This is another in my ongoing series of posts spotlighting underrepresented communities around the world and the entrepreneurs trying to help them. In this installment, I talk to the CEO of a company that is helping put philanthropy within reach of the average American knowledge worker.

Donating to charity is a deeply personal thing. Studies show that people are much more likely to give when a beneficiary is identified, rather than a cause backed by statistics about its severity.

So in a world in which charities use messages about feeding children for less than a $1 per day or providing clean water to an entire village for less than $2 per day, how can other causes reach out to the masses and make a difference?

Bright Funds, a San Francisco-based for-profit company, may have found a solution. By partnering with companies, it's letting their employees donate to the charity of their choice, directly from their paychecks, or just for fun.

Bright Funds provides a dashboard on which people can manage their giving and volunteering all in one place. Leading companies like Box, Morningstar, and Constellation Brands are using the platform already to provide their employees access to this dashboard.

"Every employee in the company gets a Bright Funds account. That really helps them think about their philanthropy in a meaningful way, and helps them perhaps give to the charities and causes that they're already passionate about, but just as importantly, and perhaps more importantly, Bright Funds helps people learn about where they can maximize their impact in the most pressing cause areas around the globe, and then give to those areas," explains Ty Walrod, the company's co-founder and CEO.

Walrod says Bright Funds solves problems associated with giving that were not being solved well in modern-day philanthropy. He wants to simplify the process of giving, make it more effective, and allow donors to better understand their impact.

He says most people who give on Bright Funds either give to support local organizations and national organizations, but they also focus on cause areas like global poverty, water, education, and human rights.

Crowdfunding for Philanthropy

And while many charities focus on getting attention from wealthy and high-profile donors, Bright Funds sees potential in targeting everyday people.

"We really felt like individuals have this untapped capacity for doing good in the world. Most Americans are giving to charity, and having some impact, but we've talked to a lot of people, and done a lot of research, and we realized that there is immense untapped potential for those same donors, and new donors, to give more and give more effectively to areas of great need. That's what got us excited about starting the company," Walrod says.

At Bright Funds's core is its giving strategy. Instead of just facilitating a way for people to give to specific charities, it creates "funds" of nonprofits that are related by cause. And according to the company, these are groups of nonprofits that have been vetted to be the highest quality in their sector.

"I think one of the things that separates Bright Funds, or really helps Bright Funds stand out and be of value to the donors, is we help giving not be so transactional. We're aiming to democratize that high quality giving information, to empower individuals to give with the same quality of impact as large foundations and high-net-worth individuals," Walrod explains.

Giving with Bright Funds does come with a price. Its for-profit side of the business takes a total of 7.5% to cover donation processing and credit card processing.

"We also partner up a 501c3 that does the charitable giving management side of the business, providing the receipts and distribution to charities all over the globe, so there are really two organizations at the core of Bright Funds. There's Bright Funds Inc. and Bright Funds Foundation," Walrod explains.

But given that some nonprofits spend upwards of $65 out of every $100 on overhead and other expenses, the company is potentially giving donors more bang for their buck in an oft-criticized philanthropy business. It may even be innovating in a way that complements existing organizations, rather than competing.

If you like stories about entrepreneurs helping out underserved communities, check out some of the other stories in the series. Meet the the entrepreneur trying to solve homelessness one person at a time. Or, meet the innovative nonprofit teaching inner city kids about personal finance.

Published on: Aug 15, 2016
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