If Money Makes the World Go Round, Now You Can Spin It the Right Way
Social entrepreneurship just got a much-needed dosage of altruism thanks to StartSomeGood. Cofounders Alex Budak and Tom Dawkins launched the crowdfunding website in March of 2011 in an effort to allow young entrepreneurs to get their ventures off the ground. Think of it as Kickstarter for charitable campaigns and nonprofits. 15 months later, StartSomeGood has helped 65 projects raise over $400,000.
Budak and Dawkins originally worked together at Ashoka, a global organization that pioneered the social entrepreneurial movement. When Budak volunteered in India, he wanted to come home and create his own service projects, but he didn’t know how to get the necessary funding.
Then, the light bulb kicked on above his head.
“It’s not going to be one or two organizations that change the world,” Budak said. “Rather, it will be a lot of people doing social good in their own way that’s really going to make social change possible.”
So, Budak called Dawkins, who has founded several nonprofits in Australia including Vibewire, and they began building StartSomeGood. They accepted ten service projects during the initial application process and strategized ways for each venture to appeal to potential donors with social media promotion and multimedia campaigns.
Dawkins said: “We needed to lower the barrier for entry for change makers, particularly when it comes to raising early stage capital to launch new initiatives… Once things have been piloted and success and impact can be proven, there are often other funders, but the greatest challenge is in the earliest stages.”
StartSomeGood took Kickstarter’s crowdfunding platform and made one crucial improvement. Instead of having an all-or-nothing approach where social entrepreneurs either reach an ultimate goal or the funds are returned to investors, Budak and Dawkins instituted a tipping-point model that adds an achievable benchmark for each venture to begin doing social good.“Kickstarter is much more binary. I need ten thousand dollars to shoot this film. I get ten thousand, I can do it, but if I get five thousand, then I really can’t,” Budak said. “With social ventures, there are two goals. The tipping point is the amount of money you need to start doing good in the world, and then there is the dream goal, recognizing that the more you raise, the more good you can do.”
The Center for the New American Dream is an organization that recently used StartSomeGood to successfully fund an ecological sustainability kit called “The Guide to Going Local.” With a tipping-point of $8,000 and an ultimate goal of $12,000, New Dream raised $8,720 and received contributions from close to 160 donors.
Wen Lee, the Communications Associate for New Dream, said the biggest advantage of working with the StartSomeGood team was the diligent line of communication. “They were extremely prompt and personally responded to all of our questions,” she said, “which I feel like we wouldn’t have gotten with KickStarter.”
Budak advised New Dream to focus on producing a compelling short video that would attract donors to the campaign. He sent Lee a link with examples of ten videos from past projects and encouraged New Dream to get experimental. The staff of New Dream took turns narrating lines of dialogue, relating back to the organization’s emphasis on community and resource sharing.
“We have a virtual office with employees in different cities across the country, so we stitched it all together, and I think the video really helped us, because folks got to see that we’re not just an organization. They got to meet us and see the passion we have for what we’re doing.”
StartSomeGood also has a virtual team, with Budak in Washington D.C., Dawkins in Australia, and other staffers in New York, Minneapolis, and California. The goal is to create a world of social interaction that inspires others to initiate their own plans of action.
Celia Neustadt graduated from Pomona College in May and moved to Baltimore to set up The Inner Harbor Project, a collaborative youth summer program that teaches high school students how to conduct qualitative research relating to social activism. Neustadt won a $10,000 grant during her senior year of college, but needed additional funding for the students, so she chose StartSomeGood because of the website’s focus on charitable campaigns.
Neustadt echoed Lee’s comments. “At first, I was shocked by the amount of attention [Alex] gave me…Sometimes we emailed twenty times a day. If there was a specific issue, he would email me back right away.”
The StartSomeGood team also sent Neustadt an ideas checklist to help her advertise her venture. She said the list offered important suggestions such as making sure the Inner Harbor Project had a streamlined online presence that linked Twitter and Facebook to the program website.
“By reaching out to online bloggers, I gained a lot of positive support. I contacted the local media in Baltimore. I got a lot of non-tangible support that I think will turn into money.” The list made Neustadt aware of all the technological steps she should be taking to increase her chances for success. If her venture is successful, she hopes that it will lead to a youth coalition in the near future.
Lee and Neustadt both said the only aspect they would change about the process would be to eliminate PayPal. StartSomeGood uses PayPal as a middleman to handle donations, and a few donors had trouble finalizing their contributions. However, a few technical difficulties are to be expected when a social website of this magnitude is just beginning.
Next on the horizon for StartSomeGood: growth.
“We really want to expand our global footprint, “ Budak said. “Part of our model is to have ventures run second and even third campaigns…We’re working to make the user experience as solid as possible.”
As a startup with good intentions, Budak, Dawkins, and the rest of the team are off to a strong start.
“We want to literally be supporting anyone, anywhere who wants to create change.”