Business

Program turns tech firms’ routine buys into philanthropy

A cut goes to TUGG, which aids nonprofits

Maria Cirino sought to make buying help others.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Maria Cirino sought to make buying help others.

The idea came to Maria Cirino as her office manager placed yet another order of chips, pretzels, and candy for .406 Ventures, the Boston venture capital firm she cofounded.

“Because we incubate a couple companies in our office, we always have younger people around eating us out of house and home — they eat anything you put out!” Cirino explained. “So one day I said, ‘We probably spend more on junk food than we do on rent,’ and that’s when it hit me: There’s got to be some way to do some good out of all this recurring purchasing.”

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It was the quintessential entrepreneur’s perspective: seeing a solution where someone else might not even see a problem, sensing an opportunity where another person might not take a second look.

From Cirino’s observation has come a simple way for the local technology community to help support the local not-for-profit community. It’s a new program in which a percentage of all purchases made by tech firms at participating companies is donated to Technology Underwriting Greater Good, or TUGG, a Cambridge nonprofit that supports other nonprofits.

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TUGG runs the program, called the “preferred suppliers” network, which was quietly launched last month. It’s designed to encompass any products or services tech firms buy regularly, from office supplies to shipping to catering to promotional items like T-shirts with corporate logos — even pizza deliveries.

Whenever tech firms place orders with suppliers that are part of the network, a portion of the order amount — the suggested portion is 3 to 10 percent — goes to TUGG. In other words, the suppliers sacrifice a small portion of their profit, which instead supports a charitable cause.

The incentive for participating suppliers is that they may benefit from increased sales by tech firms inclined to send more business their way.

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And the potential boost in sales could be significant: TUGG, founded by Jeff Fagnan, a partner with Atlas Venture in Cambridge, maintains a mailing list of more than 12,000 venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and technology executives.

So far, two companies have signed on: Mercury Business Services, a Boston shipping firm, and Awards Co. in Springfield, which makes promotional products. Awards Co. is donating 5 percent per order and Mercury is giving 3 percent on all new accounts.

“It’s a great opportunity,” said Chris Valente, Mercury’s director of sales. “We can get introduced to new business, and we’re also trying to get involved with more charities.”

Purchases made through Amazon can also benefit TUGG, although through a different program. TUGG’s goal is to sign up an additional 15 to 20 vendors.

And because most tech firms do their purchasing on the Web, the program has natural appeal to millennials, said Atlas Venture’s Sarah Downey, 30, who oversees the preferred supplier program.

“My generation buys everything online when we possibly can, and this provides you with philanthropic reasons for doing so,” she said.

Sacha Pfeiffer
can be reached at sacha.pfeiffer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @SachaPfeiffer.
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