By Anna Peirano
Navigating the realm of the oft-times, overly abundant world of nonprofits can be tricky business. With so many causes and options for donors, both money and motivation can be lost between intention and action. Ty Walrod, CEO and co-founder of BrightFunds.org, intends to change that.
Bright Funds is a new company founded in November of 2012 that has taken off thanks to its originality, a well-designed site and interface, and the well thought-out process that drives it. Walrod and his team have already made it through their first round of funding, and are now looking at an end of January deadline for their second. They need around a thousand more sign-ups to meet a goal set by their potential investors to secure that second round.
Bright Funds is a giving platform that focuses on causes rather than organizations, hoping to appeal to a person’s desire to change the world without getting bogged down by choices of how to do so. “I wanted to be able to give to poverty relief,” says Walrod, speaking of his own personal experience. “But I found myself buried in thousands of organizations available to me, and I found it difficult to know which ones were doing the best work.”
“We think that in general, people care about causes,” he says. “What we found is that they immediately think of an individual nonprofit, but what they want is a means to an end. People want to end poverty, or help the environment.”
Bright Funds allows users to create what is called a “gem.” Essentially an online giving portfolio, a gem aggregates several different nonprofits addressing one specific issue, and manages and distributes money across those nonprofits in the most effective way possible.
As Walrod explains, “What we did is we looked at the end goal for the donor and the most effective way for them to reach that goal. Within each of these funds, we identify the most important facets of that cause.”
Essentially a management tool, a gem brings the work of several organizations together, and through expert aggregation and analysis, find the most effective way to address the problems those nonprofits wish to solve.
This isn’t Walrod’s first foray into the philanthropic world. He helped to co-found OutServe, the largest association working to support a professional network of LGBT military personnel and create an environment of respect in the military with regard to sexual orientation and gender identity.
“I learned a lot from co-founding OutServe that actually was relevant for BrightFunds,” he says. “I had to learn about donor motivations and ‘what do people care about,’ because we had to raise money for our organization that was growing so fast.”
It’s those very motivations, and Walrod’s own philanthropic inclinations, that are the inspiration behind what Bright Funds has become. “We scratched our own itch by building a product that we wanted and would use, and making it available not just to ourselves. We wanted to know that every dollar we contribute is going to solve big global challenges.”
But what do the nonprofits think about the new middle man on campus? In an age where marketing and brand management is key, are organizations wary of allowing someone else to filter their message to the masses?
Walrod says no. “Our response from the nonprofit world has been incredibly positive and supportive. The people who have dedicated their lives to this space, philanthropy or giving, realize that there are many different ways to approach connecting people and their money with the world’s greatest challenges. Because of that, we have been able to partner with some the world’s greatest organizations.”
And the specific cause that pulls at Walrod’s own heartstrings? Poverty relief. “I focus on other areas as well, but I think alleviating poverty is something that’s really important to me personally because I realize how lucky I am to have grown up here in the United States. Part of the reason I love poverty relief is because money that is spent abroad tends to go a little further than here in the United States.”
There is still plenty of flexibility built into the Bright Funds interface, allowing users to customize their causes. Within a gem, a Bright Funds contributor can pick or choose which organizations they’d like to include or exclude, or whether their focus is on domestic or international issues.
Bright Funds also draws on the power of social sharing and group action, inspiring people to give what they can, when they can. A user can share their gem and promote their cause, but donation amounts remain private. “We want people with Bright Funds to feel like their making a meaningful impact, regardless of how much they’re giving,” says Walrod.
Though solving the world’s biggest problems is the ultimate end goal for Bright Funds, the small team has a few smaller steps to take on their way to achieving that end. Right now, they’re focusing on getting more people to sign up and create portfolios, shifting giving behavior to funnel through Bright Funds for the most effective give and return.
They’re also building out their “enterprise” functionality, which takes giving to the corporate level. Enterprise partners are companies that have made Bright Funds their giving platform, managing donations made by their employees through their own online gems and portfolios. So, an employee can choose to have part of their paycheck or a one-time donation go to the company’s gem, thus allowing organizations to manage larger donations across the cause spectrum.
“We’ve brought such a level of innovation to the giving space, that companies want Bright Funds now,” says Walrod. “We’re pretty lucky, because we’ve had such great reception from the blogging world and organizations that work in financial services. A lot of people just love the idea that we’re doing something new and exciting in the space.”
Help Bright Funds achieve their goal of a thousand more sign ups by the end of January by creating your own portfolio today. Whether you’re interested in donating to poverty relief, environmental efforts, water, education, health, or the soon to be launched Human Rights fund, which will include LGBT equality, Bright Funds can help you maintain and manage your philanthropic pursuits so that together, we can invest in a changing world.