Benevolent has received a grant from the Knight Foundation and Marjorie S. Fisher Fund to grow its crowdfunding site that anyone can use to make small donations to help low-income individuals overcome a one-time economic hurdle.
“Over 104 million people are living in low-income households in the U.S. today,” said founder Megan Kashner in a Q&A. “This is a higher percent of the population than in any recent decade. For 20 years, I have worked with low-income families to help them reach their goals and prove a sound future for their children. Over and over, I would see a family derailed from their goals by a challenge that would have cost only a couple of hundreds of dollars to overcome.”
Kashner is a licensed clinical social worker who repeatedly saw families struggle to break out of their current situation. Along the lines of Kiva or Watsi, a small micro-loan or donation can make a tremendous difference in someone’s life. Benevolent’s niche is microdonations that enable people to buy a specific item or accomplish a specific task, such as getting a car fixed, a refrigerator, or business training. Sometimes, obstacles as seemingly minor as these make all the difference.
Benevolent partners with local nonprofit organizations to identify individuals with specific needs and then provides each person with a profile page where they can use stories, photos, and videos to describe their unique challenges. All funds raised are sent to the nonprofit as a grant, which then fulfills the client’s needs. Kashner said this approach distinguishes Benevolent from other crowd funding-for-social-good sites because each story is brought to Benevolent by someone personally familiar with the recipient’s need who can not only verify their challenges but also manage the implementation of the resources.
“In the past, we didn’t have the technological tools to scale this sort of help at an individual level,” Kashner said. “Today, we have the tools and the connections, so Benevolent is the actualization of my belief that no low-income family should have to become homeless, jobless, or stuck because they need a radiator fixed or have to buy eyeglasses, a work uniform, or a new computer.”
Benevolent launched in December 2011 and the pilot program in Chicago raised more than $35,000 for 70 people. The average donation is $50 and the average amount of a funded need is $470. With this grant, Benevolent will expand into Detroit, Charlotte, North Carolina, and San Jose/Silicon Valley.