CrowdRise is On a Mission to Make Crowdfunding Fun and Easy

8/6/14Follow @XconomyDET

In 2009, the actor Ed Norton, Moosejaw founder Robert Wolfe, and a small team of their friends launched a fundraising campaign to raise money for the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust during the New York City Marathon. In less than eight weeks, the group raised $1.2 million, much of it from small donors who gave more than once.

As Norton explained to Katie Couric during a July 28 interview on Yahoo News, he and Wolfe were so thrilled with the site they built to raise donations that they decided to open it up to the rest of the world. The concept? Create a website that allows people to donate money or charitable organizations to start events and team fundraisers. Famous friends of the founders immediately took to it, and CrowdRise was officially born. The company chose Michigan as its headquarters because Wolfe, who serves as CEO, lives here.

“The idea is to make crowdfunding super easy and fun,” says Indy Bishop, CrowdRise’s communications director. “There were other methods of fundraising online, but not something people loved doing.”

CrowdRise users can choose to raise money for an organization or, say, a person who needs help with his medical bills. The company, which is a for-profit entity, makes its money by charging a small transaction fee. And CrowdRise, which now has 48 employees, recently closed on its own fundraising round—raising $23 million last quarter from a group of investors that includes Union Square Ventures, Spark Capital, Index Ventures, CAA Ventures, the United Talent Agency’s venture fund, and Bezos Expeditions.

Bishop says the money raised will go toward “several initiatives, all of which are focused on keeping CrowdRise positioned as the most innovative, modern, and fun platform available.”

What differentiates CrowdRise from other crowdfunding platforms, besides the irreverent copy sprinkled throughout the site—its motto is “if you don’t give back no one will like you”—is the community that has taken root around it, which Norton described to Couric as “kind of like the Facebook of people’s personal philanthropic agendas.”

Users can build creative profile pages that list their fundraising projects, and a dashboard feature allows them to see who has donated to their cause, and how much each person has pledged. (To see how this works, check out the Boston Marathon page; CrowdRise also tracks top donors through a leaderboard, which it hopes will spark healthy competition between donors.)

“Before CrowdRise got involved, it was hard for a marathon to reach out to runners and say, ‘Here’s a platform for fundraising,’” Bishop says. “CrowdRise is really well known in the marathon community.”

CrowdRise also awards “impact points” and hosts challenges, where top donors can receive sponsored gifts or matching funds from famous donors like Judd Apatow. For instance, the Art Van Charity Challenge, which wrapped up June 23, raised $1.2 million for 60 different charities focused on Detroit and Chicago.

During CrowdRise’s first year, about $2.5 million was raised via the platform, according to Norton. Now, four years later, CrowdRise expects to facilitate more than $100 million in donations for thousands of nonprofit organizations. In February, CrowdRise opened up fundraising so users can solicit donations for anybody, not just 501c3 nonprofits.

“If someone has a disaster in their life, you can create a fundraiser and the money goes right to your bank account,” Bishop says. “We’re seeing a ton of activity. It’s a nice way to help offset tragedies that happen.”

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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