Imran Nuri, CEO and founder of The 52 Million Project, was inspired by an empty peanut butter jar above his parent’s fridge, dedicated to donating money at the end of each month. Credit: Courtesy of Imran Nuri

Growing up, Imran Nuri’s parents struggled to pay the bills. He got used to hearing, “We can’t afford that.”

He also got used to giving to those who needed things even more than he did, which became the inspiration for his latest philanthropic pursuit.

Nuri, a fourth-year in marketing, is the CEO and founder of The 52 Million Project, a project with the goal of raising $52 million a year to benefit extreme poverty, animal welfare and climate change.

Nuri said the main goal of the project is to democratize philanthropy and make giving accessible to everyone.

“We’re trying to bring philanthropy to everyone, to make everyone a part of this process of giving,” Nuri said. “That’s our primary mission.”

According to The 52 Million Project’s website, the project’s mission is “to teach people that anybody can be a philanthropist, even if it’s donating just one dollar a week.” To begin the project’s target of engaging one million people, Nuri wants to target Ohio State students.

Nuri said the project sparked from a specific childhood habit.

Nuri’s parents kept an empty peanut butter jar above their fridge, and at the end of each week, they would hand Nuri a dollar to place in the jar to be donated at the end of the month.

“I didn’t think too much about it,” Nuri said. “It was just something that happened — another week, another dollar in the jar.”

As Nuri got older, he said he realized how subconsciously important giving was to him.

Nuri said BuckeyeThon, Ohio State’s annual dance marathon to raise money for children with cancer, drew him to the university. He was involved in his high school BuckeyeThon team and wanted to be a part of something bigger, he said.

“When I came to college, I needed to make an impact,” Nuri said. “BuckeyeThon is this huge thing that has the power to bring together thousands and thousands of students at Ohio State to do good for others.”

Nuri served as the president of BuckeyeThon for the 2018-19 term. When writing his vision during the application process, Nuri said he proposed the idea of one million people donating one dollar a week — and the idea for The 52 Million Project was born.

When it came time to reapply for president of BuckeyeThon for the 2019-20 school year, Nuri said he decided to step down.

“I decided to take a step back entirely from BuckeyeThon leadership to create time to focus 100 percent of my energy and efforts into creating The 52 Million Project,” he said.

Nuri said full-time work on the project began in May 2019. During the summer, he selected a board of directors and submitted an application for 501(c) federal tax exemption, which is still pending.

The project launched and started accepting donations Jan. 11 and has attracted 226 donors and $11,752 in donations, according to the project’s website.

Though the project allows donors to donate only one dollar a week, custom-built software gives donors a referral link that tracks their secondary impact.

“When you share that referral link with friends and family, their donations count for the original person’s secondary impact,” Nuri said. “So while you’re limited to only donating $52 in a year, if you want to give more, you can share it with others and that’s how you see your impact grow.”

Nuri said the next step is to make sure nonprofits are aware of the movement and are applying to be a part of it. Nonprofits that apply for funding are then analyzed to make sure they will be the most efficient use of donations.

“We need to be able to showcase to donors that their dollars are actually significant and really do make a difference,” Nuri said.

Felix Alonso, the director of student philanthropy at Ohio State, said he met Nuri through BuckeyeThon and they formed a close relationship, so Nuri asked him to be the president of the board of directors for the project.

“I think the mission and vision are important now because fewer and fewer people across the U.S. are giving year over year, largely because they don’t believe they have the means to make a real difference,” Alonso said. “Through The 52 Million Project, we are reminding people — particularly college students — that with even just $1 you can truly make an impact.”

Nuri said the target audience of the project is college students. Starting at Ohio State, he plans to move outwards and bring it to campuses across the nation.

“I’m hoping that Ohio State students really resonate with this and say, ‘Yes, I want to make a difference,’” Nuri said. “One group at a time can make an impact with just one dollar, and that’s what it’s all about.”