Branding Beat - Cut Through the Noise

Crowdsourced Funding: Interview with Robert Wolfe of Crowdrise

“If you don’t give back no one will like you.”

That’s the tagline for the crowd-sourced fundraising site, Crowdrise. I mentioned Crowdrise in my crowd-sourced funding overview. According to their site, “Crowdrise is about giving back, raising tons of money for charity and having the most fun in the world while doing it. Crowdrise is way more fun than anything else aside from being all nervous about trying to kiss a girl for the first time and her not saying something like ‘you’ve got to be kidding me.’”

I’ve had the opportunity to interview Robert Wolfe, one of the co-founders of Crowdrise, about their site, their mission, and the function of crowd-sourced funding. Check out what he had to say:

What inspired the creation of Crowdrise?

Prior to starting Crowdrise I started Moosejaw, which sells North Face and Patagonia. When people came into the store, we’d ask if they wanted to play Home Run Derby in the parking lot. We used “nonsensical marketing.” The idea of talking to customers about things unrelated to the sale worked.

When we tried to translate that to the internet we did stuff like blogging, social media, you know, all of those bullshit internet buzzwords before they were bullshit internet buzzwords.

We sold most of Moosejaw in 2007, and when I stepped down in mid-2008, it was in the middle of the 2008 presidential election campaigns. I became infatuated with the marketing of it all. The candidates branded themselves much like Apple. They made it cool, so kids had posters of McCain hanging up in their bedrooms. And they turned their donors into fundraisers. So if someone paid $25 to attend a dinner, they would get a letter that said, “Thanks for donating to our campaign, now raise $250.” And then those people would ask their friends to donate to them.

That worked incredible well, so we started researching the fundraising space, and found that no one was using those techniques for charity. I approached Shauna Robertson (producer of Anchorman, The 40-Year-Old-Virgin, Knocked Up, and Superbad) and told her about our idea, and she said she was in. Edward Norton, her then-boyfriend and now-fiance, was running the New York City Marathon, so we created a unique site and campaign to raise money for the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, and had a ton of fun doing it. Eventually my brother [Jeffrey Wolfe], Shauna Robertson, Edward Norton and I opened that idea up to the public and launched Crowdrise in June 2010.

Did you anticipate Crowdrise taking off in the way that it did?

No, definitely not. This may sound odd, but I think our idea of making giving back fun is working.

What do you think motivates people to join Crowdrise?

I think people want to give back more, and if giving back can be cool, people will do it more. Everyone’s a narcissist, so we need to give people more reasons to post.

How do people encourage other members to donate to their fundraisers?

It’s all about messaging. The “If you build it, they will come” method doesn’t work. People want to know, is it tangible? Also, what’s in it for them? People are self-interested. They want to benefit from it. They want to give to something that looks cool.

And it’s mostly friends helping friends. Think of it this way: if an organization came to you asking for donations, you might not donate. But if your best friend comes to you asking to donate to their fundraiser for a charity, you are going to donate.

What have been some of the most successful fundraisers?

Success is not necessarily dollars raised. We like to highlight the fundraisers that have the most fun, and the ones that best represent our brand. For example, currently featured on our site is a fundraiser called Running for Rhinos. The picture is of two guys in rhino costumes running on the beach.

We also did a campaign with Mozilla Firefox. They offered a $25,000 prize to the charity that raised the most money. A bunch of celebrities joined and started sponsoring their own fundraisers. We turned that $25,000 prize into more than $680,000 raised.

Why do you think Crowdrise and other crowd-sourced funding sites like it work?

I think it goes back to the idea that people like to give back. Let’s say one year I have $500 to give to charity, so I give some to the World Wildlife Fund and American Red Cross. Then, a couple of years later I get the same $500 to give to charity. This time, ten of my friends are holding their own fundraisers for different charities. If I give $50 to each of them, that money is gone. Individuals are taking it upon themselves to raise money for charity, and the organizations that don’t adapt to this new model are going to miss out on my money.

The Takeaways:

  • Crowd-sourced funding works, and it is the marketing tool of the future.
  • “Everyone’s a narcissist,” and you can take advantage of that. Make your brand, fundraiser, or charity cool and fun to encourage more people to get involved. In other words, peer pressure works!
  • You have to actively pursue customers and participants. Never just assume that because you’ve built it, they will come.

Until the next installment in this series, sound off with your thoughts in the comments below! Will you become addicted to giving with Crowdrise? Why do you think crowd-sourced funding works?


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  1. Jen

    This is a great interview Jenna! Peer pressuring your friends into fundraising and donating to charity is a great idea. I wouldn’t turn down a friend who was collecting money for sick kids or homeless animals.

