Giving Back: Pamela Hawley of UniversalGiving

Written by Kassia Binkowski, Contributing Editor to The Good Trade

Meet Pamela Hawley of UniversalGiving

UniversalGiving was built as a channel through which to connect compassionate people with ways to give back. Leveraging the strategic analytics of venture capitalist with the thoughtful relationships of trusted partners, the organization vets its partners to guarantee that 100% of every donation will go directly to the cause. We recently sat down with the Founder of UniversalGiving, Pamela Hawley, to learn more about her inspiration for the platform, the international experiences that shaped her life, and the myriad ways that she gives back.

You’ve built a powerful platform that connects consumers to volunteer and donation opportunities. What was the inspiration behind UniversalGiving? How did it get its start?

My motivation for changing the world began on a childhood trip to Central America at the age of 12. My dad and I were wandering around a traditional marketplace and we veered off into a little cul-de-sac. There, we saw so many starving children: unwashed, maimed, and some without legs. I was beyond shocked. I just remember looking at my dad in absolute awe. And the word “UNACCEPTABLE” became imprinted across my mind. This image stuck with me into adulthood, and the inspiration to become a force for good fueled my passion to start UniversalGiving.

There are so many donation platforms for an individual to choose from these days. Tell us more about UniversalGiving and what makes your brand unique.

UniversalGiving is an online platform connecting people with quality giving and volunteering programs all over the world. Our network of trusted nonprofits provides users with unique opportunities to give and volunteer internationally.

We pride ourselves in making trust intrinsic to giving and volunteering. Like a venture capitalist, we review not only the good marketplace, not only their good idea, but also who the people are that organizations work with. We care about and understand the leadership of all of our partners, creating relationships and safeguarding against terrorism - not just performing financial reviews.

Our Quality ModelTM ensures that donors and volunteers partner with top-performing, trusted projects. What makes us different is that we don't simply do objective financial checking. We operate very similarly to venture capitalists, taking a strong look at the management team and experience. This takes judgment based on years of experience.

Thanks in part to the interconnectivity of people and places today, there are more ways than ever before to contribute to social and environmental change. How would you recommend an individual navigate these options? From donation dollars to volunteer hours, where should they get started?

It is difficult to navigate how and where to give and volunteer based on the sheer amount of opportunities that are out on the web. Navigating these options can be daunting – which is why I founded UniversalGiving. We make accessing a wide array of giving and volunteering opportu- nities all over the world easy, centralized, and trusted. If you are looking to navigate other options, I would advise looking in to where exactly your money is going, ensuring the organizations provide quality work in their communities, and that your donation is not being used to cover an organization’s administrative expenses.

You’ve taken a path less traveled, applying business expertise to create social and environ- mental change. What are the skills that have served you best as you built a career in social responsible business?

What has served me most in my journey with UniversalGiving is keeping the will to persevere over everything else. Entrepreneurship is not a position - it’s a life calling. It’s not on the requirements of a position description; it’s in your heart. You have a burn inside until it’s reality and have the drive to make the world better faster. You have to want to build upon your passion, and I would advise any entrepreneur to build your advisor teams immediately. Allow your passion to shine through the criticisms that you will inevitably face. Above all, do what makes you happy. It will motivate you through the hard times ultimately allow you to achieve your business goals.

What does a day in the life look like as a Founder and CEO of a successful giving platform? How do you maintain the work-life balance that you need in order to continue creating an impact?

My day-to-day work is busy, multi-faceted, and incredibly rewarding. From funder meetings to product development strategizing to being in the office with my team, there is never a dull mo- ment. For myself and for the UniversalGiving team, I believe that a work-life balance is critical to maintaining the joy and energy that we need to move our organization forward. Especially when things get busy, I am guided by love and principle with everyone I meet. In all that I do, I am guided by excellence. I love working on strategy, helping to develop people, going to my nephews' and nieces games. I value presence, to listen and be available. Kindness is important to me; to be sincere and kind to everyone I meet. I express gratitude for everyone and always have a sincere, calm, welcoming presence. This keeps me grounded and able to focus on the important things in life.

Your personal story is speckled with thoughtful contributions around the world. How have your international experiences influenced your daily life?

I have worked in a wide range of volunteering projects all over the world. From global volunteering in microfinance in remote villages of India, to crisis relief work in the 2000 El Salvador earthquake, to sustainable farming in Guatemala and more, I believe that the most incredible way to give back is to experience it firsthand. When you give of yourself, you are able to live with more gratitude, joy, and graciousness. The lessons I have learned through my travels and international work fuel me every day to give everything I have to UniversalGiving and the work that we do. 

Kassia Binkowski is a Contributing Editor at The Good Trade and the Founder of One Thousand Design. She grew up in Madison, WI and traveled her way around the world to Boulder, CO which she now calls home. Nestled against the Rocky Mountains, Kassia supports innovative organizations from Colorado to Kathmandu tell their stories of social change through writing, photography, and design. Kassia is an eternal optimist and forever a backroad wanderer.