San Francisco Zipcar Lets Charity Workers Drive Free

By Meredith May, Page B-1
San Francisco, CA (February 25, 2009)- To help Bay Area nonprofits survive a massive donation slump, the Zipcar car-sharing service has begun letting charity workers drive its cars for free. Volunteers who help seniors switch their analog televisions to digital, after-school art teachers, environmentalists with trees to plant, and Big Brothers and Sisters who mentor kids are now driving around town on Zipcar’s dime.


“I believe it’s part of doing business; it’s part of being a human being,” said Michael Uribe, general manager of Zipcar San Francisco. We get to come to work and contribute to the larger social network. How cool is that?” he said.
Donating transportation, instead of cash, makes philanthropic sense for Zipcar, which is the nation’s fastest-growing car sharing network, with 250,000 members, but has yet to turn a profit after nearly a decade. But in cities with a high parking-hassle factor, such as New York and San Francisco, Zipcar is starting to make money and position itself as a creative social entrepreneur. In the last year, Zipcar San Francisco has emerged as the philanthropic leader among the company’s 25 U.S. cities.
In March, Zipcar will lend 10 trucks to Friends of the Urban Forest to plant trees throughout San Francisco parks and residential neighborhoods. Fees averaging $70 a day are waived for Bay Area artists with HIV who need to haul their canvasses to exhibitions sponsored by the nonprofit Visual Aid, employees who need to pick up supplies for author Dave Eggers’ 826 Valencia writing center, and to Meals on Wheels drivers bringing hot food to the homebound.
“I’ve gotten a few calls from other cities wanting to replicate what we do, from Chicago and Portland, so hopefully it will spread across the country,” said Austin Marshburn, regional marketing manager for Zipcar San Francisco.
Bay Area Zipcar members, who use a fleet of 700 cars from 191 locations, are responsive to the company’s charity work, Uribe said, in part because the culture of car-sharing tends to attract people who are concerned with the environment and use online social networks to solve problems.
Marshburn and Uribe have used their online membership newsletter to collect 300 toys for hospitalized children for Christmas, to find volunteers to use Zipcars for Meals on Wheels and to walk with the Zipcar team in the annual AIDS Walk.
In September, Zipcar San Francisco began supplying Zipcars to Imagine Bus, a San Francisco nonprofit that provides after-school art programs in needy schools and juvenile detention centers.
Imagine Bus Executive Director Andrea Jones says she’s saving $300 a month now that she doesn’t have to pay mileage reimbursements, gasoline and insurance. “This year with the economy, we especially feel like we are hanging on by the skin of our teeth, so every little bit we can cut back on is a godsend,” she said. For Imagine Bus art teacher Danielle Lawrence, it means not having to haul a 50-pound box of clay on the bus.
For Uribe and Marshburn, it’s a rewarding way to combine their 9-to-5 with their social work. Unlike sending a check, they can immediately see who is benefiting from Zipcar charity. Marshburn’s best moment was getting a thank-you card from an after-school art class. Dozens of children wrote “thank-you Zipcar” on the card, but one had a different idea, and wrote, “Thank you Mom!” Tickled, Marshburn tacked it to his fridge.
Related Resources:
San Francisco Chronicle- Zipcar Lets Charity Workers Drive Free
Zip Car
Friends of the Urban Forest