“Groupon for good” launches a service for charitable group buys

Group buying services have grown explosively over the last few years. Groupon, LivingSocial, Yipit, Foursquare and even Google have jumped into the suddenly hot arena of offering consumers discounts on local merchants’ products and services.

Yet another new player has just launched in the field of group buying, but this time, with a twist. The Mutual, a Brooklyn-based startup, is pitching its service as the “Groupon for Good.” Its goal is to reward buyers for donating to a suite of environmental charities. More akin to a subscription service, a buyer will “join” The Mutual for $10 a month, $8 of which goes to charity and $2 of which goes to The Mutual to support its operations and recruit new retailer “Perks.” As such, 80 percent of the cost of membership to The Mutual is indeed tax deductible.

The Mutual’s Perks will include VIP service, early access to tickets and discounts from partner businesses such as Brooklyn Brewery, uncommon goods and Zimride, which the founders hope will create an “economy for good.” 

Although the majority of The Mutual’s current Perks are for New York-based businesses, it is launching the site nationally, hoping to grow to other cities, such as San Francisco and Washington D.C., in the near future.

For the charitable side of The Mutual, founders Daniel Vallejo and Matt Pestritto have vetted 5 charities who they believe are the right blend to create the greatest collective impact on the environment. These partners include Carbonfund.org, which addresses clean air issues; Oceana, which addresses oceans management; The Trust for Public Land, which conserves land; World Resources Institute, which focuses on reform and the relationship between humans and the environment; and the Center for Ecoliteracy, which expands and improves environmental education. 

So far, The Mutual has already donated about $2,000 to its causes, from 38 individual members.

Vallejo thinks The Mutual will further what he calls “profitable activism,” which he defines as any activity that “brings the business and philanthropic worlds a little closer together in a practical way.” He knows a bit about this approach from his background at global advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather, where he started its respected sustainability practice, OgilvyEarth.

What does a business get for working with The Mutual (as opposed to Groupon or LivingSocial or Gilt Groupe even)?  On top of zero cost to participate, The Mutual takes no cut of any deal. It believes other group-buying services destroy margins and alter customer loyalty, and in addition to wanting to create incentives for more charitable giving, it would like to foster loyalty and repeat business to its retailers.

Nonprofits are happy about the potential “to help foster more consistent micro-donations and help reach a new audience,” said Chris Perceval, director of corporate relations at the World Resources Institute.  Buyers and retailers can be happy that their discounts also do good by the environment, not just by their wallets.

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