Raising money for good deeds
Published: Sunday, December 2, 2012 at 4:15 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, December 2, 2012 at 8:30 a.m.
When Lesley Mansford was diagnosed with leukemia a decade ago, she began using her marketing skills to raise a quarter million dollars for fighting the disease.
“My diagnosis sort of jumpstarted my career as a fundraiser,” said Mansford, who for two decades worked in senior management in the electronic game industry. “I suddenly found myself with a cause.”
Today, the Occidental resident helps others raise contributions in the age of social networking. Her new role is as CEO of Razoo, a crowdfunding site for charities.
The company, with 30 employees and offices in San Francisco and Washington, has brought in more than $125 million for nonprofits since 2007. More than half of that amount has come during Mansford's 15 months of leadership.
The total includes $16.4 million collected in a single day last month for Minnesota nonprofits — a national record.
“What's exciting for us is just seeing great momentum and growth,” said Mansford, who grew up in East London, co-founded the game site Pogo.com and worked in senior marketing positions for game maker Electronic Arts.
Razoo and other online crowdfunding sites act as hubs to bring together donors and charities that need money. Some of these “giving platforms,” like Razoo and Crowdrise, are for-profit companies that take a share of the proceeds; others, like GlobalGiving, are nonprofits themselves.
Many resemble Kickstarter, a crowdfunding company that local artists and businesses have used to gather private donations for new projects and ventures. Charities have their own web page on which they can post photos, videos and stories. A big component is the ability for donors to easily spread the news about nonprofits on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.
Such giving grew 13 percent last year, according to Blackbaud's 2011 Online Giving Report. That doesn't include international affairs charities, which saw a drop compared to 2010's big jump in donations to help Haiti's earthquake victims.
While growing, online donations still amount to only about 6 percent of all giving.
Nonprofit officials said the crowdfunding sites offer a new dimension for charities that once relied mainly on appeal letters.
“I think it really is revolutionizing philanthropy,” said Dana Nelson, executive director of GiveMN, which in 2009 started the nation's first statewide giving day.
GiveMN and Razoo last month teamed up for Minnesota's fourth annual Give to the Max Day, collecting $16.4 million for nearly 4,400 nonprofits, including schools, colleges, hospitals, animal care groups and religious organizations. More than 53,000 donors contributed funds.
Nelson said the online approach allows donors to easily use social media to tell why they donated to a certain charity. She compared those tweets and other postings to first-person reviews on hotel booking sites, comments that today's travellers carefully study.
To encourage fun and competition, Give to the Max Day offered hourly “golden ticket” drawings where donors were randomly selected to win $1,000 for their chosen nonprofit. The website also features leaderboards for small, medium and large nonprofits and offers cash prizes in each category to the top 10 charities that bring in the most money.
“I think Razoo is a leader in this field and it's great to have Lesley at the helm,” Nelson said.
For its services, Razoo charges a flat fee of 2.9 percent, an amount that Mansford said is the lowest among such sites.
When Razoo helped raise more than $200,000 last month during a giving day in Riverside, a local promotional group took another 2.1 percent of donations, leaving 95 percent for the charities. In comparison, the state attorney general's office last week reported that only 51 percent of the $338 million raised in California last year by traditional commercial fundraisers went to charities.
Mansford said her early efforts to collect donations taught her about the value of fundraising sites that can take advantage of social networking.
When she was diagnosed with leukemia in 2002, she said, “there weren't any tools out there like Razoo.”
Not that the lack of such sites kept her from getting involved. Within three weeks of her diagnosis, she had signed up for a fundraiser: her first triathlon. She since has done about 10 such athletic fundraisers and is preparing for her second “ironman” competition next year.
In 2003, Mansford was named Woman of the Year by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society for the Greater San Francisco Bay Area — an award bestowed for raising the most money in a 10-week period.
She said she still has a slow-growing form of leukemia, one that doctors continue to monitor.
Nonprofit leaders who know Mansford call her a strong role model, as well as a talented leader.
“She's a strategic thinker,” said Catherine Brown, executive director of the Bay Area branch of the leukemia and lymphoma society.
Mansford served about five years on the organization's board of directors and has raised about $250,000. She consistently led by joining alongside other volunteers in the work, Brown said.
Mansford has been a Sonoma County resident for about two years. She said she's had initial discussions with local charitable organizations about holding such a giving day here.
“I'd love to do one in what is now my backyard,” she said.
Tanya Narath, executive director of the Leadership Institute for Ecology and the Economy in Santa Rosa, got to know Mansford when she joined the group's board in February 2011. Mansford showed a genuine desire to get involved, she said, and she has continued to offer assistance even after leaving the board a few months before taking the top job at Razoo.
In June, the institute raised nearly $2,500 in a Razoo-sponsored giving event for nonprofits around the country. The giving site, said Narath, “gave us a much better tool for telling our story.”
The institute would be interested in taking part in a local giving event, she said, adding it could generate “an increased spirit of giving” on behalf of the county's nonprofits.
“An organized campaign,” said Narath, “would actually help everybody.”
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