What do a 13-year-old quadruple amputee from Weston, a rapper who owns a $13 million Miami Beach mansion and the CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Miami have in common?
They’re each soliciting charitable donations, from as little as $1, through crowdfunding websites.
In the competitive world of philanthropy, nonprofits are finding success by tapping into the communal wealth of online giving. Empowering donors to give as much or as little as they want, and to funnel their money to specific causes, is breaking down some of the intimidation factor associated with traditional giving, fundraisers say.
“There are many people out there who, given the right opportunity and the right platform, are eagerly engaged in philanthropy,” said Javier Alberto Soto, president and CEO of the Miami Foundation. “Miami is home to a young, diverse demographic that’s looking for ways to get involved, ways to improve our community that aren’t traditional, like a formal gala.”
Created in 1967 as the Dade Community Foundation, the Miami Foundation oversees more than $150 million in charitable assets, investing about $10 million each year in community projects. Since taking the helm of the foundation almost five years ago, Soto, 43, and his team have sought for innovative ways to encourage giving and community involvement from people of every socioeconomic background — a concept he calls “the democratization of giving.”
Last month, the Miami Foundation announced 15 winners of its Our Miami Public Space Challenge, a contest that prompted residents to submit ideas for improving neighborhood gathering places around Miami.
More than 250 people and organizations entered proposals online, and 15 will share a $120,000 prize from the Miami Foundation and the Health Foundation of South Florida to build their projects. Winning ideas included installing swing sets under a Metromover station downtown and adding artsy wooden benches to Little Havana.
On Nov. 20, the Miami Foundation will repeat its biggest new initiative: Give Miami Day.
Last year, in Give Miami Day’s inaugural effort, nearly 5,000 people from across the world donated more than $1.2 million to about 300 nonprofits in Miami-Dade County in a 24-hour period. Individual donations ranged from $25 to $10,000.
“We truly respect and value the $25 donors and strongly believe that the $25 Give Miami Day donors of today have the potential to be the endowment builders of tomorrow,” Soto said.
During Give Miami Day, people can direct money to a particular group or groups – more than 400 Miami-Dade nonprofits are participating this year – or they can give to a general fund that will be split among all participating charities.
In addition, the Miami Foundation will contribute matching gifts on a percentage basis. So, if Charity A receives 2 percent of all Give Miami Day donations, the foundation will give the charity 2 percent of its match pool.
Habitat for Humanity of Greater Miami received $34,025 from 54 donors in last year’s Give Miami drive, the fourth-most of all participating nonprofits.
That money went directly into Habitat’s Building Fund, fueling the group’s commitment to build 164 homes in Liberty City. The organization is now five houses away from completing that goal, Habitat CEO Mario Artecona said.
“Habitat has land to build on, families in need and volunteers willing to work,” he said. “All we need are financial resources to accelerate our mission,” Artecona said.
Web-based formats like Give Miami Day make it easy for people to give money, and easy for nonprofits to promote the event through social media, email and other electronic means, Artecona said.
“In the past, people had to wait to get a mailing from us, then we’d make them fill out a form, then we’d ask them to mail in a check. There were a lot of hoops to jump through,” he said. “With online giving, people find a cause that pulls at their heartstrings and, with a couple of clicks, they’ve made their donation. The immediacy makes it very attractive to today’s generation.”
Emotions and immediacy are central to Weston teen Michael Stolzenberg’s drive to raise $50,000 by Dec. 15 for victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.
A bacterial infection several years ago forced doctors to amputate Michael’s arms and legs. Through prosthetics and rehabilitation, he regained the use of his limbs and now plays lacrosse on his middle school team.
Michael and his older brother, Harris, set up the charity Mikey’s Run this year after the Boston attack to raise money for victims who underwent amputations. They recently set up a page on MicroGiving.com to help them reach their goal.
Launched this year, MicroGiving is the new crowdfunding arm of DonorCommunity, a Sunrise-based web company that won first place in the Miami Herald’s 2011 Business Plan Challenge.
MicroGiving donors already have given several million dollars collectively to more than 1,000 individual projects. The site doesn’t have nonprofit requirements for its projects, which range from a woman asking for $500 so her cat can have a tooth pulled to a campaign like Mikey’s Run.
“With MicroGiving, we wanted to provide a vehicle where anyone can go and put their causes out there, whether it’s a Pop Warner football team or someone with cancer who can’t afford treatment,” said David Blyer, founder and CEO of DonorCommunity.
Blyer noted that his team works to verify all hardship cases, vetting documents and putting a badge on pages that have been successfully screened.
Crowdfunding sites, most of which take a small cut from successful campaigns, allow potential donors to zero in on projects and organizations that matter to them, Blyer said. MicroGiving groups fundraisers into categories like art, technology, education and domestic violence to help donors find a good connection.
“People really want to know where their money is going, and crowdfunding lets them do just that,” he said. “Reading the story behind something like Mikey’s Run or a new initiative at a local Boys & Girls Club can trigger something that says, ‘I want to give to that.’”
Other sites cater to, or have expanded from, specific fields in need of funding.
Indiegogo started in 2008 as a platform to help fund independent film projects, but it soon expanded into other creative industries as well as entrepreneurial pursuits and nonprofit groups.
The goal is to raise $200,000 by Dec. 1, with incentives for various donor levels: $15 gets you a hand-painted piece of thank-you art from a Motivational Edge student; 500 gets you a pair of sneakers autographed by Lil Wayne. As of Oct. 25, the project raised $33,012 from 48 donors – one of whom is Lil Wayne, who gave $30,000.
“I stand behind the mission of The Motivational Edge not just because I support these kids, but because I was one,” Lil Wayne, real name Dwayne Michael Carter, wrote on the project’s homepage. “I grew up in New Orleans in a neighborhood called Hollygrove. I didn’t have a lot. What I did have was music and education. I knew that if one didn’t get me out, the other would, but then I finally learned I wouldn’t get out of anything without education. I personally donated to this cause and now we need your help.”
DonorsChoose.org connects donors with U.S. public school classrooms in need of books or iPads or art supplies. Since its founding in 2000, the site has secured more than $85 million in donations that have funded about 185,000 projects and helped some 5 million students.
Jorge Rosete is running a DonorsChoose campaign for a new LCD projector for his third-grade extended foreign language class at Miami-Dade’s Shenandoah Elementary. He has until Dec. 14 to raise the $406 needed for the new teaching tool; as of Oct. 25, he had $133 to go.
“Please help me to be a better teacher and my students better learners,” Rosete wrote in a note to potential donors. “By wisely using technology, we can create a better classroom. If we have a better classroom, the future will be better!”
The Miami Foundation’s Soto said that finding personal connections between donors and those in need is exactly what he hopes to accomplish with Give Miami Day.
Not knowing how successful the first one would go, Soto purposely didn’t set a fundraising goal for last year’s Give Miami Day. This year, he’s set his sights on topping $1.2 million on Nov. 20.
In his downtown office, Soto keeps a black-and-white framed photograph of Miami’s skyline from the 1920s. He said the image serves as a reminder of Miami’s history and its potential.
“I have a passion for Miami and for the tremendous generosity that exists in this city,” he said. “Give Miami Day is just one example of the spectacular philanthropic community we have in every age and economic group.”