Rooted in Community

Creating one platform for nonprofits to raise money from individuals, businesses, and foundations

By Michelle Valigursky

Fundraising can be daunting, but for Uruut’s co-founder Mark Feinberg 96B 02MBA, raising awareness for great causes and helping them expand, or in some cases survive, are all in a day’s work. “By bringing unprecedented accessibility, transparency, accountability, and flexibility to nonprofits and donors, Uruut is well-positioned to capture a generous share of the giving market.”

Before the company’s launch in July 2013, seasoned finance professional Feinberg took a hard look at how nonprofits raise money. “I realized there was a growing need for a reliable crowdfunding engine dedicated to the specific needs of nonprofits.” Now housed in the Atlanta Tech Village, Uruut accelerated the publicly-accepted concept of collective giving. The company’s mission? To offer “A new kind of crowdfunding, helping bring together individuals, businesses, and foundations with nonprofits, cause-based & social enterprise businesses.”

Donovan Lee-Sin, Uruut senior advisor and program director for the Arthur Blank Family Foundation, is familiar with the obstacles foundations face. He said, “Instead of playing defense, we need an easy and standardized way to find, qualify, manage, and support our nonprofit partners.” And at the time of this article, more than 70 percent of the monies raised on the platform comes from the business community.“ Very quickly the platform is being accepted for their bold decisions to create a single platform for multiple funding audiences,” Feinberg adds.

Feinberg sought to democratize the funding process and allow donors to fully understand how donated resources are applied. For that reason, communication doesn’t stop once a project is funded. “A crucial element to success is follow-through. To address that concern, “We built a robust application called our transparency workroom that provides insight into post-funding budget and project status,” Feinberg explains. 

“A revolution within the fundraising space is just beginning to take hold,” says Douglas Shipman 95C, CEO, National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Shipman also serves on the board of advisors for Uruut. “I've long been a fan and user of various crowdfunding platforms including Kiva.org, Kickstarter, and Indiegogo. The idea of bringing together the support of many small funders makes so much sense for both giver and recipient.”

When Feinberg shared his initial idea with Shipman a few years ago, Shipman recalled, “I was excited by Mark's vision of bringing the power of crowdfunding to the arena of nonprofit, especially very localized projects. My background in nonprofits helped me share with him the needs of those who are fundraising as well as how public-private partnerships work and how Uruut might help.”

Drawing context from their similar business backgrounds, Feinberg crystallized his corporate vision and partnered with Uruut Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer Chad Bartels to begin developing proprietary technology for the start-up. By 2013, Uruut had raised $200,000 in seed funding and added a powerful slate of advisors to the team. They also hired a COO to help support the company's growth. Uruut went live in July 2013 with one live public project, has added and successfully funded one other project, and is getting ready to release additional projects during the weeks and months ahead.

So how does Uruut work?

“If your organization would like to fund a park, a nature trail, an Eagle Scout project, a scholarship, or any other cause-based type project, Uruut is the right place to start,” Feinberg explains. For accountability, project organizations are vetted and must be a “registered 501c3 or a qualified municipal and/or member organization.” 

Uruut supports an all-or-nothing funding philosophy. “All-or-nothing funding is a core part of Uruut and it has a number of advantages,” Feinberg says. “It's less risk for everyone. You can't build half a park. If you need $5,000, you need $5,000. Bottom line. It motivates. If people want to see a project come to life, they're going to spread the word.” So what is that bottom line? Feinberg defines it plainly. “Projects either make their goal or find little support. There's rarely any in-between.”

Uruut meets extensively with each new potential project owner and initiates a selection review process that includes organizational verification. Once accepted, the straightforward setup process begins with submission of a project. Feinberg explains, “Every project owner sets their project's funding goal and deadline, crafts a story, and uploads a few pictures. With those simple steps, they are pretty much on their way. The nonprofit then starts the ball in motion by communicating its project to connect with individuals, businesses, and foundations. Individuals can pledge money to make this project a reality. Businesses can sponsor that same project, and foundations can contribute to that project or match the contributions of others.”

Predictions for Giving Change

“Uruut is an incredible engine that can be used to move a lot of different types of efforts and organizations,” Shipman says. “Mark and his team are creative and flexible so I expect some growth to be what is envisioned now (e.g. more projects). Uruut used by established organizations for special efforts) and new opportunities that will arise as funders and projects become familiar with Uruut's capabilities.”

Industry accolades are on the rise, and Uruut was just named one of “10 Startups from Atlanta that You Need to Know About.” Shipman notes, “Uruut has the potential to impact the world for good and engage funders in new ways for projects they might not otherwise support.”

This nimble company is primed to scale operations through a team of strategic technologists who work side-by-side with marketing leadership. Bobby Norwood is the company’s chief operating officer. Norwood adds, “We are prepared to accept projects from a range of nonprofits, big or small. Uruut recently hired one business development person to handle the influx of activity. We are adding one, if not more, business development resources to meet the needs of the market and look forward to serving the needs of a wide range of nonprofits.”  

“Charitable giving is undergoing a major shift in how people give,” Feinberg says. According to Giving USA 2012, “Donations in 2012 totaled $316 billion. Feinberg adds, "Growth in giving is basically flat, but online fundraising is growing nearly 15 percent a year and is expected to continue. There is no arguing the fact that fundraising is changing. Furthermore, crowdfunding is expected to grow in the triple digits. Put these facts together and you are ripe for a sea of change in how fundraising will forever be approached. While I don't see a replacement of human interaction, I see a change in how groups learn about and ultimately transact in the giving space."

Shipman praises Uruut’s “innovation of creating a platform that allows larger funders like corporations and foundations to be able to give and then track the effectiveness of their giving through the same platform. That move makes Uruut distinctive and a leader nationally.”

For Feinberg, building Uruut equates to a passionate career. “I want to walk down the virtual hallway that is the Uruut marketplace and say, we helped groups do a lot of awesome stuff. It’s already happening and I am thrilled to watch it continue. We are turning fundraising and crowdfunding on its head. And the great news is -- society will benefit. “

Editor’s Note: Shipman values the common ties he shares with Feinberg. “Mark's done a great job of leveraging the Emory alumni world for support and advice as Uruut has launched. It shows the kind of bonds that exist throughout the Emory alumni network and the kind of generous support folks are willing to give one another.”

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