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Noticing Neighbors Keith Custer, The Ripple LLC


Looking for a new way to give? #justrippleit The Ripple LLC is an inventive online platform for selling and purchasing goods and services where the profits go to a specified charity. Between the discounted price for the buyer, the ability for the giver to donate what they no longer need for a charity, and the donation that benefits the nonprofit’s work—this ripple effect spreads in several directions.

Keith Custer is the founder behind the movement, and shares the stories behind the platform.

Hayley:

Can you explain The Ripple LLC and what you all do?


Keith:

Yeah. So it's very basic. The bare bones design is just to help more people get involved in giving. So we’ve created a platform to sell goods and services, with the proceeds going to charitable causes. Now, obviously, we can't pour from an empty cup— Hayley: Right.

Keith: So sometimes if certain charities only allow their donors to write a check or volunteer, that can be a little bit tough in the middle of a pandemic when people are taking care of their health. Besides giving blood, or rounding up to the next dollar at the checkout line, there really are not a lot of options. The Ripple is a way to expand options for giving. Hayley: What made you look at it this way? Keith: So from an outsider perspective, I didn't grow up with my professional career in the nonprofit sector. I was just kind of an outlier. I would tithe at church, and if a cause really hit me in the heartstrings, then I might write a check. But other than that, I was really good at making excuses. “The kids have a soccer game, I can't volunteer this weekend” or “we didn't get a bonus this month, I can't donate.” And I felt kind of bad about that, even when there were legitimate excuses. I always found myself just wishing that there was another way to get involved. One thing that I found is that no matter how much money I had made my entire life—I've had points eating Ramen, and also made pretty good money in certain points of my life—it never really affected the amount of goodwill in my heart, right? I could be broke and still want to help people. I just needed a different cup to pour from.


Hayley:

Right.


Keith: So I was kind of toying with this idea about how in the world can we get more people involved in philanthropy? There's got to be a massive resource. Obviously, it's got to be something that can kind of transcend all socioeconomic classes and every different status of person. What is the common ground that we all have? Thankfully in America, and I believe in a lot of other countries, no matter what social class we're in, we're always going to have stuff that we've used, but we haven't used up.

Hayley:

True! Keith: We see these things being sold. Once I started doing research, I found out there is almost $500 billion a year being done on secondhand commerce sites like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. I was like, okay, I think that's a big enough resource. Maybe we could tweak that model a little bit and allow people to buy and sell things like they're already doing. We're not going to reinvent the wheel. We're just going to reinvent the values of where that wheel is steering.

Hayley: Just participating in it differently. Interesting. Keith: So I said, why don't we just let people buy and sell things online? And instead of them being able to put that money in their pocket, they have to pick a charity to receive those proceeds. That's exactly what The Ripple is. It allows people to buy and sell things—goods and services—and we can also allow small businesses to put coupons on the site for professional services. So now for-profit businesses can get involved in assisting nonprofits as well. Hayley: So they can offer the good or service, whatever it may be, and then what happens? Keith: That money goes directly to nonprofits. I mean, it's a pretty basic site, and easy to navigate. Honestly, this is something people have already been doing for 10 or 15 years, but for some reason we left our nonprofits out of it.


With theripple.net, now we can bring them in and allow them to essentially have a 24/7/365 fundraiser going on with zero overhead. And now you don't have to have money to give. You can go on there and buy a couch, buy a bed, get a great deal on something—and the money still goes to charity.


Hayley:

It's something people are already doing. It's not out of your way, really, if you think about it. Keith: It’s not. There's so many sites out there right now, so there is a lot of competition with getting people to shop. We just get so content-hungry, you know? People will constantly be looking for new items. So the biggest trouble we have right now is keeping good things on the shelf. We had someone sell a pool table, a nice pool table for, like, $500. We sold a 65 inch flat screen TV that retails for $1,300 a couple of weeks ago, and it sold for $300.


So we're getting really great items. I mean, there's no shortage of goodwill in the community, but it's just we got to keep things on the shelves. That's been a tough thing.


Hayley:

Wow. That's a good problem to have, though.


Keith:

I think so.


Hayley: You talked a little bit about the beginning and where your intention started. Are there any stories from the beginning that you remember? Any special memories when you saw it start to work?


Keith:

There's one that is just really near and dear to me because it really captured the essence of the business model. And I hate to call it a business model, because that's not what it's really designed to do—but let's be honest, it is a business model. My kids are 8 and 12 years old, so they have both outgrown their booster seats. I was doing some spring cleaning, and I put a couple of booster seats on the site. There was a lady that had reached out to me, and when I posted it on The Ripple, I also posted on some other social or online marketplaces.


And so anyway, the lady had reached out to me on Facebook, and I was kind of debating: Do I want this stranger to come to my house or not? So I looked at her Facebook page as I was snooping, and had seen that she had just been through a rough couple of months—her husband had just been murdered. So I thought, OK, life is tough.


We'll just meet up in a parking lot. Totally passed judgment, which I don't like to do, but I'll be honest that I did it. But I only say that to say—once I met this woman, she was the kindest and just most honest person. When she pulled up, she had three kids in the backseat. None of them were in car seats, and they probably could have been. And she said, “Keith, you have no idea how tough this year has been. I lost my kid's father.”


I told her, “I don't want you to feel like a charity case here. You need to understand that, with you buying this booster seat, this money is actually going to go to help out a youth center.” Because that was the charity that was being benefited there, and I could literally see the redemption in her shoulders. Suddenly, she lifted up. Her shoulders were a little bit higher. And she said, “What do you mean?”


