Times are tough and no matter how bad things get, I believe technology and social media will transform the world. When disaster strikes, people who work in technology and social media jump in and pool their network’s skill sets to organize online campaigns to collect donations and share information and resources. Meet the latest two heroes Matt Stempeck and Jaki Greer. Stempeck launched TheyNeedUsNow.org to help funnel money to several non-profit organizations that lost major funding due to Bernard Madoff’s pyramid scheme. Greer organized an online fundraising drive promoted on her LiveJournal page to help her neighbor and friend raise $10K so the bank would not foreclose on their house in December.
When the Madoff pyramid scheme was uncovered it not only hurt Wall Street investors, but major foundations that funded non-profits all over the world. Foundations that supported hundreds of non-profits went out of business overnight leaving many organizations with major budget deficits. “He’s actually put Ponzi, the namesake of the pyramid scheme, to shame,” said Stempeck. “It’s hard to wrap my head around the sheer amount of critical funding that has disappeared overnight. But rather than let it paralyze me into inaction, I threw myself into making TheyNeedUsNow.org. It felt good to be doing something about it, even if it’s very small in the big picture.”
The JEHT foundation based in New York was one of the foundations whose major donors had a large chunk of their funding invested with Madoff. Two weeks ago they told grantees that they would cease all grants and close shop in January. The Innocence Project, a non-profit organization that advocates for falsely accused prisoners through DNA testing, lost 12.5% of their 2009 budget due to JEHT’s closing. Despite the budget shortfall “we’re optimistic that individual donors will continue coming forward to offset the loss of JEHT funding”, says Audrey Levitin, Director of Development at the Innocence Project. Other organizations are not so optimistic. The Center for Public Representation is suspending its national juvenile justice reform project because it lost its $700K grant from the JEHT foundation.
While Stempeck is constantly updating the site with more non-profits that have been impacted by the Madoff scheme, he’s also thinking of ways for non-profits to help each other. “I would like to see a central space or a group where the many, many affected non-profits could connect with one another and share strategies for coping with the fall-out.”
Just before Thanksgiving, Greer posted an entry on her LiveJournal page entitled “Help a Family Keep their Home.” Greer talked about how her friends Ebony and Daniel Sampson were about to loose their home if they could not come up with $10K by December 8th. Ebony was a stay at home mom, caring for their two children, one with special needs that required medical care and special schooling. Daniel had recently lost his job. Ebony was also expecting a third child. Greer wrote “This bothers me because it shouldn’t happen to them. It shouldn’t be happening to anyone. But it hits me personally because she’s done so much to help so many people. After all, they’re both ministers who scraped together the money they had to help other people and now they don’t have anyone to turn to.”
Greer asked her followers to donate money to a fund she setup through Paypal. Her Paypal tagline read. “10,000 hits. $10,000. Please donate $1. Help Daniel and Ebony keep their home.”
Greer also launched an aggressive local media campaign. She called local news stations and asked them to do a human interest story on Ebony and Daniel Sampson’s dire situation. She asked fellow bloggers to reach out to the local news stations as well and blog about the Sampsons and the fundraising campaign. Furthermore, Greer invested time engaging her followers on LiveJournal by responding to their comments and updating them on the status of reaching the $10K goal. Greer’s plan worked. Within 48 hours bloggers posted articles about the Sampsons’ story and Channel 11 WBALTV did a profile about the effort to help them raise $10K to pay their over due mortgage. Greer met her $10K fundraising goal in just four days.
Power to the people, technology, and social media.