Did you ever hear about a brilliant smart phone application and want to know more about the genius behind it? The Charity Miles app is more than just your standard smart phone application, it is the new benchmark for innovative philanthropic technology. The story behind the inception of Charity Miles is almost as charming as the application. The founder, Gene Gurkoff shared with me his personal story: his dream to help raise funds for Parkinson research became a reality, with his grandfather as the inspiration.
You never know who will sit down next to you while having coffee with girl friends in New York City. We were getting ready to leave the Mom+Social at the 92Y Tribecca, and we sat down for a chat before heading off in different directions. Gene Gurkoff, the founder of Charity Miles had spoken during one of the sessions. All of us advocate for the United Nations Foundation Shot@Life campaign, so we are no stranger to Charity Miles. I had been dying to ask him about how he developed the Charity Miles app and he seemed eager to tell his story.
How do you awe four very philanthropic focused women? You set Gene Gurkoff at a table and let him share his story of running to earn money for Parkinson’s disease research in honor of his grandfather. The passion in his voice regarding the application and the love of his grandfather was heartwarming. Gene said that his parents and grandparents had always taught him to give back to society and so he had always been involved with some charitable effort.
Gene’s grandfather was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease over ten years ago and subsequently joined the board of the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. Gene wanted to help raise funds for Parkinson’s research and started fundraising through running – he ran track in high school. Gene said he ran infrequently as an undergrad at Northwestern, but started boxing to keep fit. When he started law school at Harvard he started training for marathons. He was introduced to Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research and Team Fox.
The grassroots fundraising team known as Team Fox has raised over 20 million dollars since inception for Parkinson’s research. Gene realized that the general public only had so much to give. He wanted to find a way for corporations to get a financial return on donations. Gene realized that limiting your audience to a single focus such as Parkinson’s research was less effective for corporations. This made it difficult for companies to make larger donations because it restricted their reach. Charity Miles enabled companies to make larger donations which could be dispersed to multiple charities depending on the users’ preference. It offered a scalable audience and demographic target audience.
Gene made an initial investment in the application to help build a user database and attract corporate sponsors. The official Charity Miles app was launched last June. There are now over 100,000 active users and the numbers are growing steadily. Charity Miles has already earned SXSW Interactive People’s Choice Award and is one of Mashable’s Top Five Fitness Apps. Now many charities including the Michael J. Fox Foundation, multiple United Nations Foundation charities, the Wounded Warrior Project, and various others, benefit from the dedication, love, and devotion that one grandson had for his grandfather. Most recently, Lifeway Kefir and Promax Nutrition became corporate sponsors. Hopefully more corporations become involved with Charity Miles and help ensure that #everymilematters. Gene Gurkoff is truly an innovative philanthropic entrepreneur.