Former Apple star finds meaning in online charitable project

Tom Williams, now 27, recalls clearly what motivated him to set up his online charitable organization nearly two years ago.

“The particular story that really riled me was a story of child abuse,” says Williams, a childhood computer prodigy whom Apple hired away from junior high school at age 14.

One of Williams’ longstanding interests is the environment.

“When I grew up in Victoria, I was a bird watcher,” Williams says. “I volunteered at Swan Lake nature sanctuary. I cared very deeply about the environment.”

But what really stimulated Williams to action was the case of an Ontario child, killed in 2003 by a parent and stepparent.

“(It was) essentially a complete failure of the government institutions that were designed to protect a child,” Williams said. “He was beaten to death under the most horrific of conditions.”

He remembers sitting in a Vancouver Bread Garden café crying, appalled that something like this could happen in Canada. Later that night, he was discussing the child’s death with an older roommate.

“He said, ‘Well, what are you going to do about it?’ ” Williams recalled.

Williams immediately began calling charities, both large and small, offering his marketing and fundraising expertise in the fight against child abuse. There was no response.

“I couldn’t get my phone calls returned,” he said. “It wasn’t that they were shunning me, but they didn’t have the resources to follow up every phone call made at 10 o’clock at night. It awakened me.”

What became apparent to him was that many of Canada’s 80,000 charities had to decide whether to raise funds or deliver services. Forced to choose, they had to deliver services, thereby threatening their financial survival.

The end result was Williams’ Plenteus Technologies, now known as GiveMeaning, designed to match donors online with charities. To date, GiveMeaning has helped more than 400 charities, according to Williams.

Asked about the number of donors, Williams replies: “We don’t release the number, but I can say that it’s the fastest-growing charity service, online or offline, in North America.”

GiveMeaning charges no fees. Instead, the organization — itself a registered charity — is funded by corporate sponsors, in a program due to be officially launched later this month.

For a fee, the sponsors have their logo presented on GiveMeaning’s Web site, in connection with a particular project or event.

“Every company now wants to present itself as socially responsible,” Williams explained.

Williams said GiveMeaning could not have been created without the Internet. The reason is that GiveMeaning accepts even small gifts shunned by other charities.

“Charities will say, ‘We will not issue a tax receipt for a donation of less than $15,’ ” he said. The reason is that the cost of processing donations is so high, added Williams: “What we’re doing is the law of small numbers.”

One of the charities that GiveMeaning has helped is CARTS Outreach, an organization based in Williams’ hometown that distributes food, drinks, clothing, and other gifts to the many homeless in B.C.’s capital.

“CARTS” stands for Christian Actions Reflecting the Spirit, and its secretary-treasurer is Charon Hill.

Each Friday night, CARTS volunteers take five double-decked garden carts, laden with supplies, to the streets of Victoria. Hill had nothing but praise for Williams.

“Tom is just a really, really wonderful, giving person, and wants to help so much,” Hill said.

Last year, donations made through GivenMeaning provided about 20 percent of CARTS Outreach’s budget, she added.

“The biggest thing is that Tom has allowed us to be well-known right across the country, and the GiveMeaning website is very well received outside of Victoria,” Hill said. “That’s great because more people are finding out what CARTS is all about.”

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