Hope Tank: The Business of Giving

During the holiday season, people tend to think of those less fortunate and how to give to them. They also think about all the things they want to buy for their friends and loved ones. What if you could do both? Enter Hope Tank.
Hope Tank might look like an ordinary curio and boutique shop nestled amongst Broadway's melange of storefronts but this cozy little store is pioneering a way of doing business with giving at its heart. For every item purchased in the store, from local artwork or hats to the oddities like Archie McPhee's bacon-shaped bandaids, Hope Tank contributes to at least one of roughly 100 nonprofits -- an extensive list of them adorns a chalkboard to the right of the entrance.
Located at 64 Broadway in the Baker neighborhood, the store is owned and operated by Erika Righter. She formerly worked at nonprofits as a caseworker, helping people young and old get services they desperately needed. But she picked a for-profit model for the store. 
"There's absolutely money to be made in doing good and frankly I think what I learned early on is that the financial power in being a for-profit…is so much stronger than if I were a 501(c)3," she contends. "I'm not beholden to a board. I can give to transgender organizations. I don't have to answer to anybody about where I decide to put my money. It's really powerful."

Selling begets givingHope Tank is owned and operated by Erika Righter.
Depending on what's being sold Righter will make sure that a portion of the sale benefits charities, many of them local, like Prax(us), which is the only Colorado-based organization working to end human trafficking, Conservation Colorado or the Women's Bean Project. But local artists and artisans selling in Hope Tank can also specify what organization they want a portion of their sale to benefit.
"Originally what it was if you wanted to sell your work in my store you agreed to donate 10 percent off the top of your sale," Righter explains. Five percent would come from the store's cut and five percent from the artist's cut. "Now I have the option if it's an artist who's already donating as part of their business, I don't take that 10 percent off because they already handle it."
For other companies whose goods Hope Tank carries she'll look for a couple of things. "I try to find a company that makes a killer product and within the company they already have a philanthropic component," she says. She offers the hat-making MaxLove Project as an example. "They are a local company but whatever they make on the hats, 100 percent goes completely back to their nonprofit and they're completely volunteer-run."
"For everything else, for things that I buy wholesale, I don't vouch for where or how it's made," Righter explains. "On that stuff I do a rolling designation. With those products…there's a great marketing opportunity there versus a huge amount of profit that's going to go to [the nonprofits]. So I'm highlighting as many nonprofits as I possibly can." Righter vets the nonprofits to make sure they're following through on their mission and she also tries to make sure many of them are benefitting the local community.

A new ideaMany of the items sold benefit local charities.
Hope Tank originally opened up in the Art District on Santa Fe in February 2012 and relocated to Broadway in 2013. "We have exceeded every expectation financially that I had. It's blown it out of the water," Righter says. Since starting the shop, she's seen her influence grow and now consults with businesses to help them with their charitable campaigns.
Looking ahead, Righter hopes to hire some employees and make a reproducible business model. "It's not a franchise in the traditional sense because it has to have people who have a passion in specific ways. So my goal would be to find those people in different cities who would be these incredible leaders."
"Hope Tank is not just a shop," Righter says. "It's a really specific goal, and the goal is to increase awareness of these very particular community-based organizations."

Photos by Kara Pearson Gwinn.
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Read more articles by Chris Meehan.

Chris is a Denver-based freelance writer, editor and communications specialist. He covers sustainability, social issues and other topics.
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