The Boston Philanthropist Behind a Start-Up Aiming to Get People to "Shop for Good"

Back in the mid-1990s, Pam Trefler established a family foundation with her husband Alan, founder/CEO of Pegasystems. Now, Pam has taken her charitable interests to the next level by co-founding a nonprofit fundraising platform that weaves fashion into philanthropy.

Union & Fifth is Pam’s new start-up venture—essentially, an e-commerce retailer that raises money for nonprofits by selling used and donated designer clothes online. With its slogan “Shop for good,” the start-up pledges that 75 percent of each sale price will be given to the donor’s selected charity. Pam used to be an investment banker, then a teacher, and is now a philanthropist. Her sister-in-law Christena Reinhard is Union & Fifth’s co-founder and a professional fundraiser.

To learn more about the first and only nonprofit designer resale site, I connected with Pam Trefler to ask a few questions about her approach to philanthropy in Boston and nationwide.

What inspired you with the idea for Union & Fifth?

It’s easy to write a checkbut sometimes I want to get involved in a more creative way. In 2012, Christena, my sister-in-law and co-founder, and I cleaned out my closet, sold the contents and built a Mac lab for a nonprofit. We knew that there were others like me who could be motivated to clean out for their cause.

What sets Union & Fifth apart from other donation/consignment shops? 

Union & Fifth is only onlinewhich means our potential market is infinitely larger than a brick and mortar consignment store. We are operating as a nonprofit ourselves, and the donor can direct their fundraising to any charity for which they are passionate. And finally, we are establishing value for luxury products at the point of sale, allowing donors to capture more of their donation valueboth for their taxes and their charity of choice.

What do you think will be Union & Fifth's biggest challenge or obstacle in the early stages? 

We are a 501(c)(3), so we can never take venture moneyyet our competitors on the buy side are highly funded e-commerce sites with marketing budgets larger than our annual budget. So we are always looking for ways to stand out and be noticed. Additionally, we are working to connect with innovative and enthusiastic nonprofits interested in working with Union & Fifth to connect with their donors and raise money with us.

What philanthropic cause(s) are you most interested in supporting right now in Boston? Nationwide?  

In Boston, I have long been passionate about closing the opportunity divide by focusing on better education and strong pathways to ending poverty. Additionally, the benefit of increased access to nutritious foods and healthcare seem like an obvious necessity that I am passionate about. I think these priorities reach beyond Bostonand we have even done work globally.

Other thoughts you'd like to add? 

Everyone can shop, donate or introduce themselves to support Union & Fifth’s mission to raise money for great nonprofits. We hope that your readers connect with us to get some fantastic fundraising campaigns started.

Nonprofits involved with Union & Fifth so far include Autism Speaks, Avon Products Foundation, Corazon De Vida Foundation, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, Global Green USA, Juvenile Diabetes Foundation-LA, Little Kids Rock, Race to Erase MS, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and Year Up.

Boston and San Francisco have received the group’s support because those are the home cities of the founders. Featured fashion brands include Balenciaga, Chanel, Christian Louboutin, DKNY, Eileen Fisher, Ella Moss, Eskandar, Giorgio Armani, Lanvin, and Manolo Blahnik.

To learn more about Pam Trefler’s private family philanthropy, check out IP’s full profile of the Trefler Foundation: Boston Grants. You can learn more about making a donation to Union & Fifth or getting your nonprofit involved on the organization’s website.