Charity

This charity crowdfunding site wants your spare change

January 24, 2014: 11:50 AM ET

With Givelocity, Susan Cooney argues even $1 a month is enough to make a difference.

"People don't give just a dollar because they don't think it's going to make a difference," explains Coonah, CEO and founder of Givelocity. Photo: Givelocity.com

FORTUNE -- Charitable donations may be a $418 billion national affair according to Dallas-based charity-tracking firm Atlas of Giving, but Susan Cooney argues there remains many more untapped dollars to be had.

"People often don't give just a dollar because they don't think it's going to make a difference," explains Cooney, CEO and founder of startup Givelocity, headquartered in Walnut Creek, Calif. Backed with $200,000 in initial funding from friends and family, the online charity site launched last December and aims to change that attitude with an idea that infuses crowdfunding and social elements so even giving $1 a month feels meaningful to the individual or corporation.

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Think of Givelocity as charitable donations with an online democratic twist. Members sign up online and select one of 550-plus non-profit charity causes they ideally would like to donate to -- the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation or say, the Adaptive Sports Foundation, a sports education initiative for people with disabilities -- and how much their monthly donation, starting at $1. The money goes into a giving circle, or "neighborhood," money pool the member joins. They and other members of the neighborhood may cast a vote once a month for the cause they'd like the pool money to go toward: Whichever cause nabs the most votes wins and receives all the neighborhood money that month. (Voting isn't mandatory but is clearly encouraged if users want to have a say in where their donation goes.)

Givelocity raised just $1,034 total for December from 200-plus members its first month, but the money pool is nearly double that for January, and Cooney is optimistic donations will rapidly grow this year. One of the company's goals for the first half of 2014 is enlisting public figures to help increase the site's visibility and fuel membership interest. Cooney is already in talks with the San Francisco Giants about a potential partnership. Her first signed deal: 29-year-old Mike Chabala, defender for the Houston Dynamo, an American Major League Soccer team based in Houston.

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For Cooney, Givelocity comes partly as the result of previous work experience. During the late 1990s, she spent stints at online credit giant PayPal and LinkExchange, the banner ad network founded by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, working in areas like marketing strategies and customer acquisition. The experiences gave Cooney what she calls a technologist perspective, one that has stuck with her as she pushes ahead into online philanthropy and confronts challenges like garnering interest and attracting new members.

Says Cooney: "With this kind of platform, you can use your voice, and your dollar can go a long way."

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