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The Next Big Thing? - WeRaise

| 05.30.2014 |

Crowdfunding has become the go-to strategy for many individuals seeking to raise money for various projects. One of the most intriguing crowfunding platforms to recently emerge is WeRaise, a Christian crowdfunding platform from the Itasca, Ill.-based Wheat Ridge Ministries.


According to its organizers, WeRaise “helps organizations engage their online community to support new, innovative programs that meet community needs and bring health, hope and healing. WeRaise-funded programs also have an opportunity to garner additional support through Wheat Ridge Ministries’ longstanding grant programs, organizational work and ministry resources.”


We spoke with Abigail Miller, manager of crowdfunding and social media at Wheat Ridge Ministries, about how WeRaise fits into the crowdfunding universe.


Q: What was the inspiration for WeRaise and how long did it take you to launch this endeavor?


Abigail Miller: Wheat Ridge Ministries, the host of WeRaise, has been providing grants to new health and human care ministries for over 60 years. Thousands of ministries around the world have started with seed funding from Wheat Ridge.

A few years ago, we began a strategic planning process, considering ways we could continue to increase the impact of our grant programs. We realized that creating a crowdfunding website, WeRaise, to feed into our grant programs would do exactly that.


We also want the site to serve as a catalyst for inspired, but hesitant leaders, giving them the encouragement they need to try their new idea. For us, this wasn’t simply jumping on the crowdfunding bandwagon, it was a strategic investment in a tool that will both equip inspired leaders and maximize the investments we are making through our grants.


The process of implementation has been a little over a year. We did our homework to make sure we weren’t duplicating efforts. We saw that there weren’t any sites that appeared to be offering Christian crowdfunding successfully. Additionally, there weren’t crowdfunding sites that included opportunities for additional funding or support after the project. We built the site and had a soft launch late in 2013. The soft launch included a select group of projects that provided valuable feedback regarding the user experience.


We officially launched WeRaise in January 2014, with a focus on offering education and resources around building a successful crowdfunding project. We’ve received great interest from a variety of projects across the country and are looking forward to the culmination of the preparation time invested by these leaders.


Q: Why should people turn to WeRaise instead of crowdsourcing sites like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo?


Abigail Miller: There are three primary distinctions between WeRaise and other crowdfunding sites. The biggest difference is that successful projects on WeRaise are eligible to apply for Wheat Ridge’s grant programs. Projects that want to scale, replicate, or expand their program may apply for the funds needed through one of our Wheat Ridge grant programs, instead of only having additional crowdfunding campaigns as a funding source.


Second, Wheat Ridge does not take any fees from the project’s funds. Most sites have to cover their overhead because crowdfunding is what they do, often taking at least a 5% cut from the project’s funds. I’ve included the Kickstarter and Indiegogo fee structures below. At Wheat Ridge, thanks to our generous donors, we can view crowdfunding similar to our grant programs - they are a resource we offer, not a means of revenue generation. Successful projects only pay credit card processing fees which are approximately 3.7%. There are no fees for unsuccessful projects.


Third, WeRaise is hosted by Wheat Ridge Ministries, a reputable grant-making organization with an established donor base. We have years of experience helping new ministries launch and succeed through our grant programs. We vet each of our crowdfunding projects, just as we do with all grant applicants. This means donors have added confidence when making their tax-deductible donations.


Additionally, Wheat Ridge helps spread the word about WeRaise projects by endorsing them and sharing them with our thousands of donors. Recently, WeRaise became even more valuable to a particular audience - those looking to raise money for a ministry sabbatical. Wheat Ridge recognizes the importance of ministry leaders taking time to renew and refresh.


As sabbatical grant opportunities have all but disappeared, Wheat Ridge recognizes the position WeRaise is in to be a valuable tool for these leaders. To encourage ministry leaders to use WeRaise to fund their sabbaticals, Wheat Ridge offers an automatic $500 pledge to any sabbatical project posted on the site.


Q: What have been some of the notable WeRaise endeavors?


Abigail Miller: There have been three particularly noteworthy projects that have made a splash on WeRaise. One was the very first project, from Holy Family Ministries and the Peace Exchange in Chicago. The project raised funds for a group of young adults from Chicago’s city neighborhoods to travel to Myanmar to film a documentary. Before the trip, they studied violence, from domestic abuse to genocide, and the factors that lead to violence. They went to an area with a similar socioeconomic situation to Chicago, but with far less street crime. There they met with community leaders and studied traditions and habits of peace. Upon their return, they are sharing their documentary with students in Chicago Public Schools and sharing their strategies for peace.


Another noteworthy project was the Lutheran Deaconess Association, Valparaiso, Ind., which raised funds for virtual retreats for caregivers. The virtual retreats are 90-minute group Skype sessions where they encourage and pray for those caring for others. The leaders of the project were self-admittedly not tech-savvy. Their success was a testament to how user-friendly WeRaise is designed to be and, more importantly, to the fact that you don’t have to be a tech whiz to have a successful crowdfunding project. The project exceeded its original goal of $3,800, and the leaders were thrilled with the crowdfunding process.


Finally, we had a group of students from St. Paul’s Lutheran School in St. Louis raise funds for the local Ronald McDonald House. The Junior Honor Society serves dinner to RMDH families throughout the year and noticed that the stoves were falling apart and not functioning correctly. The group had a goal of raising $1,800 for new stoves for the RMDH. When the campaign ended they had raised almost triple their goal, not including a match that was being provided by the Lutheran Foundation of St. Louis. Total funds brought in for the Ronald McDonald House by the St. Paul’s students was just under $6,500.


Q: What are your goals for WeRaise?


Abigail Miller: Over the course of the next 12 months, we want 100 organizations to post health and human care projects on WeRaise. As more projects post, we are working to maintain a higher-than-industry average project success rate and higher-than-average gift size. More importantly, we want to see an increase in our grant applications, primarily driven by successful WeRaise projects applying for additional funding.


Meeting these short-term goals will be an indicator that we are successfully accomplishing our ultimate goal of empowering and equipping inspired leaders to meet the needs in their community.


WeRaise is online at www.WeRaise.us and Wheat Ridge Ministries is online at www.wheatridge.org.