Until very recently, aspiring altruists using the Edward Norton-backed crowdfunding-for-good platform Crowdrise could only raise money for official 501(c)(3) nonprofits. Because of Crowdrise’s official partnerships with organizations like The Boston and New York City Marathons, it has facilitated widespread fundraising for established causes via the UNICEFs or the American Cancer Societys of the world, which isn’t actually what Crowdrise set out to do.
“That’s not why we built this site,” Robert Wolfe, the founder of Crowdrise, told Fast Company. “We built this for organizations you’ve never heard of, who don’t have the bandwidth”–like the small cancer center in your middle-of-nowhere hometown that isn’t an official partner of the Boston Marathon. But, as Crowdrise has grown, it has attracted people who use the platform as a way to raise money for well-known organizations.
Starting this month, Crowdrise is returning to its original purpose–in a way. Users can soon raise money for people with less bandwidth than well-known nonprofits: their friends. The site is lifting its 501(c)(3) mandate, letting people dedicate their runs and other fundraising efforts to whatever Crowdrise users consider a worthy cause.
“We are redefining charity,” Wolfe, who also founded the popular outdoor clothing brand Moosejaw, said. “Charity doesn’t just mean raising money for charity. You can also raise money for your friend, who has medical needs.”
Broadening the site’s purpose after four years was a no brainer for Wolfe, who said he is responding to what the community wants. He gets hundreds of requests a week asking for the ability to set up crowdfunding for less-traditional causes. Wolfe has no doubt that the new initiative will be a success. In addition, Crowdrise will take a 5% cut of all funds raised.
The idea isn’t new: Other sites, like Indiegogo and Give Forward, let people micro-fund whatever they want. But Crowdrise could prove a lot more powerful because of its connections to large charity-focused events, like marathons. “Because we are the official fundraising platform for the Boston Marathon for example, people run the Boston Marathon and raise money for a 501(c)(3). How cool is it when a Boston marathoner can leverage their run for any cause or passion, expanding what this definition of being charitable is,” said Wolfe.
Going outside of government sanctioned nonprofits also opens the site up to more fraud. How can anyone know that someone’s campaign for a “friend’s burnt-down house” isn’t a scam? Wolfe says his site is using Facebook for verification–and that most of the donations will come from friends and family, so those people will act as a natural check. “If you’re doing a fundraiser for your friend whose house burnt down, your brother or sister will probably know if that’s true,” argued Wolfe. “That’s why it’s a little less worrisome.”
Still, fraud is a real possibility. One man collected nearly $11,000 in donations for his “sick son” using Give Forward, which has a similar verification policy as Crowdrise. Its policy reads: “We strongly believe that our users are some of the best security out there. Because GiveForward is a community of people looking to help each other, our users are watchful of projects that don’t seem to fit the model of a good fundraising effort. Please keep an eye out for suspicious posts and flag any projects you think are questionable.” Wolfe admits it will be a learning process.
Although it took Crowdrise four years to get here, the new capability fits with the site’s original mission. “Our goal was to have an impact and change the world–literally. We thought what being charitable meant in doing that was raising money for official 501(C)(3)s,” explained Wolfe. “I think the world is changing and that definition is no longer what it means to be charitable.”