What Nonprofits Can Learn from DTC Companies like Warby Parker

If Jerry Lewis were still alive today, he’d probably be raising money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association on a Twitch livestream. Seriously, Twitch, YouTube, and other social platforms are proving that they could be great places for public charity events.

Twitch gamers raised $75m for charity between 2012 and 2017. That’s right, those kids “still playing video games in their mother’s basement” raise huge amounts of money by live streaming.

Mr. Beast (famous Youtuber) has mobilized dozens of other top YouTubers to lead the charge in planting 20,000,000 trees. A $1 donation plants 1 tree, so it’s a lofty goal. But they’ve fielded donations from Elon Musk, Susan Wojciki, and thousands of YouTube fans. (Last I checked they were above 15,000,000)

Does this signal a new change – moving away from fundraisers for the “end of lifers” and into a realm where the youth are driving the bulk of donations?

No, probably not. While these seem like a huge advancements in fundraising, they are really just the newest form of telethon. Young people giving a little of what they have to their favorite influencers.

In order to really indoctrinate the newest age groups that have come into money – the Millennials and soon Gen Z – nonprofits are going to need to rethink the role of technology in driving their business.

Technology for Nonprofits

In the U.S., 75% of giving comes from individuals. That will continue, but the Gen X and Millennial generations will soon replace Boomers as the primary fundraising source, as Millennials (now already 22-38 years old) enter their income-generating years and as the $30T great wealth transfer begins.

That means fundraising will be all about digital engagement and will follow the changes in consumer engagement we are already seeing today…the expectation, at your finger tips, for easy experiences, transparency, real-time communication, and tangible results/impact that can be celebrated virally.

Bill Strathman, Network for Good

Honestly, I don’t think the transition for nonprofits is even that difficult.

Take everything we know to work for DTC companies and apply it to the nonprofit sector. Honestly, companies like Dollar Shave Club, Bonobos, and Warby Parker routinely crush people’s wallets because they know how to use technology to advance their goals.

Take the DTC tech stack and apply it to nonprofits and social enterprises.


Wikipedia is one non-profit I give money to every year. I’m a $5 donation they can count on. However, it would be a lot simpler if Wikipedia used Memberful. Make a Wikipedia membership with recurring donations.

Quick Checkouts

Amazon mastered 1-click ordering and made us all feel entitled to quick checkouts. Nonprofits can mimic this simple process with Stripe or using Venmo or Cash App – in lieu of text-to-donate or direct mail campaigns.

Additionally, contactless payments can be used to create quick and novel donation experiences. Cancer Research UK has used smart benches that accept £2 donations through contactless payment when you sit down. Blue Cross came up with Pat and Tap. Using their ‘in the field’ canines, donors could pet the dog and make an instant donation via contactless payment on an NFC doggie vest.

Engagement & Community

DTC companies are constantly talking and listening to their customers. Not just once or twice a year, when it’s most convenient for them. Soylent’s active 28,000 member community on Reddit is what convinced investors to invest.

Nonprofits must find ways of consistently engaging with their donors. Digital Events, such as livestreams are one way of thinking about it. Reddit communities and Discourse chat rooms are great for cultivating brand evangelists. Digital Hangouts through group meeting technology like Zoom are an option.


DTC companies understand their customer personas better than anyone. They have an intense focus on understanding their customer (with community insights above) and through data. Google Analytics and Advertising Dashboards are their holy grail. And making sense of data is their pursuit.

Media Partners

DTC companies know the value in getting the right spokespeople and making their message ring. It’s far more about how they partner than who they partner with. Casper threw a launch party with entertainers. Yes, a mattress company threw a party to get the word out and it worked big time. Charitybuzz is always auctioning off a chance to meet celebrities or go on some cool adventure.

Grassroots campaigns can be equally as effective as influencer-led campaigns. Ice Bucket Challenge is a great example. Likewise, Glossier tapped into micro-influencers and peer-to-peer sales opportunities. Their idea was that someone’s best friend would be better at selling Glossier lipstick than Jennifer Lawrence would be.

I think this is something that Jerry Lewis was incredible at – using entertainment as a sales pitch. And I also think it’s what Twitch gamers and YouTube stars get right as well.


Above all else, DTC believes in simplicity. Casper sells one mattress. Harry’s sells one razor blade. They’ve taken simplicity and made it into a luxury. Nonprofits could learn a lot from this tenet.

These are just a few of the doctrines which guide DTC companies. Nonprofits that parallel the strategy of DTC companies will find themselves growing amongst the “new money”. Their aura will feel more like ordering a pair of glasses on Warby Parker than it does a high society black tie event.

There’s Still One Piece Missing

The main delta in making the above strategy work is the talent. Nonprofits run into the issue of retaining top talent because they can’t necessarily dish out the money for top talent. An effective team of 10 can get far more done than an ineffective team of 30. Kylie Cosmetics is a great example of a small, effective team.

Often, by the time a nonprofit hears about a Facebook Ad Pixel trick or some new plug-in, the trick has been played out. It’s an old trick. But top talent will always be ahead of the next trick.

Maintaining talent for a nonprofit is far more about structuring the organization than it is about increasing salaries or getting more donations.

Kiva crowdsources funding for loan principle as described above but separately raises funds to fuel the administration of their organization.

Taylor Ready, Managing Impact & Business

When you separate the charity donation pool from the administrative donations, then you can actually get the necessary funds to build and maintain a team of top talent. And I think Kiva is a living testament of a nonprofit that operates far more like a DTC company than they do a charity

Also, if you’re interested, Taylor Ready explains in great detail the many different ways in which nonprofits (microfinancing institutions specifically) can organize their business and charity operations in order to stay competitive and maximize their impact.

Overall, I think it’s important that our capitalist tendencies be balanced with nonprofit work. A generous and giving spirit gives everyone a break from the Rat Race. Just because capitalism and charity operate on different playing fields doesn’t mean they can’t learn a thing or two from each other.

“Operators are standing by…”