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from Silicon Valley Business Ink, September 7, 2001

Craigslist branches out, assists nonprofits
by Christina Bellantoni

The simple, community feel of Craigslist.org is reaching into the Bay Area's nonprofit landscape.

Next week, founder Craig Newmark will launch his new baby, a charitable foundation, with the mission of connecting community members and small nonprofits to build relationships and educate donors.

"The foundation was modeled by our own approach to things. We prefer the small and direct, and have lost faith in the big institutions to get a lot done. It's much more effective for small self-organizing organizations to make things happen," says Newmark, who is not a member of the nonprofit's board and won't have a direct influence over the foundation, which quietly became a 501(c)3 a few months ago.

The foundation has been a vision in Newmark's mind for more than a year, and its structure remains fluid while the 23 Craigslist employees work out the kinks.

It's an extension of the nonprofit work Craigslist has been doing in the Bay Area, including hosting a nonprofit venture forum on a regular basis at which nonprofits pitch to philanthropists.

"Nonprofits are appreciative of what Craigslist is trying to do," says Barb Larson, director of development at Community Foundation Silicon Valley in San Jose. "They're a trendsetter in thinking of new ways to connect nonprofits with donors."

Larson's sentiment is echoed by CFSV's Peninsula counterpart.

"It's great Newmark is promoting philanthropy and demonstrating that giving groups are powerful and can make a difference," says Debbie Ford-Scriba, spokeswoman at the Peninsula Community Foundation in San Mateo.

Once the Craigslist Foundation launches, a nonprofit will be able to visit the site (www.craigslistfoundation.org) and become a part of its community by signing up for a newsletter and registering for the venture forum. At the same time, a philanthropist can view the nonprofits in the spotlight and link to nonprofit sites in the Bay Area. Newmark imagines this will grow over time like the original Web site, which has a presence in 16 metropolitan areas.

The community feel of Craigslist lends perfectly to a virtual connecting of nonprofits, says Alexis Collentine, a family advocate at nonprofit Head Start in Berkeley and avid Craigslist user.

"It makes giving more accessible, and it's hard to get the word out at a nonprofit," Collentine says, adding that the venture forum would be a great avenue to get Head Start's needs out to philanthropists.

The forum is supported by many nonprofit leaders, but the foundation's online base is being looked at more critically by at least one.

"It's not how charity works," says Harry Gruber, CEO of San Diego-based Kintera Inc., a firm that does Internet marketing for nonprofits.

Gruber compares the foundation to online sites like Helping.org and Guidestar.org -- which, in fact, can be linked to from the foundation site -- but also to unsuccessful ventures that were similar in structure.

Both E-Contributors and Charitable Way gave up, says Gruber, suggesting the reason involved a flawed economic model that didn't pull enough traffic.

But Newmark isn't worried about potential competitors or the bankrupt organizations, though he does admit the commitment of resources will be significant to get the foundation off the ground.

"We can't do enough to raise consciousness of the need for giving people a break, but you have to pay the bills," he says.

The foundation's funding will come from a combination of Craigslist revenue -- driven mostly by fees for job postings -- and public contributions.

"We can fund it to the extent we need to, which will put a strain on Craigslist but not an immediate one," Newmark says, suggesting that each site could post a virtual tip jar asking for donations.