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Friday, Sep 30, 2022

Scripsense Cofounders Aim to Do Well By Doing Good

Lori Jackson “lived scrip,” as she puts it.

The mother of four children attending Serra Catholic School in Rancho Santa Margarita was retrieving gift cards worth thousands of dollars from their backpacks each month and distributing them to friends and family members around the county. The private school would get the cards at a discount, usually 1% to 13%, and resell them through students at face value to parents.

“It’s one of their top fundraisers, so it’s working; it just needed to be way easier,” Jackson said of what was a time-consuming process.

Mentor Made Difference

She turned to her mentor, Melinda Masson, with an idea to take the scrip-buying process online and pair it with a shopping component that also funnels a percentage of sales to a designated nonprofit cause.

The two met in 1998 when Masson recruited Jackson to work at Merit Property Management Inc. and help set up Ladera Ranch as one of the country’s early connected communities.

In 2001, Jackson became director of national programs for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Masson sold Merit Property to FirstService Corp. in 2006 on undisclosed terms and stayed on for another five years, as she still owned a stake in the company.

The transition brought the two back together.

“Working for corporate America was very different, but I learned a lot,” Masson said. “I also learned a lot about myself. I tried to retire for about a year and a half before Lori said, ‘You don’t want to do that.’ I’m a visionary, I like the challenge, and I like to take something that I think has great opportunity and just see it work, and that’s what we are doing right now.”

They co-founded scripsense in 2013 in Laguna Beach and spent the next year and a half researching the marketplace and perfecting their business plan.

‘Archaic Model’

Masson was surprised to see that scrip’s “archaic model” hadn’t changed since 10 years earlier when she used it to support fundraising efforts of her three now-adult children. Schools were still selling hard cards during short periods of time before and after classes. Every school had to pay tens of thousands of dollars upfront to purchase gift cards before they could resell them. Some schools struggled with bounced check payments, while others battled cases of embezzlement, Masson said.

The duo, though, liked the fact that the program allowed all families to participate, regardless of income level.

“When you’re fundraising, there is a triangle, and everyone is going after that top third, and yet we have found that everyone wants to give back, everyone wants to know that they are doing their fair share or creating that opportunity for their cause, whether it’s a sports association, their school, a nonprofit,” said Masson, who serves as executive vice chairwoman of the board of governors for Chapman University and on the board of trustees for the Urban Land Institute.

Scripsense offers supporters of nonprofits the opportunity to shop online with more than 200 retailers through its e-commerce portal. They can also order gift cards—the same types Jackson had to fish from her children’s backpacks. About 3% to 20% of their purchases go back to the organization, the cuts varying by merchant.

“If you’re on tuition assistance, you still have to buy shoes and socks, and so by [helping] through scripsense, you are able to give back,” Jackson said.

Flat Fee

Scripsense charges participating organizations a flat annual fee in lieu of taking a cut of their fundraising earnings.

“This is something I learned over the years,” Masson said. “If their skin isn’t in the game, they are not working as hard as they could be with you to make something work really well.”

Scripsense has established contracts with two dozen organizations, including Habitat For Humanity of Orange County, The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, Laguna Plein Air Painters Association and Set Swim in Lake Forest, that collectively draw about 20,000 supporters. Masson and Jackson’s goal is to reach 50,000 users by Aug. 1.

Scripsense, which occupies offices of the Masson’s family foundation in Laguna Beach, is moving in September to 1 Polaris in Aliso Viejo, tripling its work space to almost 3,000 square feet.

Miramar Digital

The company got an undisclosed amount of startup capital from Miramar Digital Ventures in Corona del Mar early on. The “seed and early-stage fund” provided money to hire Navid Nobakht, its chief technology officer and one of five full-time staffers.

Nobakht, who held a similar role at e-commerce giant Buy.com, heads all engineering efforts at scripsense, designing and developing its interactive, mobile website.

The work never seems to be quite complete.

“As soon as we get done with what we think our platform needs, the technology is changed,” Masson said.

And that’s one of the reasons she sees scripsense as a “three- to five-year plan” for herself and Jackson.

“Do we think we are going to run this 10 years from now like I did a management company? Probably not, because of the sophistication of the platform,” she said. “It’s going to offer a great opportunity for merging or acquiring.”


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