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Late last month, GoodWorldCreations LLC officially launched HelpersUnite, a crowdfunding platform that links creative and commercial ventures with charitable causes and events. In stark contrast to popular crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, which do not allow charitable giving, HelpersUnite requires project creators to donate at least five percent (5%) of funds raised to a cause of their choice. Crowdsourcing.org spoke with Luan Cox, co-founder and CEO of HelpersUnite, to learn more about her fresh, charitably inclined take on crowdfunding.
Crowdsourcing.org: Now that the 'beta' version of the site has been live for a few weeks, how has reality meshed with your initial expectations? Has anything about running the site surprised you, excited you, frustrated you, etc.?
Luan Cox: We were lucky enough to have over 20 projects and charities already onboard when we launched. The biggest challenge is in continuing to increase the number of quality projects by getting the word out that we exist. Being acknowledged as the first and only crowdfunding platform of our kind is also an awesome feeling. When people learn of us they tend to prefer our site to others because of the tie to social good along with artistic and business crowdfunding and that feels great.
We are also pleasantly surprised by all of the early and amazing press we’ve received from folks like you and being able to a part of a newly coined “Crowd Karma” phrase by Fast Company expert blogger Shawn Graham, who wrote a nice piece about us.
What are some of the challenges associated with launching a new crowdfunding platform? How have you sought to overcome those problems?
Cox: Our experience in web technology allowed us to build our own proprietary platform but also required a longer investment in time and resources. It was critical for us build a robust platform as we had to create dual processing capabilities in real-time — charity donations and donations to project creators — along with linking projects with charities and events which took deeper thought in terms of site and platform architecture.
Our primary challenges were around making sure all of our processes were compliant as it’s not an easy task to manage tax-deductible receipts, an online event ticketing engine along with project donations. Having the right team in place was and remains critical. Our technology and creative teams are the best of the best. We are very fortunate.
From an aesthetic perspective, it appears the site drew some design influences from the likes of Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, and the like. What were some of your inspirations, aesthetic and otherwise, in launching HelpersUnite?
Cox: Our inspiration for the overall design of the site was to present something that was clean but to use color to orient the user to the section they are in. Where applicable, we also wanted to use contrasting colors to draw attention to action items like donating or starting your project.
For example, on a project detail page the primary color is green, but you'll see we utilized red to draw attention to the button for becoming a helper, which is duplicated in sections like events and causes as well.
Also, another big element we tried to incorporate throughout the site is the use of the "hand" graphic used in our logo. We feel this simple element really helps portray that our website is a community where everyone is giving a helping hand no matter what their action is.
What's your marketing strategy? How do you plan to draw the creative crowd, charities, event organizers, and all the potential 'helpers' out there to HelpersUnite?
Cox: Because every project on HelpersUnite has both the creator and a charity tied together, we have the benefit of having two evangelists which means two groups incentivized to promote the project. Also, since we have a strong and growing stable of featured charities, we have lots to talk about between projects, charities, and events on in social and mainstream media.
Our marketing strategy is simply around getting more visibility. We have yet to find an artist, charity or entrepreneur who isn’t thrilled by what we are doing at HelpersUnite. Over time, we believe we will have a large and loyal user base that would prefer to back projects or attend events where two groups are benefiting at once and that should attract even more project creators who care as well about helping others.
What type of projects has the site drawn thus far? Do you have any particular favorites that you'd like to see funded?
Cox: We are attracting all types of projects almost equally split between film, business, music, dance, literary, etc. and all have a clear common thread of caring about something bigger then their own aspirations. This is shown in either the creative work or business initiative along with the charity they have chosen.
Here are a few of our favorites:
1) ARTISTIC PROJECT: Filmmaker Todd Kipp is looking to fund his second film “Computer Potato,” the story of a lonely young man who longs to connect – both figuratively and literally – in the outside world. Interesting quote from press release we did with Todd, “We've already submitted for six grants and we've been turned down by all six. The competition for these limited funds is tough. We've found support in people donating time, locations, props, equipment, and food for the cast and crew, but some tangible items still need to be paid for in hard cash."
Five percent (5%) will go to White Buffalo Calf Woman’s Society in South Dakota, and another five percent (out of his own pocket, as we don't currently support Canadian non-profits) to Awo Taan Healing Lodge Society, a women's shelter in Calgary, Canada.
Note: We think Computer Potatoes is especially interesting because, in spite of not getting any help from traditional funding sources, he is choosing to share what he raises.
2) ARTISTIC PROJECT: Jazz vocal trio, Chambers, Herbert & Ellis, comprised of the offspring of three jazz legends, Paul Chambers (bassist for Miles Davis), Mort Herbert (bassist for Louis Armstrong and the All Stars), and Herb Ellis (guitarist for Oscar Peterson Trio and musical director for Ella Fitzgerald) are looking to fund their first demo CD. The trio recently performed a successful tribute show in honor of their artistic predecessors, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, at the legendary Gardenia Restaurant & Lounge in Hollywood, CA.
Ten percent (10%) will be donated to the LA Jazz Society which educates public school students, provides instruments, and is chartered with developing new audiences for this uniquely American musical art form.
3) BUSINESS PROJECT: Off the Page. This new company “Off the Page” was created to address the ever tightening noose of arts programming in the public schools at the same time that pressure on students to perform increases. Too often in an attempt to produce that performance, innovative and engaging programs are cut. At “Off the Page,” the founders want to show that creating a wholly dynamic & kinesthetic connection makes the material more accessible to students and can greatly increase subject recall. This active approach to learning helps level the playing field for all types of learners.
They are looking to raise $11,670 and will donate ten percent (10%) of what they raise to Donors Choose.
100% charity-driven favorites include:
1. Response to the Responders – benefitting cancer-stricken 9/11 first responders
2. Wells Bring Hope – Building wells in West Africa
3. Burma Relief – Building a boys’ dormitory
Where do you envision the site in a year?
Cox: We envision HelpersUnite to be the site of choice for crowdfunding with thousands of quality projects and events along with hundreds of thousands of loyal donors globally.
What else should I know about HelpersUnite that you haven't already told me?
Just a little about our philosophy and vision for the future:
1. We believe people are inherently good.
2. We believe that artists and entrepreneurs have the power, the social consciousness and the willingness to bring about positive change in the world.
3. We believe that creative and entrepreneurial initiatives are the driving force of a thriving economy and existence.
Our passionate goal for the future is to continue to build out flexible technology that resides on every relevant site in the world with a common goal of making it easier for either investors or donors to find information and analytics on projects, start-ups and charitable initiatives that match their ideals. We will be a Facebook for making things happen with transparency and a focus on good.
Luan Cox is the co-founder and CEO of HelpersUnite. We'd like to thank her for participating.