The Art of UniversalGiving


What would you do if you were vacationing in Mexico and walked by a group of begging and starving children? Pretend you didn’t see them? Give them food, and go on with your normal day? Or dedicate your entire life towards helping others from that point onward? The latter is what Pamela Hawley did following a pivotal moment she experienced while vacationing with her family in Mexico. She started UniversalGiving in 2002 as a way to connect people to quality giving and volunteer opportunities all over the world. Currently located in San Francisco, UniversalGiving is a non-profit organization with a mission to “Create a World Where Giving and Volunteering Are a Natural Part of Everyday Life.”™

In the Photo: Pamela Hawley

Twelve years ago the opportunity to organize volunteering online was limited. Since its initial inception in June 2002, UniversalGiving has done tremendous work helping a multitude of people around the world. Hawley saw the tremendous power of the web and the incredible effects that scaling this business could have. She reflects, “We want the unknown NGOs that are absolute local experts on the ground and that know what they’re doing and have those relationships on the ground.” Each NGO UniversalGiving works with goes through a rigorous 24-stage quality model and, unlike other volunteering organizations, it is free and always gives 100% of the donations.

I knew that this was not right to have in the world. I think from that time forward it was really so important to me to have an organization that could do something and could change the world in a strategic way to help people give and volunteer around the world.


In the Photo: (Right) Volunteer opportunity with UniversalGiving. 
Photo: Universal Giving

Hawley began her work as an entrepreneur, at the age of 12, following a family vacation to Mexico. Hawley and her father were walking around a marketplace in Mexico. They were surrounded by food, Mexican music, and an amazing ambience; however, when they turned into a cul de sac they saw a whole different side of Mexico—“We saw all of these begging and starving children and the word unacceptable just poured across my mind. I knew that this was not right to have in the world. I think from that time forward it was really so important to me to have an organization that could do something and could change the world in a strategic way to help people give and volunteer around the world.” Of course, building and scaling a business is not a simple feat. Upon asking her what has been some of the biggest obstacles she has faced, Hawley described that, like all entrepreneurs, there will always be lulls in the business and challenging times, “the key is to stay steady, refine, and get ready for when the business will increase… Are your operations ready? Is the staff ready? All those things need to be in place.” Hawley introduced the Japanese term Kaizen that has had a significant meaning for her. Kaizen is the idea of constant improvement and refining— “they’re constantly retooling and trying to make their services better and better and I love that…just because it’s a slow time doesn’t mean you cannot make your vetting services better or come up with ways to make your operations more streamlined to save time.” Constant self-improvement is key in order to be constantly innovating and growing in the entrepreneurial world.




unspecified In the Photo: Volunteer opportunity with UniversalGiving. Photo: UniversalGiving

Hawley is an active member in the entrepreneurial world and she graciously took the time to speak with me. She was eager to share some of her key pieces of advice for social entrepreneurs regarding starting off, the ability to succeed, and how to stay afloat. One important aspect she pointed out is that, “to be really good social entrepreneurs you need to have a way to generate revenue.” UniversalGiving generates revenue through UniversalGiving Corporate, which helps Fourtune 500 Companies with their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) strategies and helps them to vet their NGOs. Whether for-profit or non-profit it is important to have a revenue stream.

Additionally, Hawley points out that it is important to take care of your team, make sure there is balance, and show them that you care. Hawley also underscored the importance of thanking your supporters, “if you go back and thank them and take that time from a lens of gratitude new blossoms may unfold from that.” All of these pieces of advice are very applicable to any new venture. Pamela has done incredible work for the world and continues to amaze me in determination, dedication and eagerness to share her story.

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Cover Photo: Courtesy UniversalGiving
About the Author /

Courtney Carter is studying psychology and economics at Duke University, with a focus on Innovation and Entrepreneurship. She grew up in San Francisco in close proximity to Silicon Valley, no doubt one of the reasons why she is interested in learning more and writing about the innovation process and the role of entrepreneurs.

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