that it was a heck of a lot easier to just give him a 10 than to go inside, stand at the bar (which by now was three or four deep everywhere) and then ask a busy bartender to break a bill for change…and not even buy anything. In short, it just wasn’t an option.
I thought, “How many times have I pretended to not even hear someone on the street asking for help?” Growing up in bigger cities, where homelessness is ubiquitous, I think we start to see the homeless more and more as part of the landscape. As a sort of white noise… like the sound of traffic. And stopping to talk to every single one would not only be too time consuming, but expensive as well! And dangerous (Not because people who don't have a home are inherently dangerous or anything, but because strangers in general can be dangerous).
So, after I give this guy some money, I notice that a few of my friends are still shaking their heads and smirking at me as if to say: “sucker…”
I realized something at that very moment. I didn’t mind being “suckered”. I appreciated the fact that going home with $10 less in my pocket that night…for the most part…was not going to break me. In fact, it wasn't going to negatively impact my life one bit. I wasn’t annoyed and I did’t feel hustled. I felt grateful. I felt grateful that later that night, I'd be headed back to a clean hotel room in a nice pair of shoes, with more food than I needed in my belly. I had a warm coat or my back and a free beer in my hand.
And then I had another thought... I had no idea who this guy was, where he was from or what he was going to spend that money on. For all I knew, he could have spent it on heroin…or a hoagie. And then it hit me: It’s actually easier for me to give 10 bucks to this complete stranger, who may be a drug addict…or a criminal than it is for me to give money to Feeding South Dakota, The United Way or LifeScape or any other one of the numerous organizations that I know help children and adults in serious need…and who are actually bonafide verifiable 501(c)(3) charities championing the causes that are really important to me.
And so there I was, with a group of restaurant, hotel and bar guys and it was just so clear to me - This homeless guy on the street understood something about hospitality that most others don't: The importance of accessibility and convenience... and he was executing it better than most just by being where the action already was instead of trying to attract people to where he wanted them to be. I then couldn't shake the idea of how much charities might benefit from adopting more of a hospitality-based mindset when it came to their fundraising efforts.
I can't help looking at most organizations and comparing them to restaurants and I couldn't help myself then...not only because the restaurant business is all I really know, but because of the glaring similarities between the non-profit sector and the hospitality industry as well.
Instead of either one just hosting "special events", they both should be open 7 days a week - for all three day parts…breakfast lunch & dinner….and like this guy on the sidewalk - super accessible & open late-night.
Instead of trying to get people to call in, log on or go to an event, I thought maybe I could help charities make themselves more accessible by bringing them to where the potential donors are instead of spending so much time and money trying to get potential donors where the charities want them to be.
I gave more than I usually would have given…to a complete stranger for no other reason than the fact that it was convenient. In fact, it was so easy - it was almost instantaneous.
So we built Hawser around that idea: to make charities more accessible to the people who are willing to support them and to make giving to those organizations easier and faster than ever.
We started by working with local and national nonprofits to learn what their challenges were and we learned that "friend raising" was just as important to them as fundraising. So we developed a unique messaging service to add onto our platform that enables charities to interact, on a more personal level, with their supporters and would-be supporters.
Hawser has now evolved into place where anyone can directly reach 100% of their connections 100% of the time.
That’s a pretty big deal…not only for charities, but for: restaurants, small businesses, bands, bloggers, recruiters or really anyone who is simply tired of fighting to get their message into the hands of the people who actually want it.
We started by using creative technology that enabled us to affordably provide a transaction platform that didn’t require us taking a cut of donations in order to pay for it. Then we built in a monetization strategy that complemented our platform from the beginning instead of trying to figure out a way to add it in later.
Now, charities can use their Hawser Inbox as the venue for a 24 hour fundraiser that doesn't require event space...or as a convenient vehicle for handling a 15 second encore round of giving at any gala or fundraising event..without their attendees even needing to download our app.
Not only that, but because we realize the most valuable contributions are contributions of time, we realized that we needed to offer a way for people to volunteer theirs at the push of a button.
As a means to unclutter and level the media playing field, Hawser Inboxes ensures 100% of anyone’s messages get delivered to 100% of their connections 100% of the time.
Hawser Inboxes not only serve as a directory to all of our users' online activity but also as a place to showcase the causes that are most important to them and/or their organization.
Everyone on Hawser gets an Inbox dedicated exclusively to them. When they post an update or message to any connection (or all of their connections), the Inbox holds the message(s) and then pops up on their connections' home screen.
So whether it’s your bestie or your local CoOp, you can go to their Hawser Inbox whenever you're ready and see what updates you may have gotten from them that day… instead of hoping to get them before they're pushed deeper and deeper under a never-ending feed.
The way we handle group messaging is a little different too. Instead of all the back and forth with traditional group messages; Hawser Inboxes sends one individual message to an unlimited number of recipients simultaneously. And replies are kept private. This means you can have a personal conversation with each and every one of the people that received your message directly as opposed to dragging them all along on a huge chain few appreciate.
Hawser Inboxes is a personal media and messaging app for people who value direct and meaningful communication.
We’re designing new features every day that make it easier to use mobile devices as a tool that enhances life instead of a tool that distracts us from it.