Posts from hacking philanthropy

Aid Refugees

Kickstarter and the UN Refugee Agency are launching something important this morning. It is called Aid Refugees and its an attempt to leverage the power of the leading crowdfunding community to raise funds to deal with the global refugee crisis.

As many of you know Kickstarter is a USV portfolio company and it has traditionally avoided getting involved in charitable efforts, choosing to stay focused on helping creative projects come to life. But like other big Internet companies, it gets asked from time to time to leverage the scope of its reach and community to tackle big problems. Until now, Kickstarter has chosen to decline those invitations but the scope of the global refugee crisis is so large and the mission is also consistent with Kickstarter’s recently filed public benefit corporation charter in which they committed to fight inequality. So this time they said yes. This doesn’t mean Kickstarter will start allowing charitable projects on its platform. It does mean it will do this sort of thing when the company feels like it can help make a difference.

Here’s how Kickstarter explains this effort on their blog post this morning:

Two weeks ago, the White House reached out to us with an idea: what if you could use Kickstarter to help the millions of refugees seeking safety in the Middle East and Europe?

We immediately told them yes — and at the White House’s invitation, Kickstarter is working with the UN Refugee Agency to raise money and deliver aid to those in need of it. We’ve all seen the images of people fleeing for safety, on foot and in boats, with nowhere to go and precious few resources. It’s not a crisis that can be solved overnight, but the White House, the United Nations, and Kickstarter all believe that a strong outpouring of support can provide crucial assistance for people fleeing their homes and risking their lives to find a safer future.

To learn more about how we can provide that support, just visit this campaign. It’s not a typical Kickstarter project. There’s no all-or-nothing funding goal. The rewards are all about giving, not getting. And we’ll be donating 100% of our usual fee to support these aid efforts. Most days, this site is a home for people working together to create new things, but this campaign is about something else: working together to bring the most basic of necessities to people who need them dearly. Even a little support can give a family dry clothes, fresh water, or a place to sleep — those “small” things that become everything as soon as you’ve lost them. We’d love your help.

Thank you,


If you have been looking for a way to engage in the global refugee crisis, check out Aid Refugees. I plan to “back this project” and I hope you will too.

Well That Sucked

I just wrote a longish post on the plane to SF this morning, hit publish, and lost everything.

Normally WordPress autosaves the post when an error happens but it did not this time.

So I’m not going to have time to rewrite that post today.

So maybe we can talk about the topic instead.

I wrote about the best legal/tax structure for social entrepreneurs. I am seeing more and more social entrepreneurs adopt the for profit corporation for their social enterprise. With innovations like the B Corporation for aligning interests, and with more investors understanding that financial returns and social impact are not mutually exclusive, it seems like this may be the better structure for social enterprises that can create a sustainable business model.

Why be civically engaged if you’re in tech?

Tomorrow, Ron Conway and I are going to kick off Disrupt NY 2015, with a fireside chat with Kim-Mai Cutler. We plan to discuss philanthropy and civic involvement. I’m looking forward to this talk. I think folks in the tech sector need to embrace philanthropy and civic involvement and I look forward to making the case for that.

I’ve been working in the VC business since the mid 80s. And for most of that time, I’ve felt that the tech sector was surprisingly uninterested and uninvolved in things outside of the tech sector. That’s a great strength of the tech sector, it’s is focused on innovation, making things, and building companies. And it does not get distracted by things outside of that realm.

But we know that the things we make and the companies we build have great impact on those outside of the tech sector. It can be for the good, like building cars that don’t use carbon fuels and showing the auto industry that it can be a good business to do that. It can be for the bad, like automating away jobs that once paid the way for a middle class lifestyle.

It feels to me that our economy and our society is now deeply entwined with technology and being significantly impacted by it. If that is true, I believe it is shortsighted to avoid getting engaged in the discussions and debates about what kind of world we need to work toward. I think one way or another the tech sector is going to get pulled into these debates. It will be one thing if that happens thoughtfully and positively and another if the tech sector is pulled into them kicking and screaming.

Regular readers of this blog know that my partners and I have been involved in these discussions since we started USV over a decade ago. We spend our time, energy, and capital in areas like policy debates, philanthropy, and civic engagement. There are others in the tech sector who do the same. Ron Conway comes to mind as someone who has spent a similar amount of time, energy, and capital on this stuff. And I am thrilled to share the stage with him tomorrow as we discuss these issues.

