Crowdrise, a web site that generates donations for charities also has a strong sense of humor.
On its home page (www.crowdrise.com), it asks that visitors keep the site a secret. Crowdrise is being ironic since it’s on the Internet, and fosters tons of publicity. And the more people who know about it, the more money it raises.
But Crowdrise is trying to make fund-raising fun and inspiring. It appeals to rebels, non-conformists, do-gooders, and socially-minded people out to improve the world.
Crowdrise encourages people to start their own charitable efforts or use the site to raise funds for an existing non-profit. In addition, it urges people to volunteer for charities.
Sounding like author Malcolm Gladwell in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking and author James Surowiecki in The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations, Crowdwise believes in the power of crowds to gather momentum, raise money, and help a charity. It also has a celebrity connection since actor Edward Norton is one of its founders.
Employing its tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, the slogan at the top of the web site says, “If you don’t give back, no one will like you.” Recently donors who gave $17 toward a scholarship fund for cancer survivors were sent a bottle of Will Ferrell’s “Sexy Hot Tan” sunscreen as a token of appreciation, which likely was not going to make any donor sexier.
In 2009, Crowdrise was launched when Edward Norton and three friends were running in the New York City Marathon. They dedicated the race and raised money for the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust. Bolstered by Norton’s celebrity status and ability to generate publicity, the quartet raised a whopping $1.2 million in two months. Seeing the effects of how an online charitable event can take off, the foursome launched Crowdrise.
Crowdrise describe itself as “an innovative web platform where millions of individuals can use the best tools and technology to raise money for over a million different charities.”
Even the web site’s organization reveals its sense of humor. The site is organized into sections on About, I’m a Fund Raiser, I’m a Non-Profit, Donate, and Chaos. The Chaos section is really about points and redeeming them.
Spokesperson Calvin Falco says that Crowdrise is only set up to help 501c charities, which the IRS deems as non-profits that do not have to pay taxes. Any 501c charity can initiate fund-raising projects on the site but others cannot use it.
Each charity populates its pages with photos, text, and videos to reach a larger audience. Using networking tools, these non-profits can spread the word of a project via Facebook, Twitter, email, and instant messaging. “Crowdrise isn’t meant to replace anything a charity has going on currently--it’s only meant to be a complement,” said spokesperson Falco.
Though Crowdrise has noble intentions to raise money for a myriad of charities, its success says as much about celebrity in the U.S. in 2011 as it does about people’s willingness to help others who are less fortunate. Edward Norton is the star of the films Fight Club, Primal Fear, The 25th Hour, and The Painted Veil. He triggered news stories about Crowdrise in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, CNN, and many hip web sites. If a well-intentioned but unknown guy named John Doe started this same site, it’s doubtful any of these publications would have paid attention.
Celebrities attract other notables. Norton’s pals Will Ferrell, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Kristen Bell, Sophia Bush, and Jonah Hill have launched their own charitable efforts. “The celebrities are a great bonus to Crowdrise because they generate a lot of traffic,” Falco said.
Crowdrise is creating a community of civic-minded individuals. People become friendly with one another, comment on their charitable efforts and pages, and join fundraising teams. It’s like Facebook with all members geared toward improving the world, not just chatting about their daily life.
Users develop a profile, referred to as a Charitable Life on the site, and then design their own project pages, which they can link to their own favorite charity. Their Crowdrise page is linked to their Facebook page other social network sites. Spreading virally, it encourages friends to donate, and participants who don’t have enough money can volunteer.
To encourage repeat giving and return visits to the site, Crowdrise created a reward system. Users rack up points by giving money or volunteering. These points can be traded for Kindles, t-shirts, and apps.
Despite noble intentions, Crowdrise is very private about releasing data. How many people use the site? Crowdrise won’t say, explaining it’s a privately run site and doesn’t want to publicize these details.
Crowdrise, explained Falco, wants to be more than a social network or platform--it aims to be a brand. When someone sees a person wearing a Crowdrise t-shirt in a coffee shop, it signifies that this person is out to do good and help the world.
Gary M. Stern is a freelance writer based in New York City.