Right on the Money: This Crowdfunding Site Can Help You Raise Money for Youths' Personal Needs

a donation jar with a computer mouse

Social worker Megan Kashner was tired of telling clients and families there were no funds to help them afford car repairs or computers.

With experience as a program director for Chicago-area organizations including Methodist Youth Services and Howard Area Community Center, she knew other staff of social service agencies probably felt the same way. So in 2011, she launched Benevolent.net, a twist on crowdfunding, where people donate what they can to reach a target amout. Nonprofit staff around the country sponsor a person in need on the website, posting a picture or video of the person and an explanation of the request. Donors can contribute however much they want online.

“Benevolent shines a light on gaps in our systems of support, employment, transportation, housing and more,” Kashner says.

Common requests include money to buy furniture or computers and other work equipment. The need must be one-time only and cannot exceed $700. Those making a request have to be at least 18 years old (though family members can request donations on behalf of a minor) and are granted anonymity, using blurred photos and pseudonyms, if they ask for it. Benevolent collects the funds and gives them as a grant to the sponsoring nonprofit, which uses the cash to purchase the requested items.

“From the donor’s perspective, knowing that there’s a reputable organization and professional provider on the ground validating and managing the needs of their clients is reassuring and provides a level of assurance and transparency otherwise unavailable,” Kashner says. “It works out as a win-win-win for the person in need, the nonprofit in the community and the donors.”

So far, 54 nonprofits have worked with Benevolent to raise funds for those in need, and in the past year 90 percent of requests have been met, Kashner says.

In the Fall, Unity Care Group in San Jose, CA, sponsored a young woman who was moving out of its group home into her own apartment and heading to college.

“It was a good option for Jamie [not her real name] because she needed a lot of furnishings for her new apartment,” says Katelyn Smith, a case manager at Unity. “Jamie is a full-time student and participates in ROTC, so she does not have time to have a job, which means she does not have the means to purchase the necessary items for her apartment.

Smith provided updates on the website for the 11 supporters that met Jamie’s $335 request, including when she received her furniture.

“We’ve discovered that donors appreciate this high-touch engagement, value the tangibility of their impact and the shared experience of celebrating an achievement with the recipient and validator,” Kashner says.

Benevolent continues to grow and continues to look to work with more nonprofits.

Smith plans to use the website again and suggest case managers post the need as far in advance as possible. It takes two to three months, plus a short processing time, to raise and receive the funds.

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