We go on stage at 9:05am eastern tomorrow. I’m hoping the talk will be livestreamed and you can watch it live. If it is, it will be somewhere like here.

Using CrowdRise To Help People In Nepal

When a disaster strikes, caring people all over the world seek ways they can help. Usually that means giving funds to a global relief organization like the Red Cross. But in the age of crowdfunding, giving to relief efforts takes on an entirely new flavor. You can see that in action on our portfolio company CrowdRise’s service this morning.


Crowdfunding means you can target your giving with more granularity.

You can give to this family in the US raising money to help their relatives in Nepal, who are now living in a temporary tent and are in desperate need for help.

You can give to this campaign where CrowdRise employee Mallory is raising funds to go to Nepal and help.

You can give to this campaign that celebrates Google engineer Dan Fredinburg who was killed while climbing Mount Everest this weekend.

You can give to this campaign that benefits a local relief effort.

The Gotham Gal and I have given to all of these campaigns and I hope you will consider giving to something as well.

All of the Nepal relief efforts on CrowdRise can be seen here.

Get Fit Or Be Hacking

Technology often involves a lot of intense brain work behind a desk or computer. I’ve learned over the years how important it is to move your body to relieve it from all that stress and strain. And so it was interesting to me when my friend Rob said he wanted to do a fundraiser for CSNYC at a CrossFit gym.

The event Rob envisioned is now happening. It’s called “Get Fit or Be Hacking” and is taking place on May 2nd from 2pm – 8pm at CrossFit South Brooklyn in Gowanus. Participants will compete in teams of four to complete various coding and fitness challenges. Each four person team will also raise money for CSNYC via CrowdRise in the weeks leading up to the event. Awards will be given out for the most creative fundraising approach and most money raised as well as in the fitness, coding, and overall categories based on team performance May 2nd.

One of the coding challenges will be in JavaScript. Another challenge will be in a “pick ‘em” scripting language (e.g., Python, Ruby). Rob assures me that there will be no “barbell stuff” during the fitness portion. The workouts will be accessible to any developer who works out regularly. Perhaps best of all there’s an after-party planned at Three’s Brewing. They serve tasty beer and the Gotham Gal and I are investors in it.

If you’re a software developer who also likes to work out, this event is for you. More info can be found on the CrowdRise page here; if you’d like to donate to CSNYC by supporting one of the competing teams, that’s also where to go. More information on the event overall is available from CrossFit South Brooklyn.

This should be a great event.

Holiday Giving

Every year at this time of the year, my office piles up with gifts that people send me. I don’t drive back and forth to work so it’s not easy for me to bring them home. So a big pile builds up and sometime in January or February, I get a big bag, come in on the weekend, and pick everything up and bring it home. As you can imagine reading this, I get annoyed by this. I know the gifts are sent with the best intentions. But sadly they are not received that way.

What I would massively prefer is a donation be made instead.

– Back a Kickstarter.

– Or participate in the Crowdrise Holiday Challenge (which The Gotham Gal and I helped make happen).

– Or help a teacher on DonorsChoose.

If you are in the giving mood, I have a specific suggestion. CSNYC, our non-profit that funds computer science classes in the NYC public schools, has a holiday wish list up on Crowdrise.

If you want to see a map of what CSNCY is funding, you can see that here.

Our wishlist was built with our existing donor pool in mind and AVC readers might find the specific asks a bit steep. So if you don’t find any of our wishes to your liking you can make a donation of any size here:

Fundraising Websites – Crowdrise

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Ice Buckets, and Generosity

In the midst of terrible news all over the place comes a wonderful hopeful heartwarming mania sweeping the nation.

Everyone is pouring ice buckets over their heads in a social viral fun outpouring of generosity to find a cure for a disease known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS for short.

The most famous victim of ALS was Lou Gehrig and for that his name will be forever associated with this disease.

ALS is a horrible disease. If we could find a cure for it, that would be an incredible thing.

It looks like the Ice Bucket Challenge will raise over $50mm for ALS research and possibly a lot more. That is real money that can fund real science.

I’ve been “challenged” a few times on Facebook and Twitter over the past few weeks and instead of pouring ice water over my head and then calling out additional people, I decided to donate $500 to ALS research via Ben Huh’s Ice Bucket Challenge on CrowdRise.

