There is no shortage of quality organizations working on issues related to women and girls, but many are in danger of closing; they raise under half the average amount of what other charities and nonprofits are able to raise. Now there’s a place for these organizations to get some real help from the public—and instead of making a donation into an organizational black hole, donors can see exactly what will happen with their cash, courtesy of a new fundraising platform called Catapult.
Catapult, which is being hosted at advocacy organization Women Deliver, is a crowdfunding platform for organizations that are working for women and girls, running the gamut from a project that provides grants to women entrepreneurs in Senegal to an organization raising money to fund reproductive health education in the Philippines.
"Looking around the whole advocacy space, it was really clear that this was a missing piece where we could create a place where all the issues that impact girls and women are posted for people to go to, and they could give and take action in alignment with their philanthropic preferences," says Maz Kessler, founder of Catapult.
Just eight weeks into a beta launch, Catapult has over 80 organizations on the site—and some of the initiatives, like the aforementioned reproductive health education project for Roots of Health, are almost funded. It helps that the site has an association with Women Deliver, a well-respected organization in the space. There’s also just a hunger for this. "Certainly the need is close to infinite," says Kessler. Currently, there are 140 organizations on the waiting list.
Like Kickstarter and so many other crowdfunding sites before it, Catapult lets donors see how far along projects are to being funded, and how many people have given money along the way. The budgets for each project are laid out for all to see. Roots of Health, for example, needs $1,800—$315 for contraceptives, $1,310 to pay the nurses who will teach reproductive education classes and offer free clinical services, $95 for transportation, and $80 for medical supplies.
Catapult doesn’t take a cut of the money raised; the platform is supported by a grant for the next year. "As we start to scale, it’s a really good investment for foundations interested in civic engagement to invest in the operating costs of the platform," says Kessler.
Nine of the projects, including one that will help female refugees adjust[/url ]to American life, are supported by a matching grant from Johnson and Johnson. Catapult hopes to add more corporate partnerships in the future, but Kessler stresses, "We’re not going to change our position. We are absolutely pro-choice, so if that doesn’t work for a company, they won’t use [the platform]."
In a nod to some of the online fundraising platforms that pre-dated Kickstarter, Catapult lets donors organize into teams. There are 86 so far. The top [url=http://www.catapult.org/team/millsaps-college]team, from Millsaps College in Jackson Mississippi, has raised $1,208 for the The Afghan Institute of Learning, which offers scholarships to Afghan girls.
Kessler is looking forward to a handful of profile-raising initiatives for Catapult in the next six months, including global events that will use Catapult as an online giving solution. And while she believes that user engagement has been just okay thus far, it probably hasn’t hurt that comedian Sarah Silverman tweeted about the platform to her nearly 4 million Twitter followers: "Want the very best chance for our girls and daughters and young women? Check this shit out."
"We’re engaging really intensely with the comedy community," says Kessler. "We want to make sure we have a sense of humor around what we’re doing. As you know, feminists have a sort of reputation [for seriousness]."
Catapult is also courting a community that is often ignored by organizations serving women and girls: men. There’s a reason, Kessler says, that the platform isn’t called something like "She-Catapult." "One of the reasons that the sector is egregiously underfunded is that we’re still very separatist about our issues," she explains. "We just don’t think that works."