Wednesday, May 29, 2024

News and Ideas Worth Sharing Proving that the best gifts don’t come in boxes

The idea for Pungl was the brainchild of then 15-year-old Zach Goffin — an avid Ebay fan and current sophomore at Monument Mountain Regional High School.

Housatonic — Merriam-Webster defines the word pungle as a verb meaning to make payment or contribution of money; the term to “pungle up” was first used in the 1850s in reference to playing games of chance, and Huck Finn’s deadbeat dad used the term in Mark Twain’s 1884 novel.

Today, is fresh off of its December launch  and is emerging as a fun, meaningful way to give — in more ways than one — by encouraging nonprofits to fund specific projects through the creation of naming opportunities for donors. The end result? Continued cultivation of connections within the community that have the power to elicit visible change in the Berkshires.

Zach Goffin, right, answering questions about Pungl during its launch at the Hotel on North in Pittsfield, Mass.

Founder Abby Tovell’s elevator pitch is still a work in progress — but she’s getting close: Pungl is a marketplace — think Etsy for the nonprofit sector — that provides a platform for organizations to put up their own “shop” where needs can be posted on a project-by-project basis. The idea was the brainchild  of then 15-year-old Zach Goffin — an avid eBay fan and current sophomore at Monument Mountain Regional High School. Following the death of a family friend he had hoped to honor with a personalized charitable donation, Zach had wondered: “How come there’s no Ebay for charities?” Alas, there were no opportunities that felt just right to Goffin.

Inspired by the New York Mets Fanwalk at Citi Field (a project through which commemorative bricks were purchased, engraved as donors wished, with proceeds donated to area charities), Goffin enlisted the help of his father — who found Tovell through T Square Design Studio — and they began connecting the dots. The idea was floated to Tovell — over a cup of coffee at Rubi’s — and the rest is history. Not to mention that the proposed name, one Zach recalls from reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, stuck.

At the heart of Tovell’s work is a real desire to “elicit a greater good” when it comes to charitable giving; while she does not see Pungl replacing traditional fundraising sources — “People know nonprofits far better than they know us!” she admits — Tovell looks to the site as a platform where nonprofits can very quickly and easily post a project to support a current need.

Pungl founder Abby Tovell at her studio in Housatonic, Mass. Photo; Hannah Van Sickle

Take, for example, Berkshire Baby Box. Last year (its first as a nonprofit), BBB distributed close to 900 safe sleep spaces to new parents throughout Berkshire County. Each box, filled to the brim with useful items for families, contained two board books; in its inaugural year, BBB had a sponsor who donated all of the books. This year, founder Hinda Bodinger is turning to Pungl to meet her organization’s needs. At present, on the Pungl website, Berkshire Baby Box has put up a project — every $15 raised will provide board books for one Baby Box, and donors will have the chance to name someone to be honored on the book’s nameplate. “We are thrilled to be part of this endeavor from the beginning, and applaud the creators for their innovative, personal approach to fundraising,” says Bodinger. Nonprofits do not have to pay to be featured on the site; rather, takes a 5 percent commission — standard among fundraising platforms.

For donors, the appeal of Pungl is high — and Tovell is working to make donors feel like one in a million, not simply one in the crowd. Donors can go online and browse causes by price, location, category or occasion; at present, the sponsorship opportunities range across all categories of interest from sponsoring a garden intern at the Bidwell House Museum in Monterey for $50 to sponsoring therapeutic horseback riding lessons for the women at Riverbrook Residence in Stockbridge for $100.  In short, “there is the potential to give gifts more meaning,” says Tovell whose own love of supporting her community by giving back — coupled with her wanting to build a brand from scratch — have converged in Pungl. Not to mention, Pungl gifts are accessible to people of a range of backgrounds and budgets, which gives us all an equal opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of others.

Abby Tovell addressing the crowd at the launch of Pungl at the Hotel on North.

In the world of fundraising, donors get a better sense of who a nonprofit is by what the organization needs. Furthermore, what makes Pungl unique is that each “project” provides a space to talk about the nonprofit’s mission, to share website information and links to related work in the community, as well as a place to tell the organization’s story.  In this vein, the mission at Pungl relies on both connections and community. Tovell sees Pungl connecting a whole host of individuals with the myriad nonprofits in Berkshire County — as well as connecting individuals with ties to the Berkshires, who no longer live here, back to the area. In short, at Pungl they are reimagining charitable giving. Through their easy-to-navigate, innovative “double giving” marketplace, you can search through a variety of unique gifts to connect with the people, places and pursuits you love. Whether making a donation to a favorite cause — or donating on behalf of a friend or family member — donors will receive a personal thank-you from the organization, as well as the rewarding feeling that comes from knowing your dollars are making a difference. Some gifts can even be named after you, or in honor/memory of a loved one, for a legacy that lasts for years to come.

“It’s a game-changing approach to charitable giving,” says Tovell, one that — if all goes according to plan — will serve as a large scale model for connecting individuals across the country with causes close to their hearts. Tovell, who has built the brand from scratch, is already thinking about the next step: an advisory board has been created, with Jane Iredale, Rich Bradway and Abbie von Schelegell signed on as members; and Tovell is currently putting the steps in place, and the materials in line, to roll Pungl out in a bigger way — across the country — with hopes of it becoming a national brand.

As for the brains behind this gem of an idea? Zach Goffin plans to intern at Pungl this summer, as a means of immersing himself in the unique platform he was instrumental in bringing to fruition. And for Tovell? She hopes people will come back again and again to experience the feel-good of giving and the extra-fun of browsing projects — both key components of bolstering connection while keeping one’s finger on the proverbial pulse of the Berkshires community.


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