Crowd-funding website offers new way to extend neighborly hand
Growing up in rural Nebraska, Colleen Maciejewski witnessed how small acts of charity can raise a barn or help a family in need. Red Basket, her recent venture with Woodmen of the World, is her way of bringing neighborly help to the digital landscape.
Red Basket is a nonprofit, crowd-funding website founded on the principle of community-centered involvement and neighbors helping neighbors. Like other crowd-funding sites, Red Basket allows people to donate directly to individuals and causes. But unlike other sites, Red Basket covers 100 percent of transaction fees, so 100 percent of the funds donated go directly to the specific project a donor selects. And since Red Basket is a registered nonprofit, a donor’s gifts are tax deductible.
The initial seeds for Red Basket were planted as Maciejewski, a vice president at Woodmen, explored ways to reenergize the company’s community outreach for members. Informed by her own experiences growing up and her research in micro-philanthropy and micro-lending, Maciejewski created Red Basket as a way for Woodmen members and nonmembers alike to support people and causes they care about. Any visitor to the site can donate to projects, such as funding a North Carolina father’s cancer treatment or an up-an-coming Omaha nonprofit.
“We are touching lives in many ways — the individuals we’re helping and also advocates who are touched by the opportunity,” Maciejewski said. “Bad things happen to good people, and sometimes you don’t know how to help. Instead of making a casserole dish, this is another way that you can help do something real and tangible for a family that’s suffered through something.”
For Woodmen of the World, the concept is a perfect fit with its mission. Founded in Omaha 124 years ago, Woodmen has long supported charitable projects through its chapter system. Red Basket offered an opportunity to reach a greater audience.
“We care about the community and the people in it,” said Larry King, Woodmen’s president and CEO. “(Colleen) came up with the idea of using modern day social media in different ways to multiply our efforts.”
Red Basket hopes to engage a younger audience. While the millennial generation may not have deep pockets, they do want to give back, Maciejewski said. Put all those $5 and $10 donations together, and the funds become “enough to allow small acts of kindness to add up to something we like to call, ‘tremendous good,’” she said.
Red Basket rolled out across the country from 2013 to 2014, following a beta in 2012. Thus far, donations have totaled $376,000, with an average donation of $79 — higher than Maciejewski expected. “I think it tells you people are generous,” she said.
Donors can support individuals overcoming financial hardships in a specific set of situations, including medical conditions, acts of nature or accidents. Community improvement projects are also welcomed. To aid in transparency, an account manager vets each ask to verify its authenticity. Red Basket also works with partner organizations that verify applicants and refer them to the site. Individuals can make up to three asks through Red Basket per year, and up to four in a lifetime. Red Basket also ensures that the asker receives all the pledged donations, whether or not he or she has met the stated goal. Askers can also receive more than their goal.
Maciejewski aims to connect more people to the project through the recruitment of skilled volunteers, allowing professional writers, photographers or videographers to select a story and help promote it with their skills. Volunteers can get started at the Red Basket website, redbasket.org.
With the site now available nationwide, Maciejewski hopes to distribute $825,000 to people and projects by the end of 2014. By helping people help people, Red Basket will continue to change the lives of individuals like 34-year-old Tim Jones, who raised more than $20,000 through the site to support his cancer treatment.
“It brought tears to your eyes to see what Red Basket and his advocates were able to do for that young man,” King said. “And we are doing it all across the nation.”
Read stories and learn how you can help at redbasket.org.