What if the crowdfunding revolution could be put to a real good? This is exactly what two young entrepreneurs Desiree and Ethan have done through GiveForward. On the cutting edge of the crowdfunding revolution, GiveForward provides online fundraising pages that empower friends and family to support a loved one in need.
Over $6 million has gone to help people cover the cost of medical treatment, out-of-pocket medical expenses or purchase medical equipment. The simple fundraising page makes it easy for friends and family, no matter how far away, to contribute in a meaningful way by sending love and financial support.
MO: This is an amazing idea for a company. What initially inspired this idea?
Desiree: The original concept for GiveForward came to me (Desiree) in waves. The first spark happened when I was working at the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City. Hurricane Katrina hit during that time, and my colleagues and I were lamenting the fact that there wasn’t an easy, safe way to give directly to families in need. That got me thinking about the role that small scale donors play in American philanthropy and how they have very little say in where their money goes. I thought that there should be a way for people to give directly to people online without having to go through a larger non-profit where you have very little say in how your funds are used.
A few months later, I was in a convenience store and saw a change jar for a baby that needed a heart transplant. This family was trying to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars one quarter at a time, and I thought there had to be a better way.
But even then, I didn’t know that GiveForward would be a medical fundraising site. Our focus on medical truly came from our GiveForward community. At first, we were a site to help anyone raise money for anything. We were inching along, trying to find new fundraisers any way we could when we met the Cowen sisters in March of 2009. Amy, the younger sister, came to GiveForward to raise money so that she could give her older sister, Jess, one of her kidneys. The girls raised $30,000 in 30 days almost entirely through Facebook, and it opened our eyes to how great the need really was.
In August of 2009, to much credit to my partner, Ethan, we changed our focus and became a predominantly medical fundraising site. Since then, we’ve helped families raise over $6M.
MO: Can you walk us through the user-experience of giving money to loved ones using your site?
Desiree: We have tried to make the process as simple as possible. Creating a GiveForward page is a lot like creating a Facebook or LinkdedIn profile. The whole process takes less than 15 minutes, and anyone can create a page for any person living in the United States.
From the donor perspective, it’s even easier. You are typically invited to give by someone you know, a close family member, friend, acquaintance from church, etc. Or, you can go the GiveForward homepage and search for fundraisers based on a certain illness, description, or geographic location. Then, you simply click the “Give Now” button and make a contribution using your credit or debit card. You have the option of leaving words of encouragement for the patient and making your donation anonymous or semi-anonymous.
The recipient receives the funds when their fundraiser reaches the end date they select.
MO: Can you share with us one of the amazing stories of the good that has come from GiveForward?
Desiree: There have been so many amazing stories on our site over the years. One really inspiring story on the site right now is for a woman named Sharlie in California. She has insurance but is in need of both a lung and kidney transplant. Her family anticipates that the additional expenses related to her procedure could be close to $100,000. In the last few weeks, we’ve seen her friends, family, and co-workers band together to help her raise nearly $50,000.
One of my personal favorites, though, was a touching but sad story a few years ago. A man was passing away from terminal cancer. A friend created a GiveForward page to help build a college fund for his children. More than 200 of his co-workers from Johnson & Johnson contributed and left words of encouragement. Afterwards, we got a message from the organizer letting us know how powerful those messages were for his family who got to read 200 notes from people who had known their father over the years. It was such a beautiful way to keep his memory alive.
MO: What is the philosophy behind GiveForward?
Desiree: What is truly amazing about GiveForward, is that our site really isn’t about the financial transaction of helping a loved one. GiveForward is about creating a sense of community around a patient and giving friends and family a way to help. Over the years, we’ve heard from several families that while the funds were much appreciated, the messages of love and support they received from people all over the world were equally as important. It helps a patient know that they are not alone in this journey.
GiveForward plays a valuable role for the friends and family of a patient, as well. So often when a loved one gets sick, we cook dinner, bring flowers, and maybe help with the kids. But, if you’re living far away or have lost touch with a friend, it can be difficult to find a way to help. GiveForward makes it really easy. We help people answer the question “What can I do?” when someone we care about is ill.
MO: You are going to be partnering with some major cancer centers around the country soon. Can you tell us about how this will make GiveForward even better?
Desiree: We are really excited about the positive response we’ve been getting from social workers and patient navigators across the country. Often patients or caregivers come to them needing more help than current non-profits are able to offer. Because of this, we will soon be partnering with several major hospitals to make the process of creating a GiveForward page that much easier. Patients will be able to create and access their GiveForward pages directly from the hospitals’ websites, making it easy to get started.
MO: This is unrelated to GiveForward but really sparked our interest. You mentioned to us a site called BuiltinChicago stating “BuiltInChicago.org is a really powerful site for our community of start-ups, and I wish every city in America could replicate it.” Tell us about how BuiltinChicago has helped you?
Desiree: BuiltIn was launched by Matt Moog, the founder of Viewpoints. He created the platform to help connect Chicago’s burgeoning start-up community. In the last few months, our community has grown to several thousand. The greatest thing about this tool is that you are literally a click away from Chicago’s greatest mentors, entrepreneurs, vc’s, and angel investors. We’re able to share blog posts, job listings, and make introductions. It is an amazing resource.
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