    • Jenna Markowski

      Thanks, Jen! This is definitely one of the only cases where peer pressure is totally acceptable. I agree!

  2. Jill Tooley

    I absolutely love Crowdrise! I hadn’t heard of them before you mentioned them in your first crowdsourcing post, but I’m SO hooked now. I even liked them on FB so I can stay up to date with things. 🙂

    Robert is a smart guy, and a damn ambitious one at that. He’s so right about what motivates (most) people to donate! Of course, I don’t donate to causes solely because I want to “look cool,” but I see what he means. There’s something fun and exciting about finding a good cause/charity that you truly believe in…and then convincing your family/friends to do the same. Brilliant.

    Plus, Crowdrise’s on-staff writers are incredible. I couldn’t stop giggling at some of their copy on the first page (even the fine print is great). This is an organization that’s willing to poke fun at itself while also being transparent and honest with its users — which is SO up my alley.

    Awesome interview, Jenna! 🙂

    • Jenna Markowski

      It looks like Crowdrise has succeeded and has gotten one more person addicted to giving! 🙂

      I couldn’t agree with you more. Robert is right that the bottom line is that people want to “look cool,” and playing off of that line of thinking works. Whether people are giving for selfish reasons or giving just to give, either way they’re giving! And that’s the part that matters!

      Their site content is totally addicting. Their idea of “nonsensical marketing” totally works, and I could spend hours on their site just clicking around looking for more fun things to read!

      Thanks, Jill! 🙂

  3. Mandy Kilinskis

    I just read the Crowdrise story and had to force myself to click out of the window. Like Jill, I just wanted to keep reading all of the funny tidbits…and I figured that I should really get back to writing product descriptions.

    I love their funny, chill, passionate way to raise money for charity. I’m sure that I’ll be sending some money their way for a couple charities – I think that Running for Rhinos will be first on my list.

    Excellent interview! 😀

    • Jenna Markowski

      I had the same problem! Their content is seriously addicting!

      I agree, I’ll probably get an account soon so I can start racking up some more street cred! (And donate to a good cause, of course.)

      Thanks, Mandy! 🙂

  4. Jaimie Smith

    Jenna! This was awesome!! I now am going to look into Crowdrise. I might like them on fb like Jill did. I am so glad you interviewd them now!! You did a great job, girl!

    • Jenna Markowski

      Thanks, Jaimie! I’m glad you’re going to look into it! It is definitely a cool concept, and it’s interesting to see what other charities people are donating to. Plus you can see some of the charities that celebrities are supporting, and help your favorite celebrities raise money for charity as well. There’s a cause out there for everyone.

      Thanks again! 🙂

  5. Rachel

    I had not heard of Crowdrise before your earlier post, Jenna, but it sounds like an amazing company that has used crowdsourcing for a good cause. Ditto to everyone else’s comments about the awesomeness of their copywriting! I definitely plan to look more into this website … excellent interview, Jenna. 🙂

  6. Jenna Markowski

    They are definitely using all of the powers of the internet for good, which is something everyone should get behind! It’s really cool to see all of the technology that we have at our fingertips harnessed and used for something that will actually have an impact on the world. I’m glad you’ll be looking into it more! Thanks, Rachel! 🙂

  7. david k waltz


    That is a great interview! I have run across a few sites related to charity, or funding science projects, or starting a business (I can’t remember them, I tweet them out and then forget, hopefully I can look through what I have sent to find them again!)

    One thing I question is if there is a limitation on these as they gain momentum. In the charity space, there is a certain amount of quid pro quo that goes on – I ask my friend to donate $50 to some event, and then three months later they are asking me for a donation to some event they are involved in.

    So over the course of a year the money I have raised from others has also been spent by me in kind, so it basically becomes a household budget item. After food, clothing and shelter, there is a limit to what is available.

    • Jenna Markowski

      Thank you for reading and commenting, David! I’m glad you enjoyed the interview!

      I think more and more of these sites are popping up, but as they become more popular that number will reach a plateau. Then the fun and unique sites like Crowdrise will be the ones that continue to stand out, and will become the most popular.

      Giving $50 every time a friend asks for it could definitely add up, which is why sites like Crowdrise work because you can choose to give to charities that you are passionate about, and you can choose how much you donate. So if $50 just isn’t in the budget that month, you can opt for $5, or you can choose to just not donate at all! That’s where the whole “getting people addicted to giving” and making it fun and cool comes in. If giving money to charity becomes cool and fun, then it becomes something people want to do rather than a chore to be figured into the budget.

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