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Donation Startup Zealous Good Expands Operations

By Paul Biasco | October 15, 2012 10:00am

LINCOLN PARK — The simple idea of connecting organizations in need with people whose garages and closets are stuffed to the brim with things they don't need struck then 25-year-old Brittany Martin Graunke as a no-brainer.

"It was one of those things that seemed so obvious," Graunke said. "Donor trends are really going to where people want to see where their stuff is headed."

Graunke, a former Bain Capital consultant, was working at United Way in early 2010 when the idea for Zealous Good hit.

The idea was to connect people who are looking to donate anything from electronics to a living room sofa with a Chicago nonprofit in need of the goods. The website not only connects the two parties, but allows the donor to see what the goods would be used for.

For example, this past month a donor had 25 suits in his closet that he was looking to donate. The man contacted Zealous Good, which sent an email to the 158 organizations that have signed up, and the donor was able to pick the cause he thought was most suitable.

The clothes ended up in the bags of 25 underprivileged Cabrini-Green North Town area students who were headed off for their first year of college.

Graunke quit her job at United Way in January 2011 and from that time until March 2012, she ran the organization from her Lincoln Park apartment.

"We had the interns sitting around the dining room table," she said. "I remember the day we had 10 donations come in. It was a bit of pandemonium."

During the start, she worked with four Lincoln Park organizations — St. Vincent DePaul Center, Chicago House on Clybourn, the Greenhouse Theater and the Anixter Center — to see if the idea would work:

As of October more than $350,000 in goods have been donated through 690 Zealous Good connections. While those numbers continue to rise steadily, Graunke is getting ready to expand to other U.S. cities, most likely Dallas first.

Zealous Good now has a second full-time employee at its River West headquarters, who has been with the organization since its early days, and two part-time employees.

"We started out with a mix of her apartment and the Next Door Cafe," said 23-year-old Jesse Mavi. "It's been exciting to see the new website launch and the growth that we have had. We have some exciting things going on."

Mavi began interning with the startup while still attending Northern Illinois University and has taken the reins of leading day-to-day operations.

"I kind of knew that it was going to catch on at some point," he said. "I've been surprised, maybe, at the speed."