Crowd Power

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A student receives a solar-powered LED
A student receives a solar-powered LED (the S1 by d.light) at his school as part of the Lighting Schools Campaign.
Enjoying the benefits of solar energy
Enjoying the benefits of solar energy.
A student receives a solar-powered LED
Enjoying the benefits of solar energy

Looking to put your spare change or maybe even your tax refund to good use? Crowd-funding websites are making it easier than ever to support your favorite cause, back an entrepreneur, or help someone in need. Browse, point, click, and your dollars go into a virtual collection jar for the project of your choice. There are more than 50 crowd-funding sites in the United States alone, serving a variety of purposes from disaster relief to artist support. Most sites charge a small transaction fee, but compared to traditional ways of fundraising like sending direct mail or putting on a charity events, crowd-funding platforms provide an inexpensive and efficient way to raise money—meaning your donation goes further. Here’s a roundup of a few sites that showcase renewable energy and sustainable building projects.

Crowdrise.com

Launched in 2009, this company uses a combination of mocking humor, unconventional antics, and rewards to engage donors to give and spread the word via social media—and it seems to be working. Named “Top 25 Global Philanthropist” by Barron’s and a “Top Fundraising Website” by Mashable, the site has raised more than $400 million for charitable causes (including a host of sustainable building initiatives)—in part due to the star power of cofounder actor and activist Edward Norton. Special challenges, like Groupon’s Earth Day Challenge or Mozilla Firefox’s Challenge, pit charities against each other in fundraising battles for cash prizes. While Power to the People didn’t come out on top in the Mozilla Firefox Challenge, the group raised $5,300 for solar lighting in Nicaraguan villages.

How it works: All fundraisers on CrowdRise must benefit U.S.-based, 501c(3) nonprofits, which are vetted by a third-party service called GuideStar. Some campaigns offer bonuses for donations—anything from the chance to be Norton’s guest at a movie premiere to a cowbell autographed by Will Ferrell. Donors also earn reward points for prizes, like T-shirts, hats, and wristbands.

$$$ Contributions are tax-deductible donations, paid to charities via Network for Good (networkforgood.org). Campaign sponsors pay a 5% processing fee on each donation—though donors can opt to cover the fee with their donations. Monthly or annual memberships cater to nonprofits with higher donation volumes, with added features and services.

Indiegogo.com

Founded in 2008, this international platform made headlines for several high-profile campaigns. Solar success stories include $2,660 for a solar education youth center now under construction in Nicaragua; $15,441 to launch a revolving fund for community solar projects in California; and $51,829 to produce and distribute solar-rechargeable inflatable lamps to rural schools, homes, and small-business owners in India.

How it works: Anyone can start a cam­paign for any reason, and from anywhere, as long as they have a valid bank account. While this gives everyone the opportunity to raise money, it also means donors need to do their own due diligence. Payments for nonprofits are processed through First Giving (firstgiving.com), which issues tax re­ceipts, verifies that the beneficiary is a legiti­mate 501c(3) nonprofit, and then sends the funds directly to the recipient organization.

$$$ Your contributions are donations; there is no repayment. The company collects a 4% fee if a campaign reaches its goal, and 9% if a campaign does not reach its stated goal, plus fees for credit card processing and wire transfers for non-U.S. campaigns. (Note: The latter 9% fee is higher by design to encourage campaigns to set realistic goals, but as with most other crowd-funding sites, campaigns receive the raised funds even if they fall short of the target.) There is a 25% discount for registered nonprofits.

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