In the summer of 2015, Greece teetered on the brink of collapse after a disastrous six-month showdown with its creditors. Thom Feeney, a young Briton who had never set foot in the country, decided to launch the Greek Crowdfund, an online fundraiser campaign to help Greeks in their hour of need. The campaign raised 290,000 euros ($345,000) in two weeks. When Mr. Feeney sought the best way to make use of the money, he was led to Desmos (Greek for “bond”) – an innovative nonprofit foundation that fills a charitable vacuum created by the Greek crisis.
The Desmos Foundation’s five female co-founders, all in their late 20s or early 30s at the time, were working to connect people with specific needs to people with specific goods to donate. They started discussing the idea at the peak of the Greek recession in 2011, when it was clear the crisis would have widespread social ramifications.
Founded in 2012, the nonprofit had a specific mission. “We wanted to make the donation process easier, more efficient, and more impactful,” says Ekavi Valleras, one of the co-founders. “We wanted to help charities to better document their needs, and to help companies and private individuals in their quest to donate where it’s needed the most.”
The Greek Crowdfund windfall became the seed for the foundation’s Desmos for Youth program. The idea was to develop a different kind of matchmaking, this time between nonprofits such as Desmos and potential new employees, whose wages would be paid for a year out of the campaign’s funds. “Desmos stood out as being led by a fantastic group of educated and experienced women that I could trust,” Feeney says. “From our very first Skype call I knew I’d made the right decision. They’re my heroes!”
“The nonprofits applied looking for a specific profile and provided a specific job description. They had to fill out a questionnaire, and then we interviewed the short-listed candidates,” explains Irini Papagiannouli, in charge of communications at Desmos. The program created 15 jobs in its first year – the first of which was hers. In its second year, the program was funded, among others, by a $50,000 grant from Visa and $100,000 from the Hellenic Initiative, a major Greek diaspora organization.
The foundation stores all the material donations received at its warehouse in Athens, at a 1,500 square-foot center where distribution is handled with the assistance of the Desmos van. The regular routes take place each Friday, but often extra runs are necessary. In Attiki alone (the region encompassing Athens), Desmos has helped about 400 organizations – some with donations from the warehouse, others by connecting them with the right people. The foundation has received many significant donations, including about 100 computers from the European Central Bank, bed sheets from hotels, a fully equipped dentist’s office, and even a rototiller.
“One time, we got a call from a refugee NGO that needed a springboard for its playground,” Ms. Papagiannouli recalls. “That very same day, we got a call from someone who wanted to donate one!”
A key component of their effort to make charitable giving more efficient is the Desmos Direct online platform. Nonprofits register their profile and their needs on the platform, and anyone interested in donating can look them up. Papagiannouli explains that, as part of a wider rebranding of the organization in the coming months, the platform will be upgraded “to further streamline and simplify the matching process.”
The Association for the Protection of Children and Individuals with Disabilities is one of Desmos’s beneficiaries in Athens. Yannis Petroheilos, who runs the state-funded nonprofit organization, recounts the liquidity constraints that come from being dependent on a state still trying to emerge from bankruptcy. He says the association, which has recently undergone hard times, jumped from caring for 40 to 160 individuals with special needs in the space of a year. Funds from the government – including staff salaries – are often six months late.
Desmos contacted him a few months ago, after receiving a large donation of office furniture from a shipping company. “They are the only organization that calls us to see what we need, instead of us appealing to them,” says Mr. Petroheilos.
Yannis Papadatos, head of the intensive care unit at the Athens General Children’s Hospital, is similarly grateful. “I’ve dealt with about 200 nonprofits and philanthropic organizations,” he says, “I’ve seen many show-offs, self-promoters, and swindlers. Desmos is among the best we’ve dealt with – so dignified and professional.”
It hasn’t all been clear sailing. Some charities have been leery of accepting donations from big multinationals; some public sector entities have refused private philanthropy on principle. But through it all, Desmos has kept growing in reach and sophistication – and strengthening the bonds that keep the social fabric together.
This story was reported by Kathimerini, a news outlet in Athens. The Monitor is publishing it as part of Impact Journalism Day, an international effort by more than 50 news organizations worldwide to promote solutions journalism. To read other stories in this joint project organized by Paris-based Sparknews, please click here.