New website is a hub for donations of money, materials and manpower

New website is a hub for donations of money, materials and manpower

March 18th, 2012 by Kate Harrison Belz in News

Andrew Scarbrough and Heather Ewalt work together at the Delegator.com offices on Market Street. The are developing Causeway, a social media site that is used to rally support for nonprofit projects.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

Say you want to plant a community garden in your neighborhood. You need land. You need seeds and shovels. You need people to help you till the soil.

You've never planted before, so you need experienced gardeners to give you advice. And you need to drum up excitement about the new food source you're hoping to cultivate.

Where do you start?

Some Chattanooga entrepreneurs are trying to simplify that answer through Causeway.org -- a new website that seeks to provide a platform for meeting all those needs in one online space.

Groups can post charitable projects to the site, then donors can pledge everything from money to time. The site's goal is in its name: Connect causes to more efficient ways of making them happen.

"We're trying to level the playing field of giving," said co-founder Stephen Culp, who is also the co-founder of Smart Furniture and Delegator.com.

"If you don't have money, you can contribute time, you can contribute materials, you can contribute expertise, facilities, or anything else," he said. "In our view, that deserves just as much recognition."

The process is fairly simple. The community garden startup, for example, could go to Causeway and create a profile, which would include a goal, a plan and the resources it will need. Backers then could rally attention to the garden through social media outlets and direct interested parties to the site.

Once there, potential donors can share their thoughts, pledge to help with the garden or make a donation with their credit cards. Causeway then sends the organization the check.

"It's a great tool," said Mason West, teacher at Howard High School and director of the school's Talented Tenth Leadership Program, which has created a fundraising profile on the Causeway site for trips and workshops. "I'm very busy as a teacher, and I don't get to do the amount of fundraising I'd like to do. This allows us to connect with a lot of people we wouldn't typically connect with."

Stephen Scarborough, of Causeway

Stephen Culp of Causeway

"CIVIC ENTREPRENEURIALISM"

Though the idea for such a platform has been percolating for more than a decade, Culp said Causeway was really catalyzed while he was involved with STAND, the citywide survey conducted three years ago.

"We were canvassing neighborhoods and asking people, 'How would you like to help out with your community?' There were people who said, 'No one has ever asked me that before,'" Culp said. "Asking that simple question starts a process of engagement that we want to build on through something like Causeway. You don't have to have money to help out."

Workers at Delegator.com started brainstorming about ways to make nonprofits more accessible, collaborative and creative when they landed on the idea for Causeway. It's similar to the grass-roots fundraising site Kickstarter.com, but it operates strictly for local charitable work. And unlike Kickstarter, Causeway itself is a nonprofit.

The site basically promotes what the group calls "civic entrepreneurialism" operating off "civic business plans."

The group hopes to bring some basic principles of an entrepreneurial startup to the nonprofit world: Crowd-sourcing, eye-catching design and harnessing social media and the Internet are just a few of the elements they are trying to incorporate.

"There are a number of good reasons to start this [in Chattanooga], but one of the good reasons is the developing tech character of the city," said Causeway and Delegator.com co-founder Andrew Scarbrough.

The first version of the site launched in August, and the group gradually has begun promoting it while working out the kinks.

About 30 projects have been posted so far, ranging from helping local refugees to supporting a neighborhood sports tournament to helping the Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts replace moldy books.

Potential givers can scroll through the causes by categories they may be interested in -- the environment, the arts and education are just a few.

"Someone visiting the site may just come across an idea on there that they're interested in," Scarbrough said.

The goal is to give donors a sense of ownership in their chosen projects. Not only do they give to the project, but they can track it and contribute to the planning.

"We have seen some really interesting donations," said co-founder Heather Ewalt. "We've had people willing to give their expertise hours in real estate development, marketing help or graphic design. For one cause, that might be exactly what they need to get started."

The site welcomes any type of charitable group -- from small projects to entities as large as the Salvation Army or United Way -- to post projects and fundraising goals.

But there are restrictions. Every project must be locally based. Causeway also must vet every project to ensure that donors are not giving to a group that's trying to turn a profit or cheat the system.

Every charitable project must meet IRS tax standards. Causes can't be posted to give to individuals or for things such as medical bills or specific storm damage.

For further accountability and feedback, the newest feature of the site is its "results" section, which allows donors to evaluate each project's development.

"We've always felt strongly about showing results -- both good and bad -- so the community can learn from those," said Ewalt. "If something works well, let's repeat that in another part of the city. If that doesn't work, let's figure that out collectively."

Causeway has 501(c)(3) tax status, which means all monetary contributions through the site are tax deductible.

The group does not take a cut from any of the money raised or from credit card transactions. It depends on donations -- Causeway has its own profile set up on Causeway.org.

For now, the group is focused on keeping the site local, which is what Ewalt said makes it so special.

"If it were to expand to other cities, we would want each city to adopt it locally," she said.

The barometer for the site's success is not how far it spreads, Culp said, but how much it's used.

"We'll feel we have made it when anyone in town who has a great idea knows that the first thing they should do is 'put it on Causeway.'"

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