If you're in Omaha, you may have noticed roadside billboards or coffee shop handouts promoting a new crowd-funding site called Red Basket. The effort isn't some new startup, instead it's a new approach to giving back by a 122-year-old Omaha insurance company, Woodmen of the World.
Red Basket, a person-to-person giving site, launched in select Nebraska, Iowa and South Carolina counties last October. The nonprofit is the result of Woodmen vice president Colleen Maciejewski's research into reenergizing the company's community outreach for its customers.
"We have just over 720,000 (customers)," she said, "but only four to six percent are active, participating in the community outreach efforts that we have."
The donation site, completely financed by Woodmen, is not just for use by Woodmen customers, however. Any visitor to the site can donate to projects, such as funding for a mother's cancer treatment or a special van for a toddler with spinal muscular atrophy. Woodmen covers all transaction fees, so 100 percent of the funds donated go directly to the specific project a donor selects.
"It's an extension of what Woodmen's always done," said Maciejewski (right), who's now dedicated full-time to Red Basket as its president.
Red Basket enables donors to assist askers in overcoming financial hardships in a very specific set of situations, including medical issues and acts of nature. An individual can have up to three asks through Red Basket per year, four in a lifetime.
"You might get one surgery taken care of and then three months later something else happens," Maciejewski said. But she added that a limit was necessary because Red Basket shouldnâ€™t be seen as the first answer.
Donations through Red Basket are tax-deductible (unlike Kickstarter, which doesn't define its transactions as donations). An asker receives all the pledged donations, whether or not she met her stated goal, and similar to Kickstarter, askers can receive more than their goal.
Unless, that is, it's a community project. Donations for, say, a local playground are stopped as soon as a goal is reached. "The money has to go directly to a project that an organization is doing, not an organization in general," Maciejewski said. "Our biggest thing is transparency."
To aid in transparency, each ask is assigned an account manager to verify its authenticity using, for example, copies of medical bills. Red Basket also works with trusted partners, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, who verify applicants in their own systems and refer them to Red Basket.
Though Maciejewski had a rough plan when she first pitched the concept of Red Basket to Woodmen of the World, she credits local web development company What Cheer with keeping the project moving. "They not only understood our mission," she said of Alex Gates, John HobbsÂ and John Henry MĂĽller, "they had our passion."
Gates is particularly enthusiastic about a feature that's still in the works for Red Basket. The site will eventually enable recruitment of skilled volunteers, allowing a professional videographer, for example, to select a story and help promote it with his skills, as Love Drunk Studio did with Sadie's Wings. "It's exponentially valuable to the final project," Gates said. Maciejewski hopes that the ability for volunteers to bid on projects will be ready before Red Basket's nationwide rollout, scheduled for midsummer.
What Cheer designed the Red Basket brand from the website down to the name itself, but now that it's closed down its business as a development firm â€“ it merged with a California-based startup â€“ itÂ transferredÂ the account to another Omaha shop, Agape Red.
"(Red Basket's) brand is young but established," Gates said, "and I think a good designer will be able to take that and continue."
As of last Friday, Red Basket has closed five projects.
Here's a Woodmen promotional video introducing Red Basket.