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.
<NO1><NO>Mansford said her aim is to make Razoo the dominant name in online giving.
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.
<NO1><NO>As well, she said, the single-day events work well in "creating urgency to give," including the use of matching contributions.
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.