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Jason Gibson, 20, and Noah Olejnik, 18, of Trumbull County teamed up in July to launch Inspire Unity, a crowdfunding website that focuses on one project and beneficiary at a time.
Inspire Unity has users submit a photo with each donation that gets added to a digital photo collage. The collage is meant to signify that all donors are united by their support for the cause, they said.
The first beneficiary was Fur Angels Rescue Shelter, a 501(c)(3) organization in Toledo that, Gibson said, has had a “rough start” since opening during the COVID-19 pandemic. Donors are prompted to upload a photo of their cat for this project.
“It’s been really hard for [Fur Angel Rescue Shelter] to have any volunteers or get any donations or anything,” Gibson said.
Gibson added that Fur Angel Rescue Shelter is currently taking care of multiple cats with feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), a rare disease in which treatments typically cost between $2,500 to $8,000.
Gibson said they plan to adjust the donation percentage, host more than one fundraiser at a time and allow organizations to run their own fundraisers through the site as their business model grows.
“For this first project, we’re looking for a million uploads,” he added. “[With the donations] we're able to take that money, donate it back and then put back into what we started and make it an even bigger and better project for the next one.”
Gibson, a financial major, and Olejnik, a business major, met as classmates at Youngstown State University. Together they wanted to take what they learned in the classroom and apply it to helping people.
Olejnik told Mahoning Matters that after his sister adopted a cat last year, he wanted to make a business model that could generate donations to animal shelters, and other organizations, in a creative way.
"I've kind of always wanted to help people out and give back. If I can intertwine that with a business, [that’d be] cool,” Olejnik said. “We get to give back to people and those organizations that run off of donations.”
Inspire Unity’s website prompts users to create an account before uploading a photo to the collage.
“After you create your account, that's when you'll actually be able to upload. So you'll go to the collage tab after creating your account and then there's a 'Choose File' button underneath the collage ... [and] you'll select a photo from either your phone’s photo album or your computer and then it'll prompt you through the checkout process,” Gibson said. “Each upload is a minimum of a $1 donation.”
Anyone who donates between $25 and $49.99 will receive a free Inspire Unity beanie, and anyone who donates between $50 and 99.99 will receive a free Inspire Unity hoodie. Donations $100 and above will receive a free Inspire Unity blanket.
“Eventually, 5 to 10 years down the road, we want to kind of take a step back and allow other people to use the platform that we've created to help them inspire unity through their own organizations.”
For more information, visit their website.