I said, “No, I'm not keeping this money for these car seats. This money that you're paying is going on to go help out a youth center. So you are making a big difference today. So you don't need to be thanking me. Thank you.” Hayley: Oh! Keith: And it was just like, I still get goosebumps. It just re-experienced that feeling because it's like: Gosh, if I could just bottle up that feeling and give it to everybody… and that feeling was just sitting in my garage collecting dust! But because I posted on The Ripple and I made this connection with somebody, who knows what it did after that?

Hayley:

Right.

Keith: I've never talked to this woman again in my life, but I like to think that it made a little bit of a difference and that she saw some good in the world. I always love that story. I've had similar stories, but that one really hit home because I felt like I got to know her before, and I haven't done that with anything else I’ve sold since. That one I’ll always remember.


Hayley:

I like that you said the word redemption, but then it almost like another word would be “empower.” That's really neat.


Keith: Well, obviously we didn't just happen upon the name The Ripple. There is some meaning behind it, and I really do love the name of our company because the intent behind it is to take that one act of kindness and put as many rings or ripples to that one act as possible. I really feel like that one had some ripples to it. I'd like to think that put her kids in a better position, put her in a better position, and maybe made a difference from that one act.

Hayley: And the youth center! I mean, then it's also going to people that you don't know and making a difference. That's beautiful.

I mean, this past year has been, just what it's been, have you had any important memories from this past year?


Keith:

We've had just such a crazy year. Every industry got dealt a series of curveballs, and I think that the nonprofit sector really got the most of them. They suddenly couldn't hold their galas, and their 5K’s, and their golf tournaments, and all their fundraisers. But on the flip side of that, their clientele increased. Hayley: True. Keith: So they were actually asked to do more with less. But how do you operate when you can't get within 6ft of people who need care? And some of these are very specific clientele that can't adhere to these new restrictions.


So it was really difficult. I definitely lost a lot of sleep last year because we were really rolling. Before this we were getting up to about 25, 30 charities and making great relationships with all the executive directors, and things were really starting to hit their stride. Then with this, suddenly a lot of nonprofits just kind of froze. You have fight or flight, but sometimes you just freeze too. And it was strategic. So a lot of charities actually just shut down, said we're going to limit our overhead. Some employees got furloughed, and so some of my relationships within some of these organizations got a bit compromised. There was turnover, and that was tough. Hayley: Wow. Keith: But it's endearing to see all of these organizations just coming out fighting throughout all of this. There were all these new pivots. I really feel like a blessing has come from it because the nonprofit industry needed some revolutions, in my opinion, and new ways to do things. It feels like a lot of the nonprofits had to get a little more tech savvy.



You started seeing a lot more unique ways to give, which I think is always going to be a good thing. And I think it's something that everybody should be looking for. So, I welcome competition (laughs) with giving and having a technical side to it.

Hayley:

I feel like you've had a very cool perspective through creating this organization. How have you seen goodness in a way that you wouldn't have if you hadn't gone on this journey?


Keith: One thing that I've seen—there's something that I didn't really know until I started getting a lot more involved with these charities, sometimes called the “Givers Glow.” I've really kind of been digging on this new theory that there are different types of currency that get things to operate. Everybody just kind of thinks that you need to have money—that's the only currency a lot of people recognize. But friendship, mentorship, leadership, guidance and love, those are all currencies as well. In spending a lot of time with these charities that we're working with, I'm seeing this currency in full effect, and they're getting so much done with very little money because of all these people just walking it out and filling their cup by pouring into somebody else. Hayley: But what is the “Giver’s Glow?”

Keith: So they say that sometimes the giver is the one that gets the best gift, right? They call that the Givers Glow. There's a lot of studies that say people that are using alcohol and drugs to fill a void can actually fill that same void by giving to charity. Because when you give to charity, there's dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin dumps to where you get this legit like, high to where you feel really good about yourself.

I’m talking about people who get into deep depression because they've lost their social circle. Maybe they lose their job, or they go through a tough break up and suddenly they don't have the same set of friends. Getting involved in charity can help with that, because suddenly you have a social circle where you're serving a purpose and you're waking up in the morning and you have a purpose.


Those are some things that I've realized over the past couple of years, and it is why this cannot stop. This is going to be something that once the success story is written, it won't be written by me. It will be written by hundreds or thousands of people just going out and doing great things. And that is such a gift to unwrap. Just watching that go has been really cool.


Hayley:

And if someone is reading this and wants to get involved, how can they join in? Keith: It is so easy, and there are so many different ways. If you love a bargain and you just want to go on there and shop, go on there and shop! If you have a lot of stuff, maybe you left some stuff at your parent’s house after moving off to college, or you're downsizing and don't need five bedrooms worth of furniture anymore, and you don't necessarily need the money so you donate the sale to a cause. Or maybe you work for a company where you can put coupons on certain services: like roof sales, or lawn service, or even hair styling. There's all sorts of different things that you can put coupons on where—you're not going to give that service away—it would just be discounted contingent on somebody buying that coupon. Those are three really easy ways, but a couple of other ways is we have a classified ad section, so if any of our charities have volunteer opportunities, you could go on there and see about volunteering. There's four ways right out of the shoot that you can get involved. But regardless of how you use the site, there is absolutely nothing you can do on the site that does not generate either a donation or a volunteer effort.


Hayley:

And a ripple effect. Keith: And a ripple effect. Yes, absolutely. And the last way: share it! That is absolutely just gold right now, if people want to help spread the word of goodwill towards each other. There's enough negativity going on. We don't need to share another post that has a negative tinge to it. Just go out and share the ripple. I firmly believe that if we just knew better, we would do better. Sometimes people don't understand that maybe they don't have the money in the bank to give, or they don't have a really flexible schedule—they can still make a difference in people's lives. We just need a little different way to do it.



Keep up with the latest from The Ripple LLC through their website, Facebook and Instagram.


All media originally published by The Ripple LLC via their online platforms.

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