Large-scale disasters–poverty, war, disease–can be so overwhelming that people often neglect to help out. But research has shown that humans are more likely to donate money when they can clearly see the individuals that will be assisted by their cash. Perhaps that’s why Benevolent, a crowdfunding site to help low-income people deal with clearly delineated one-time hurdles, has been so successful.
The young site (it launched in late 2011) has up until now only served the Chicago, Rapid City, Los Angeles, and San Diego areas. But thanks to funding from the Knight Foundation and the Fisher Family, it will expand to Detroit, Charlotte, and Silicon Valley, which has a population dealing with some of the worst income inequality in the country.
Megan Kashner, founder of Benevolent, was inspired to create the site after years of helping families as a social worker. “I realized that stories of low-income individuals facing one singular challenge are the kinds of stories that someone who would like to give would feel intrigued by,” she says. Many of the crowdfunding sites that pop up these days fall flat–there are only so many variations on Kickstarter and Indiegogo–but Benevolent has thrived, funding every single one of the challenges it has posted since October.
“What’s appealing about the Benevolent platform is not that it’s crowdfunding. We’re inviting people in to make a clear and direct difference in somebody’s life,” says Kashner.
Benevolent works with nonprofits to find compelling stories. When a fundraising campaign reaches its goal, the cash goes to the nonprofits, which pay for the recipient’s expenses–furniture for a formerly homeless person, say, or gas and hotel money for a mother who wants to visit her daughter in prison.
Kashner finds some of the simpler stories most compelling. “This guy John went to a training program to learn to be a welder, and he got the job, but in order to take the job he needed gear, safety glasses, and bus fare,” she says.”He had done so much, learned so much, and he got a job and there were still barriers. Fourteen donors came forward, raised $680, and he got the gear he needed.”
Benevolent chose where to expand next (Detroit, Charlotte, and Silicon Valley) because of their balance–a mixture of low-income people striving to eclipse their circumstances and wealthier residents who could afford to give $5 or even $50 (the average donation) to help out. Eventually, Kashner plans to make the platform national. Benevolent has scaled nationally in at least one way: it’s getting donors from all 50 states.
“Donors don’t seem to really care whether the person they’re helping is in their georgraphic community or not,” observes Kashner. A gut-wrenching personal story is compelling no matter where it is.