Chicago Tech Startup: Benevolent

April 5, 2012 | By | 1 Comment

Benevolent is a nonprofit site that helps connect individuals in need of financial assistance with those who want to give to help others in a direct manner. Recently, Founder Megan Kashner answered TINC Magazine’s questions about Benevolent.

TINC: What is Benevolent?

Megan Kashner: Benevolent is a social networking site that fosters individual giving to meet individual needs, connecting those who face hurdles along their paths to success with those who wish to help. Benevolent breaks ground by using a web networking platform to facilitate personal connection with the security of a trusted validation process. This platform helps individuals and families as they pursue greater stability, and at the same time highlights the real challenges faced by people who are striving for sustainability.

TINC: How does Benevolent work?

MK: Through a crowd-funding micro-giving model, Benevolent provides a validated and secure means for donors, people with one-time needs, and community nonprofits to collaborate in addressing challenges to overcoming poverty, one person at a time.

With a first-person storytelling approach, Benevolent addresses the minutiae that so often derail personal progress. Benevolent allows adults in low-income circumstances to post their own stories (in narrative and video) and outline the one-time needs key to their progress. Each need is validated by a professional at a community nonprofit (social service, workforce development, place of worship…) which has an ongoing relationship with the person seeking help. These nonprofit validating partners are vetted by Benevolent. They receive and distribute grant funds and report outcomes. 100% of grant funds paid to Benevolent’s nonprofit grantees is disbursed to their designated constituents in meeting those individuals’ stated needs.

TINC: How are individual causes selected and promoted on Benevolent?

MK: Benevolent’s pilot year is focused on a geographically diverse representation of the Chicago area. We target those needs which, when met, will help propel the recipients forward on their paths. When we partner with local nonprofit organizations, we ask that they identify clients and constituents who are striving for the next level of sustainability and have a plan for their future. Needs which are successfully posted to the Benevolent site are ones which identify a hurdle that, when overcome, will allow the recipient to reach the next level of stability. All needs must be under $1800 and each potential recipient must be over 18 and living in the U.S. Benevolent’s strongest nonprofit partners are organizations and congregations that serve a low-income population and know their clients and constituents well.

TINC: What non-profits are in Benevolent’s network?

MK: In the first couple of months of our pilot, Benevolent has partnered with the following nonprofits. We are currently forging partnerships with a number of additional groups including churches, associations, and school groups as well as more traditional workforce development and social service organizations.

Bethel New Life
The Cara Program
The Childcare Network of Evanston
Claretian Associates
Community Counseling Centers of Chicago (C4)
Erie Elementary Charter School
Family Focus
Inspiration Corporation
Upwardly Global

TINC: How do these non-profits vouch for individuals in need?

MK: Each of the nonprofits in Benevolent’s network know their clients well, so vouching for and validating the needs the recipient’s post is just a natural extension of the nonprofit professional’s ongoing work in providing support and resources to those within their programs. Each need posted to the Benevolent site is accompanied by a validation statement, photo and video from the nonprofit validator, letting visitors to the site know a little bit about the validator, the nonprofit, how long the recipient has been involved with that nonprofit, and what makes the posted need important to that person’s progress and success.

TINC: Does Benevolent have their own Board that decides on applications?

MK: In this early stage, the Benevolent team works so closely with our nonprofit partners that we are able to work with them to identify strong needs before the recipient and validator go through the work of writing up the need and shooting the videos. As we grow, we will shift that up-front process into more of an automated system and the Benevolent team will act as checkers and arbiters of the site to ensure quality and appropriate content. In order for Benevolent to scale, however, we need to be fostering the mix of a robust marketplace.

TINC: Are there time limits to fundraising efforts? Can a cause be re-posted or extended?

MK: Each need can be posted to the site for a maximum of 60 days. If a need expires without having been met, the recipient and validator can seek to re-post the need one time only with improvements or modifications designed to improve viability and clarity.

TINC: What happens if a fundraising goal is not met?

MK: Occasionally, needs posted to the Benevolent site expire without having been met. In these instances, we let the donors, recipients and validators all know, and provide the option for the recipient to re-post the need with changes. We also ask the donors who had intended to support that need to re-allocate their gift to a different need similar in some ways to the one they had sought to support.

TINC: How does Benevolent find donors?

MK: Benevolent’s donors come through referral and connection. Our best source of referral is when a donor lets his or her network of friends and family know about a need they’ve chosen to support. With Benevolent in such an early stage of testing and growth, we’re still learning about our donors, their motivations, interests, and foibles.

TINC: How many people has Benevolent helped to date?

MK: To-date, Benevolent has fully funded 20 needs across the Chicago area. When a need is fully funded, Benevolent sends funds along as a grant to the validating nonprofit, and that nonprofit uses those funds to meet the need. For example, one nonprofit used their organizational credit card to order a bed; another used a check to purchase CTA fare cards; and a third purchased a gift card to a clothing store – each one meeting the specific needs of their clients in the ways that worked best for them and their constituents. Each funded need has statements of reaction and gratitude from the recipients and validators, which are posted to their profiles and emailed to their donors.

TINC: What are Benevolent’s plans for expansion in the future?

MK: Benevolent will spend the next few months expanding our reach here in Chicago and continuing to build and hone scalable systems for success, expansion and scale. Next, we’ll select one to three new cities to which we’ll extend our pilot. After that, we hope to scale out nationally.

The following information about Benevolent comes from the Chicago Startup Catalog:

Funding Level: Series A (early stage seed funding)
Industry Type: Not-for-Profit
Employment Size: 1-10 – All Volunteer at this stage
Founders: Megan Kashner, LCSW, MBA – Founder & CEO
Founding Date: Incorporated on August 15, 2011; Site launched on December 1, 2011

Filed in: Company Profile, Featured | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments (1)

  1. I’m thrilled you wrote on this. We’ve been following this company for a bit after we got word of it from Evanston Patch and we love it. Great article.

Leave a Reply

Trackback URL | RSS Feed for This Entry