Written by: Dan Weisman
Is it possible to fill your booking calendar and contribute to your favorite charity at the same time? Have you ever asked yourself how you could take a vacation and make a difference in society?
These are the questions that Mike Last and Michael McFadden have started to answer with Geronimo.com, a website that asks vacation rental owners and property managers to contribute “one spare week” to charity. I caught up with Michael the other day and had the chance to discuss Geronimo, how the service works, and where it’s going.
FlipKey: Let’s start with the basics – what is Geronimo and how does it work?
Michael McFadden: Geronimo is a service that allows vacation rental owners and property managers to donate a portion of a rental income to the non-profit of their choice without dealing with the hassle of non-profit bureaucracy. Essentially, you list a property at a discounted rate (we recommend a 20% discount) for a set period of time on Geronimo.com. The owners can get half of the rental income, and the other half is for the net donation.
FK: Geronimo sounds like a great idea. How did you get started with donating vacation rentals to charity?
MM: I’ve actually been in the [vacation rental] industry for some time. Previously I started The Society, which is a luxury vacation rental service, and I still work for LuxuryRealEstate.com and head up their vacation rental membership. At The Society, owners were asking for a way to donate some of their rental income to charities, so the idea was really born organically out of demand. In 2008 I started VacationHomesForCharity.org. Then last year I connected with Mike Last, who was working on something similar with Charity Helpers, LLC (owners of Geronimo.com and OneSpareWeek.com). We joined forces and took off the beta on Geronimo.com this March.
FK: Where will travelers find Geronimo rentals?
MM: Right now, travelers will find rentals on Geronimo.com. We are also partnering with charities to build sites that streamline the process. For example, we’re working with the Susan Komen Foundation in Atlanta to build a “One Spare Week” site that helps supporters of that charity search for vacation rentals for their cause. We will be launching more of these sites for charities this spring. Our goal is to enable any and every charity to use spare weeks to raise money for their cause.
FK: What charities does Geronimo donate to?
MM: That’s really up to the owners and travelers. We can give to almost any US-based 501(c)3 non-profit. Currently there are about 1.1 million organizations that we can give money to. I have been shocked at the international scope of properties that are interested in the service, so hopefully we’ll make international charities available in the future.
FK: How does the Geronimo arrangement work with property managers?
MM: The situation is a bit more complicated with property managers because decisions about rental income still need to be made together with the property owner. We want to encourage property managers to list vacant properties and create value out of an asset that would be wasted otherwise. We do pay property managers their full fee on rentals booked through Geronimo before the donation.
FK: When should owners and managers consider listing their property with Geronimo?
MM: We’re really pushing the idea of donating one spare week. If there is a week or two between bookings, then that would be a good time to donate. Geronimo can also be useful for filling last-minute and shoulder season vacancies. The owner can allow the guest to decide which charity to donate to, which helps a property get booked quickly.
Geronimo can also be a useful resource for timeshare owners who can’t make it to their unit at a certain time because the owners get to set the exact dates they want to donate.
FK: What is the biggest challenge in making Geronimo more widely used?
MM: Online bookings are still not common in the vacation rental industry, and properties listed with Geronimo need to be booked through us. We’re working with software partners to facilitate online booking and spread the word about Geronimo.
FK: Are there any other ideas in the works for vacation rental charity?
MM: We’re working on perfecting our system at the moment, but we do have ideas for other ways to make the most of un-booked vacation rentals. Raffles and auctions are great fundraisers for vacation rental owners who are interested in donating to charity.
FK: Where can interested property owners, managers, and travelers connect with you?