Benevolent: A Crowdfunding Platform for Social Change

The power of the web and social media has transformed not only the way we interact with one another, but also the way we transact with one another. In particular, the ability for individuals to donate and contribute small amounts of money for a larger goals – creative, artistic, socially impactful or otherwise – is a revolutionary new model for garnering funds. And today, crowd-funding is one of the most powerful means of by-passing traditional institutions and structures for funds. Platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo are two particularly successful examples of how the social networks can help raise funds for small, medium and large projects of all kinds. When it comes to socially impactful work, Kiva has been incredibly successful with crowd-sourcing loans for people all around the world. In India, RangDe is an exciting platform for crowdfunding for social impact. And this trend isn’t going anywhere.

A relatively new platform, Benevolent (created in 2011), is a crowdfunding site to help low-income people deal with clearly delineated one-time hurdles. Fast Company writes that its success derives in particular from the realization (from studies such as this one) that people are most willing to donate money to causes when they can clearly see the individuals who will receive the cash. Benevolent took this idea and decided to run with it, creating a platform where individuals from low-income backgrounds create a video and tell their stories and outline their specific needs for which they require funding. Donors can browse these stories and choose to donate to a particular individual. The money goes to a non-profit which then passes it on to the specific recipient. This very targeted approach to donating, and the design of the platform, has made it incredibly successful, specifically because it creates a significant and measurable impact in the individual’s life. As they write on their website:

For people living in low-income circumstances, making progress toward personal goals and self-sufficiency can hinge on a one-time need or opportunity—like a uniform to take a certain job, car repairs to keep a job, a security deposit to leave domestic violence behind, or critical help at a time of unforeseen challenge.

How does a person with no discretionary income access the support to clear the hurdle? That’s where you come in. Benevolent makes it simple, transparent and secure for those who can help to step into the stories of those who are striving to reach their goals, sustain their families and clear one-time hurdles.

On visiting the website, it was interesting to see how many of the funding opportunities had rather low goals – many are below $1000, for example. Most people in need of the money have compelling stories. Many are students, young professionals and people who are in the process of learning new skills. Most stories have to do with people who need to overcome small obstacles in order to achieve their goals, such as a young design student who needs a laptop to finish her homework, a welder who finished his course and now needs to buy equipment so he can be employed, and even a lady who needs money to visit her daughter in jail. Amazingly, every one of these has been funded so far, showing the power of individual stories in garnering community action.

About Ayesha Vemuri

Ayesha Vemuri is responsible for thought leadership and outreach efforts at CKS. She has undergraduate degree in Visual Art from Reed College in Portland, Oregon, where she also studied such varied subjects as biology, literature and the humanities. At CKS, she is responsible for curating the Design Public blog, managing our various social media platforms, organizing Pecha Kucha Nights and contributing to the intellectual content of the Design Public Conclave and other CKS initiatives. Find her on twitter at @ayeshavemuri.
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