Hotness, humor and heart: How theCHIVE built a $6 million charity

by Colin Morris
November 6, 2015
thechive chive charities
Melissa Smith survived Hodgkins Lymphoma twice, only to be diagnosed with a rare disorder called Transverse Myelitis that put her in a wheelchair. Chive Charities raised $450,000 to renovate Melissa's home to make it accessible, then surprised her at her favorite restaurant with beer, a cake and a check. Photo courtesy of Chive Charities.

The first time you visit, it’s pretty easy to get distracted. The Austin-based website puts a heavy emphasis on the first two parts of its unofficial motto, “hotness, humor and heart,” with an endless feed of funny slideshows and sexy selfies on its homepage.

But you’d be amazed what they do with heart. To date, Chive Charities has raised $6.5 million for individuals and organizations battling everything from PTSD in war veterans to funding cuts for fire brigades.

Executive Director Brian Mercedes says the altruism is driven by the site’s user base, which accounts for 1.3 million unique visits per day.

“Part of Chive Charities' mission is to inspire a new generation to make a difference in the world and make it a better place, even just 10 percent happier if we can,” he said. “[Chive Nation] puts worthy recipients on our radar. They are the ones that help us with many of our charitable campaigns when we need a presence on the ground.”

84 cents of every dollar goes to charity initiatives, an enviable metric for any 501(c)(3), let alone one spun off an entertainment blog.

That entertainment blog was created in 2008 by John and Leo Resig, two brothers from Indiana whose gift to the Internet is an online community where people have to be civil to one another instead of devolving into flame wars in the comment sections. The content would be fun and casual, even lowbrow at times. The community had to be positive.

Chive users answered the call and then some, forming hundreds of offline chapters and real-life friendships over beer and barbecues. The so-called Chive Nation self identifies as goofy misfits and hooligans, and they look out for each other.

That camaraderie became profoundly apparent in 2012, when Chivers donated roughly a quarter of a million dollars for Taylor Morris, a U.S. Navy bomb disposal expert who lost all four of his limbs when he stepped on an IED in Afghanistan. The generosity from Chive Nation earned coverage in mainstream media like the Wall Street Journal, the Today Show and beyond.

Since then, Chive Charities has supported more than 100 grantees through its own fundraising and files a new story almost every week. The organization also passes the hat around Chive Nation for about four to five grants per year in what it calls flash campaigns, whose viral appeal online still routinely attracts media coverage.

Next Saturday, the organization will celebrate its grantees, donors, and community organizers with its third annual Green Gala at Austin Music Hall.

Brand Director Dave Welch said the event sold out its 950 tickets.

“There’s nothing like it out there on the Internet,” he said. “We really take our online community offline. At the end of the day, Chivers just want to raise a glass, make a difference and have a good time.”

Mercedes said the charity is just getting warmed up.

“While our flash charity campaigns have garnered national recognition, I'd love to see the whole Chive Charities' story told on a national scale,” he said. “We plan to make a bigger impact within the veteran community in 2016. Our servicemen and women are the core of theCHIVE, and we will always step up to help our veterans.”

We’ll drink to that.

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