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Project Mailbox

Donating to charity, one nickel at a time


It’s a quirky sight: a three-and-a-half-foot-tall antique red and white mailbox standing just outside of University Grill on Commonwealth Ave. Its purpose is even more unusual: instead of dropping in mail, people drop nickels, dimes—even the occasional dollar or two—into the slot.

Welcome to Project Mailbox, a charity cofounded by Nick Dougherty (ENG’12) and Kaylee Dombrowski (CFA’11), now a development officer at the Goldman School of Dental Medicine. The organization has raised more than $1,500 since it launched in October 2011. The project is based on the idea that if everyone regularly donated pocket change, a substantial amount of money could be raised to support various charitable organizations.

The idea for Project Mailbox came to Dougherty in 2010 when he attended his brother’s high school awards ceremony. Watching students being awarded for commitment to community service, he recalled a story about a local family who had fallen on hard times. Without being asked, the entire community began quietly dropping spare change into the family’s mailbox. Dougherty, who had been involved in community service projects in high school, wanted to do something similar at BU.

“The idea came to me to help out my neighbors anonymously,” he recalls. He figured if every BU undergraduate donated a quarter a week, they could raise $16,000 a month for charity. Best of all, he realized that “it wouldn’t mean students have to donate a ton of money—just what’s in their pocket.”

Back at school, Dougherty teamed up with his close friend Dombrowski to get Project Mailbox off the ground. The two designed a plan that allows students to nominate and vote for a different charity each month. That charity then receives 100 percent of what Project Mailbox collects during the month. Students can nominate a charity at the organization’s monthly meetings, whose dates and locations are posted on the website. Donations can be made either at the physical mailbox or online.

Nick Dougherty. Project Mailbox Boston University

In its first month, the organization raised $625.59 for Project Habitat, a charity that has provided support to the small town of Brimfield, Mass., which was devastated by a rare tornado last June. It was a particularly fitting inaugural donation since Dougherty purchased the namesake antique mailbox at the Brimfield Antique Show.

In November, Project Mailbox donated $121 to Turkish Red Crescent for Earthquake Relief, a relief agency assisting those left homeless by Turkey’s October earthquake that killed more than 200 people. The organization then set its sights closer to home, donating the $450.99 collected in December and January to Bridge Over Troubled Waters, a Boston charity that supports homeless and troubled youth. Last month’s $336.81 went to BU’s student chapter of Engineers Without Borders, which helps disadvantaged communities around the world through engineering solutions.

Students voted to send the March proceeds to benefit Jacinto Ortega (SAR’10), who is running in the 2012 Boston Marathon as part of Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital’s Race for Rehab.

As word of the charity spreads (they have 169 “likes” so far on Facebook), Project Mailbox is teaming up with BU’s chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America to raise the group’s visibility, at the suggestion of Stephen Quigley (SED’87), a COM associate professor of public relations. It is also diligently working to establish official 501(C)3 status, which, Dougherty says, requires loads of paperwork.

Dougherty hopes that Project Mailbox will expand to other colleges in the Boston area in a Beanpot-like competition. Eventually, he says, it could involve millions of college students. “Imagine if every campus in this country had its own method of raising money,” he says. “That could be sending millions of dollars into local communities. And a lot people think that if you’re not spending 20 hours on community service, you can’t be charitable. But every bit helps.”

Perhaps the organization’s motto says it best: “Think inside the box.”

Interested in learning more about Project Mailbox or donating? Find info here.

Amy Laskowski

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

13 Comments on Project Mailbox

  • Z on 03.08.2012 at 6:28 am

    How Sexy is that kid sitting next to the mailbox

  • Overlord of the Freshmen on 03.08.2012 at 8:41 am

    Yay project mailbox!

  • Proud Alumna on 03.08.2012 at 9:16 am

    What a great way to support not just one, but several different charitable organizations! There are so many organizations that need support. This is a great project that illustrates every little bit helps!

    • Project Mailbox on 03.09.2012 at 2:37 pm

      Thank you so much! I hope it continues to grow! Hopefully we’ll have a better way to donate online soon so more alumni can get involved!

  • SM on 03.08.2012 at 10:35 am

    This is a wonderful idea. I am a staff member at BU, and I will be stopping by the mailbox to donate my extra change. This is not just for students!

  • BU Mom on 03.09.2012 at 8:44 am

    Kudos for a great idea — big change(s) come in little boxes!

  • Jenna on 03.09.2012 at 12:51 pm

    Its a nice idea, but what is the difference between this and any other donation box?

    • Project Mailbox on 03.09.2012 at 2:43 pm

      What a great question! Project Mailbox is for the students by the students. Students choose the charities that our box raises money for and students are the ones contributing. Students are also behind the management, the advertising and marketing, and the street teaming. Also, 100% of the money that goes in the box goes to the Charity of the Month. We don’t pay the collectors with the box money and we never will. I guess we’re still just a donation box, but we’re **your** donation box.

  • El on 03.09.2012 at 4:19 pm

    Project Mailbox is such a great idea! Keep up the great work. You deserve balloons and many thanks from so many in YOUR mailbox, Nick.

  • Project Mailbox on 06.28.2012 at 9:51 am

    Thanks to this article, we got nominated for a CLASSY Award! http://www.stayclassy.org/stories/project-mailbox-turning-coins-into-change

  • Eveleen Sung on 07.25.2012 at 3:54 pm

    Yay Nick and Kaylee! :)

  • izzy Cheung on 09.09.2012 at 3:07 pm

    I like it, and this idea….coolllll

  • Jun on 08.17.2015 at 12:59 am

    Donating extra coins in my pocket could help others, what a great idea! BU really provides opportunities for students to use their imagination to positively feed back to society.

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