Campus Climate: The Philanthropy Philosophers

Wooley, Paul

Correction appended

Burnt out after his sophomore year, Matt Cynamon wanted to do what any frazzled student would do: Drop out of NU and climb the Great Wall of China for charity.Not knowing how to do the fundraising, CynaMonday, now a Communication senior, enlisted his friend and 2008 grad Devin Balkind in the cause. They lamented that lots of people- students, especially- had big ideas and hearts but small wallets, and lacked the means to contribute to pet causes.At the end of 2006, the duo’s friends, SESP senior Jackson Froliklong and Weinberg senior Micah Friedland, entered the mix. They schemed about a social networking site that would raise money for charities and non-profits by having visitors post “challenges.” “We were a couple of guys with an idea that we thought was really cool,” Cynamon says. “But everyone has those ideas – some people act on them and some people don’t.” So they acted. In the spring of 2007, the quartet entered InNuvations’s first-ever NU Venture Challenge, a university-wide entrepreneurship competition. The undergrads beat out scores of graduate students, walking away with a third prize of $7,000.A year and a half later, BeExtraordinary.org is about to launch, armed with high expectations and serious potential. How it works: People interested in raising donations can create a “challenge” pledging to do something – anything – for a charity or non-profit. The site also tracks fundraising and provides a linkable spot to hype the philanthropic goal.The team believes their idea will not only work but could change the fundraising game. “People are going around with canisters asking for money when they could be engaging their entire social network online for their cause,” Balkind says.BeExtraordinary’s challengers will be able to fundraise for 501(c)(3) as well as 501(c)(4) organizations, which differ because the former can lobby for particular causes, whereas the latter can’t. That means that students can raise money for their own organizations, which qualify under 501(c)(4) status, and draw support in a way that reflects their own personality and objectives. “In the traditional model of just asking someone for money for a cause, the only incentive they have to give is the cause itself,” Cynamon says. “The challenge gives you the opportunity to support the person rather than just the cause alone.”The BeExtraordinary crew isn’t the first to realize people need a reason to open their wallets – philantrhopists have been running marathons and pulling stunts for pledges for ages. “Everyone knows there is bad in the world, the problem is there isn’t an impetus for people to do anything about it,” Froliklong says. “But if your friend is willing to do something really fascinating, then that person becomes a driving force for getting other people to donate.”Though BeExtraordinary could be an innovative platform for non-profit fundraising, the organization is actually for-profit. The guys will draw revenue by partnering with philanthropically-minded corporations as other charity consultancies do. Companies can sponsor challenges and receive advertising space in return.That kind of sponsorship can catalyze brands in a big way. According to a 2007 CECP study on corporate philanthropy, 87 percent of consumers would switch products based on a particular company’s association with a good cause. “Companies trying to broadcast their social responsibility will now have the opportunity to do so directly with the types of people that would care,” Cynamon adds. “The challengers benefit, too – people raising money now have access to an enormous pool of wealth that’s looking to spend money in this area.”Will it work? CynaMonday, Froliklong and Balkind hope that good timing and market readiness will help them succeed. Slated to launch sometime next week, BeExtraordinary will debut at Northwestern and plans to eventually expand nationwide. Initially, only NU community members will be able to create challenges, but anyone can give. But since social networks depend on people, the entrepreneurs face their own challenge: getting them in the game.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the address of BeExtraordinary’s Web site. The URL is beextraordinary.org.