Young Cutchogue man creates website to help charities

09/07/2011 3:07 PM |

Knowing that times are tough for recent college grads and many companies aren’t hiring, Ben Miller of Cutchogue has found an innovative way around it by starting his own company.

The aim of is to connect people with small amounts of money to donate with causes and organizations they support and enable them to purchase products from socially responsible companies backing the same causes, Mr. Miller said. Money raised from direct donors and corporations, in turn, goes to pay for specific social venture initiatives, he said.

Those seeking funding submit proposals that YaySay checks through its own research, including an extensive application, background check and interview. And once a cause is listed on the site, a staff member will be assigned to monitor its activities and assure that money is being used appropriately, Mr. Miller said.

Individual donors select the causes they wish to support and contribute whatever they can. Socially responsible companies are also invited to contribute and are also vetted. If they pass muster, they’re featured on the YaySay website so customers know the source of the products they purchase and support causes in which they believe.

Once a cause reaches its financial goal, it is removed from the site and others are added. If funding fails to reach the goal, the YaySay board can decide to either ask for a scaled-down proposal or drop it altogether. If a cause is dropped, any pledges it has received are voided or the donors can request that the money be applied to another listed cause.

“I knew about inspiring sites that had nothing to do with what I wanted to do,” said the 25-year-old Mr. Miller. Still, the existence of other socially responsible sites was a bittersweet recognition that his idea wasn’t crazy, he said.

And while he describes his mission as “controversial” and even “revolutionary,” he said he doesn’t like revolution because it creates violence and chaos. He believes he can do more within the system by focusing money and energy on the problems he believes exist in society.

He confessed that his early disgruntlement with the state of society could have led to his becoming “a snide pessimist.” But that doesn’t lead to change, he said. Instead, he chose what he considers a positive approach, rejecting nay say for YaySay, saying “yea” to good causes, ideas and products, he said.

The concept for took root in Mr. Miller’s mind while he was studying philosophy in Vienna and pursuing an undergraduate degree at Trinity College in Connecticut. Tired of hearing that one person couldn’t make much difference in the world, he sought a means of empowering not only himself but those around him to make positive changes in society.

“We’re fighting for people to care and people to act,” Mr. Miller said. People are already having an impact through their purchasing power and sometimes through their inaction, he said. But that impact may not be in their own best interests.

The list of sponsoring organizations working to bring YaySay to fruition include the Manhattan law firm of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, which offered pro bono legal assistance in filing for YaySay’s 501(c)3 tax-exempt status. Other supporters include New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, The Institute of Ethics and Emerging Technologies, TBF Media Group and Artists on the Brink.

“It was kind of a domino effect,” Mr. Miller said. He started with a 35-page business plan he walked around to potential supporters. Once one company signed on, he said, he worked for a recommendation to others.

“I did it through perseverance,” he said.

At the same time, the last couple of years have been a learning experience.

“Everything we’re doing now, I didn’t know one-and-a-half-years ago,” Mr. Miller said. He went to work for a San Francisco web venture company where he learned many of the skills needed to create YaySay. He has also started taking master’s degree courses at City University of New York’s School of Professional Science and plans to switch into an MBA program.

“All the classes are really pertinent” to YaySay, he said.

To date, neither he nor the various people helping to develop the YaySay are getting paid. Working to gain grant money and funds from various events the group sponsors, Mr. Miller said he wants to hire a director and stay on only as chairman once the organization is funded. He has “a laundry list” of other ideas he wants to pursue.

In the meantime, “I’m just struggling like everybody else” to keep his head above water financially, he said. That’s what you do “if you really believe in what you’re doing.”

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