I am sure some of you will be disappointed that I “chickened out” and did not choose to get doused, but to me the important thing is the generosity that the Ice Bucket Challenge has unlocked.

That’s what I want to participate in, that’s what will ultimately make the difference, and I would encourage everyone to donate even if you have not been challenged.

Bitcoin and Charities

Tonight, at 6:30pm at NYU’s Eisner and Lubin Auditorium, I am giving a talk on the topic of Bitcoin and Charities. If you want to come, the ticket is $25, paid in Bitcoin, and all ticket proceeds are going to CSNYC.

We are expecting about 300 people right now based on ticket sales and there are another 100 seats left so there’s room if you want to come.

Here’s why I think Bitcoin will become important to charities.

Traditionally non-profits have spent upwards of 20% of their budget raising money.  The Internet, software, and the crowd have dramatically changed that.  Non-profits like Charity Water, DonorsChoose, and others have shown that using the Internet and the crowd can bring those costs down considerably. And now we have crowdfunding networks like CrowdRise that can help every charity be like Charity Water and DonorsChoose.

But there remains a pesky cost to online fundraising that is harder to eliminate and that is the payment processing fees. A charity may be able to lower their cost of fundraising from 20% to 5% by using these online tools, but virtually the entirety of that last 5% is going towards credit card processing fees.

This is where Bitcoin comes in. If you own Bitcoin, at Coinbase or in your own wallet, you can gift your Bitcoins to charity and save them pretty much all of their online fundraising costs.

The nirvana of charitable fundraising is that all of the money raised goes to the cause, not the operations and fundraising costs of the non-profit. Some non-profits have founders or boards that cover the overhead and fundraising costs so that all funds raised go to the cause. That’s how CSNYC works. The Gotham Gal and I cover the operating and fundraising costs. So if you make a donation to CSNYC, all of your funds go to our mission (which is bringing CS Education to the NYC public schools).

But most non-profits don’t have founders or boards that can support them like that. So when you make a donation, you are funding not only the mission, but the costs of raising those funds. The Internet and bitcoin can change that.

If you run a charity or work at one, consider signing up for a fundraiser on CrowdRise and connect with CrowdRise about accepting Bitcoin as an option. There is no less expensive way to raise money than that.

I will get into all of this in more detail tonight, including providing a basic description and history of Bitcoin, how it works, and why it is important. I hope to see you there.

Bitcoin and Charities Were Made For Each Other, They Just Don’t Know It Yet

On the evening of July 14th at 6:30pm, I am going to give a talk on the subject of Bitcoin and philanthropic giving. It will take place at NYU’s Eisner and Lubin Auditorium and we are selling tickets to the event (in bitcoin of course) to raise money for charity.

Seats are $25 and they are first come first serve. There are 300 of them. VIP seats, which, in addition to being the best seats in the house, will also come with some goodie, are $100. If you have the extra cash and are feeling generous, please step up for the VIP seats. There are 75 of them.

We hope to raise $15,000 via this event and all the proceeds will go to CSNYC‘s programs to bring computer science education to the NYC public school system.

I was inspired to do this talk because our portfolio companies Coinbase and CrowdRise have teamed up to bring bitcoin to the world of philanthropic giving. You can see this partnership in action on the CrowdRise page for the talk.

This talk brings together three of the things I have been spending most of my time on over the past year (crowdfunding, bitcoin, and philanthropy). If you want to hear me talk about the things that get me up and out of bed in the morning, come to this.

In addition to highlighting the possibilities for charities that Bitcoin opens up, I believe this event will be a great place for Bitcoin enthusiasts to meet each other. I’ve agreed to sponsor up to 60 NYU students and faculty who are working on bitcoin projects to attend the event. The NYU bitcoin community is really taking off right now and I would like to help galvanize that. And the entire HackNY summer intern class will be there. These are some of the best and brightest computer science students in the country who are spending the summer in NYC working in startups.

If you work in a charitable organization and want to understand how Bitcoin can help turbocharge your fundraising, or if you are a Bitcoin enthusiast, I think you will enjoy hearing the talk and meeting like minded folks. To claim a ticket please make your donation in Bitcoin here.

I hope to see you there.

PS – If you can’t attend, you can still donate here and check a box saying that you can’t attend but you want to support the event and the cause.