from The Boston Herald, October 26, 2000
shortened version

Charity begins on the Net:
Web-based organization matches nonprofits with corporate givers

By Azell Murphy Cavaan

...Founded in June, and the accompanying Craigslist forum represent a new way for Bay State nonprofit agencies, foundations and private funders to do business.

In the traditional fund-raising setting, grant-writing often moves slowly and can bog down young nonprofits trying to get off the ground.

But Craigslist's forum does away with the bureaucracy and, instead, puts fund-raising in the hands of community members interested in ``building a better Boston,'' noted Meryl Bralower - craigslist boston community builder.

Earlier this month, Craigslist Nonprofit Venture Forum brought together six fledgling nonprofit groups and 30 potential funders.

The gathering, which took place at the University Park Hotel in Cambridge, resembled a pitch meeting before venture capitalists.

``It was bold and refreshing,'' said Gena Pirtle, corporate philanthropy manager for Cisco Systems, an Internet hardware and software company, which attended the forum.

One by one, each nonprofit organization touted its program's merits for 10 minutes and shared with potential investors its vision for its future.

Most importantly, the nonprofits informed deep-pocketed potential funders of how they could help.

While no checks were exchanged that night, groundwork had been laid, Bralower said.

``We tapped into potential,'' she said. ``Relationships were established.''

Macy DeLong, founder and executive director of Solutions At Work, a self-help organization for people who are homeless, said the forum provided a refreshing alternative to the traditional grant-writing process and the painstaking solicitation of individual donations.

``The concept is fabulous because as start-ups, many of us don't have connections to bring the people whom we want to bring our message to into the room,'' said DeLong, whose nonprofit organization is run by people who have experienced homelessness.

``Unless you have a name or a board member or someone who can get you through the door with big companies,'' she said, ``no matter how exciting your organization is, you're competing with so many groups with so many needs, that it's a case of philanthropists being barraged by too many organizations.''

Craigslist helps foundations shorten those lists by identifying promising nonprofits that, though they are still young, have already mapped out goals and projections for the future.

After a background check, Craigslist chooses a handful of nonprofit organizations to participate in the program.

The forum then helps these agencies prepare what some have called ``the nonprofit equivalent of a business plan'' for presentation before potential funders.

``We help them perfect their pitch,'' Bralower said.

``We teach them to state up front what it is they're after and spend the remainder of the time explaining how the resources will be used.''

Pirtle, the philanthropy manager from Cisco Systems, said the forum saves valuable time for her corporation.

The chance to hear firsthand from community activists about the projects they are involved with has proven to be far more telling than the traditional method of grant proposals, which the foundation routinely receives, she said.

``Grant proposals can't give you a feel for the passion behind the cause the way that these forums can,'' Pirtle said.

``By bringing nonprofits and funders together, Craigslist can help facilitate some powerful giving. It's an idea whose time has come.''