When Altruistic Fun Meets Capitalistic Gain

Philanthropy has long had recourse to a broad range of motivational instruments and effective means of pushing social activism through entertainment. But these tools have largely been designed, proven and tested in live fundraising. In 2010, ‘fun-for-a-cause’ came online with the crowdfunding website Crowdrise, which has since become ‘the world’s largest and fastest growing fundraising platform dedicated exclusively to charitable giving’.

Fun for a Cause

Posh lunches, glamorous, star-studded galas, $50,000-a-plate dinners, concerts, performances, sports events, telethons – all have been employed with great success in fundraising campaigns. But these all take place in real life and real time. With the advent of the internet, charity had to ‘translate’ existing mechanisms and invent new ones to make giving back online as entertaining and engaging. Enter Crowdrise and PBL (Points-Badges-Leaderboards), ‘the only rewards program in the giving world’.


It took a star of show business to make a show of the online crowdfunding business. Acclaimed actor and director Edward Norton and his wife, film producer Shauna Robertson, teamed up with the brothers Robert and Jeffrey Wolfe (moosejaw.com founders) to whom we owe the irreverent, nonsensical marketing known as ‘Moosejaw Madness’. Hardly surprising that the team chose the provocative slogan:

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

Crowdrise is a for-profit e-commerce company. The website is a crowdfunding platform where users build their profiles, raise money for established charities or for their own charitable projects, and support those of others. Everything you do on the website earns you points that can be redeemed for goodies and various other rewards, just like in any other PBL system.

Except you don’t usually get rewards like “CAL NAUGHTON JR. INVISIBLE MEDALLION” 🙂
And you’d hardly expect to get a badge for emailing a napkin photo.

Crowdrise Crowdrise Rewards


Robert Wolfe: “When we started researching the charity space, we concluded it’s boring at best, and, in most cases, guilt-ridden and burdensome. The notion of people enjoying giving back, that didn’t exist at all.”


PBL Comes to Charity

post-how-crowdrise-works (1)


For all the fun irreverence, there is a system to the “Crowdrise chaos” and sometimes top leaderboard scorers even get more traditional prizes such as a Macbook Pro, Kindle, or Wii.

Users get 10 Crowdrise Impact Points for every $1 they raise or donate, with many other opportunities to earn CIPs while exploring the website and following Crowdrise on social media. CIPs can get you awesome Crowdrise T-shirts and hats but more importantly, they are presented as ‘a reflection of one’s charitable life’.

No self-respecting gamification project can do without missions and challenges and Crowdrise has people coming back and again with time-limited donor contests, fundraiser competitions, and ‘celebrity experiences’.

Celebrity Fundraisers Crowdrise

The badges are called Royal Crests and are “the best and most important marks of distinction in the world — more important than a Nobel Prize, a Lombardi Trophy and winning Best Smile in the 7th grade mock elections”.

Earn 200,000 CIPs and you not only receive the Tsar Crest, but ‘get to wear a cape year round and you get invited to the monthly Tsar Conference on Malta which really doesn’t exist’ 🙂

Riding the wave of philanthrocapitalism?

So what really happens when ‘altruistic fun’ meets capitalistic gain? In five years, the money donated through the site is estimated at more than $350 million. The for-profit venture has indeed been profitable and in 2014 landed a significant investment of $23 million. There have been allegations that Crowdrise may not be as charitable as it seems and is in fact a ‘common middleman’ enjoying undeserved accolades and riches.

Meanwhile, Crowdrise claims to have simple, transparent fees and the ‘lowest pricing of any fundraising site’:

“If you’re raising money for a cause, CrowdRise will guarantee 3% pricing (includes credit card fees). That means you keep at least $97 of every $100 you raise. For real. Nearly every other fundraising site will charge you at least 8%. Plus, there are no fundraising goal or deadline requirements so you keep what you raise.”

What is more, Edward Norton argues they are far more cost-efficient than traditional charities:

“Traditional fundraising, like hosting a rubber-chicken dinner, costs charities around 25 or 30 percent of every dollar raised. The idea that such a fundraising model is fine and should be left alone is absurd. It is a massive inefficiency in the marketplace, and we want to revolutionize it.”


Beyond PBL, the Sky’s the Limit

Free, fast, and fun is fine and the Crowdrise team rightfully take pride in their gamification efforts so far. But they are constantly looking for more ways to gamify the platform and enhance users’ experience, motivating them to give back and empowering them to feel good in the process. 


2014 was marked by the launch of the Giving Tower app which uses immersive virtual reality technology to visualize donors’ impact on #GivingTuesday – the global day dedicated to giving back.



In the words of Robert Wolfe, “the Giving Tower is exactly what Crowdrise is about – making giving back interesting, and notable, and fun”. We can only look forward to their next ‘epic, wild, and crazy’ idea (while we wait for the first-ever winner of that mysterious and most special crest in the world – the Baby Quintas Crest :))




2 thoughts on “When Altruistic Fun Meets Capitalistic Gain”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.