By Michael Jacobs / mjacobs@atljewishtimes.com

From a playground in Toco Hills to young-adult Shabbat celebrations in Midtown to soap for Israeli troops on the front

Michael Jacobs

Michael Jacobs

line, Jewish fundraising and innovation are charging together into the 21st century with the spread of crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding through Jewish platforms provides donors small and large the opportunity to give quickly, easily and immediately to innovative programs that might be overlooked or caught in bureaucratic red tape through traditional funding procedures, such as Federation’s allocations process or grant applications to foundations. It’s an ideal combination of innovation, technology and Judaism.

A Jewish-led campaign at GoFundMe this spring raised $8,750 from 133 contributors to ensure the construction of a public playground for Toco Hills at Kittredge Park.

The Temple and the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival are raising money to support their First Fridays program through Jewcer (jewcer.com/project/strengthening-first-fridays-and-sacred-jewish-atlanta). Eleven donors pledged $576 toward a $1,800 goal in the first five days of that ongoing monthlong campaign.

Unlike Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites, Jewcer isn’t an all-or-nothing platform, so the money will flow to First Fridays as the donations are made.

That takes away some of the excitement of the two million-dollar-plus national campaigns that Jewish organizations have run this year on Charidy. Each of those 24-hour fundraisers required not only that the campaign total topped the goal, but that each organization participating in the drive met its own goal; otherwise, no organization would have received a penny.

In the first of those campaigns, #MillionForOutreach, the youth program at Congregation Ariel was one of the 19 beneficiary groups. It easily exceeded its goal of $25,000, eventually raising more than $33,000, but had to sweat out the final hour of the campaign for the last three organizations to meet their goals. In the end, $1.36 million went to Jewish outreach organizations in mid-February.

That success sparked #MillionsForChesed at the start of June. No Atlanta-area organizations were involved, but the campaign raised more than $3.44 million for 16 organizations, crushing the goal of $2.85 million.

The extra twist in the Charidy campaigns was the mandatory role of matching donors. Each organization had to line up three matching donors so that every dollar pledged would turn into $4.

Crowdfunding also provide a rising-tide effect.

In the Charidy campaigns, funders who supported one group were motivated to investigate and contribute to other organizations to ensure that all met their goals. To that end, donors had an option to contribute to all the organizations with one click.

At Jewcer, where campaigns are more than twice as likely to hit their goals as at Kickstarter, donors typically check out multiple campaigns when they visit and often wind up giving to programs they wouldn’t otherwise have known about.

Jewcer also runs frequent contests among campaigns in which it provides grants to those that raise the most money in a certain period. First Fridays is one of 54 campaigns competing for three $1,800 grants.

A former co-worker of mine who made aliyah participated in such a Jewcer contest with a soap-making business, Happy+Ness, last year. She and her daughter raised nearly $2,200 to help launch the business, which aims to give single Israeli moms a safe place on a kibbutz to live and work for two years to get their lives on track.

Sure, I’m still waiting for the T-shirt and soap bars promised for my donation, but I’ll settle for knowing that my contribution helped Happy+Ness supply free soap to Israel Defense Forces soldiers fighting in Operation Protective Edge last summer.