DETROIT (WWJ) — Thanks to an $85,000 grant from the Marjorie S. Fisher Fund, a new crowdfunding site is enabling Detroit residents to help neighbors in need overcome one-time economic hurdles — from helping to pay for uniforms and transit passes for work or laptops and eyeglasses for school.

Chicago-based Benevolent, founded in 2011, has opened Detroit operations.

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Benevolent aims to transform the way people provide and receive support, bringing dignity and self-determination to both sides of the giving equation. The site allows users to make a small donation toward people’s needs.

To identify local individuals with specific needs, Benevolent has partnered with local nonprofits, including The Arc Detroit, Black Family Development, and Catholic Community Response Team. Benevolent then provides each individual with a profile page where they can use stories, photos, and videos to describe that need and how overcoming it will help them pursue their goal of work, education, or personal sustainability.

Funds raised through Benevolent are sent as a grant to the local nonprofit, which then fulfills the client’s need. Individuals’ profiles continue to be regularly updated to show donors the immediate impact of their contributions.

During a testing period in Detroit over the summer, Benevolent helped local residents achieve their goals, including George, a carpenter who needed $780 to buy tools so that he could work as a carpenter as a means of transitioning out of homelessness.

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Benevolent’s new Detroit office will be overseen by community engagement manager Andrea Perkins, a native of Detroit and graduate of the Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service at New York University. She previously worked for Midtown Detroit Inc, where she managed two housing incentive programs that brought over 500 families to targeted areas and distributed over $2 million in subsidies.

Benevolent was founded by Megan Kashner, who recognized digital media’s potential to leverage the fact that people are twice as willing to help individuals in need when presented with a single person’s name, image and story rather than an anonymous appeal. Reflecting Benevolent’s potential impact, Kashner was invited to present at last year’s White House Forum on Philanthropy Innovation, where the keynote speaker, Jean Case of the Case Foundation, hailed it as one of the most innovative programs discussed at the forum.

“Benevolent’s proven model will help low-income Detroit-area residents get on the road to self-sufficiency by letting small-dollar donors lend a hand with critical one­time needs,” Kashner said. “It allows donors to both make a direct impact on a neighbor’s life and play a small but vital role in creating a stronger, more connected, and more caring community.”

“Many residents in our community have one-time, goal-restricting needs that often cannot be met by the funding guidelines of organizations like ours,” said Suzanne Kimmerly, program supervisor for the Catholic Community Response Team. “It was actually a client who suggested we partner with Benevolent, and with their help that client is now one step closer to starting a new job. Besides assisting with funding issues, Benevolent also helps give clients a sense of responsibility and self-reliance by being directly invested their goals.”

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