Handup is a crowdsourcing model to help neighbors on the street. Here’s how HandUp works:
- Members in need sign up via community partners.
- Donors contribute directly to member goals.
- Members redeem donations for basic needs.
- Handup sends donors member updates.
HandUp is based in San Francisco. URL www.handup.org.
About Rose Broome, Co-Founder & CEO
She’d sidestepped hundreds of men and women living on the streets of San Francisco before, but something about the woman shivering in the cold California night gave Rose Broome pause. A thought flickered in her consciousness. What if helping this woman, and the thousands like her, wasn’t just beyond her grasp, but firmly planted in the palm of her hand in the form of her smartphone? With that thought, the seed for HandUp was planted.
Just months later, her idea took real shape. Rose shared the concept with her friend and programmer Zac Witte, and he signed on to build the platform: a mobile friendly Web site that allows people to donate directly to people in need. The crowdfunding site features vignettes showcasing individual people in need that include a description of the resources necessary to give that person a hand up. The charitable giving platform is a simple, elegant and direct way for donors to immediately impact the lives of their less fortunate neighbors, those HandUp calls their “members.”
Potential new members sign up with HandUp through any number of well-respected social service agencies with which HandUp has partnered. A caseworker makes a professional assessment of the member’s need and encourages them in the crafting of their online story, which is then posted on the site. Donors visit the site and contribute to a member’s goals after reading through these stories and selecting the one (or more) that speaks most directly to them. Donors can also elect to contribute on a recurring or one-time basis to the National Fund. HandUp then allocates the funds from the National Fund to those it assesses are most in need.
Jeffrey lived on the streets for seven years. Several months ago, his tools were stolen while he slept in the park. He has seasonal work in the form of building stages for San Francisco’s big events: Outside Lands, the ice rink at Union Square, etc. Without his tools, he couldn’t work. He mentioned it to his caseworker at Project Homeless Connect when he went in for fresh hygiene supplies and socks. She told him about HandUp, and together they wrote his profile. Within one week, he’d met his funding goal. He got an email from his caseworker on his phone, and went into the office and ordered the tools from Amazon. He was so successful that he is currently using HandUp again for help in furnishing the basic needs of his newfound SRO housing. “As soon as I get a full-time job, I’ll feel like I’m back on my feet and won’t use HandUp anymore,” he said. In the meantime, he’s immensely grateful to the donors who are making his dreams a reality, and shares his gratitude with them on the HandUp platform. “Seeing [the donors’] encouraging comments [on the site] means a lot to me. It’s allowed me to see the best of humanity,” he said.
Once funded, members work with their caseworker to fulfill the need. HandUp sends checks monthly to its partner agencies. One hundred percent of the donations are funneled directly to the member.
Despite the fact that HandUp provides a technology solution, at its core it’s human-centered. “We don’t take what we do lightly. We work with a very vulnerable community,’ comments Meghan Murphy, HandUp’s marketing and community lead.
Rose’s crowdfunding concept provides a well-designed solution to a longstanding concern: how to effectively assist our homeless neighbors without handing out cash on the streets. Rose’s concept ushered in a simpler, robust model, and it caught the city’s attention. Just four months into 2015, its second year in operation, HandUp has met 2,206 needs for 625 members. Two thousand, eight hundred and seventeen donors had raised $713,000. Kara Zordel, director of San Francisco’s Project Homeless Connect—HandUp’s first partner social service organization—says that HandUp has funded nearly $200,000 for her client’s needs, helping them obtain dentures, housing, wheelchair repairs, birth certificates, and much more.
Other cities have taken note, and there are pilot programs underway in Detroit, Wenatchie, Washington, and Corvallis, Oregon. There is enormous interest, but HandUp is reluctant to scale too quickly, particularly as they are committed to being very thoughtful and thorough with respect to selecting their social service agency partners. According to Meghan Murphy, their nonprofit partners report that the HandUp model is one of the best tools they have to help their clients. Zordel recalls the early 2015 Mission district fires, “Lots of low-income families lost their housing. There were 30 families who lost everything. HandUp was an amazing tool. We used that platform to fundraise so quickly to keep people’s lives as stable as possible.”
HandUp has, thus far, steadily grown both its donors and receivers at the same level. Most donors learn of HandUp through press efforts and word of mouth, but HandUp members also have cards they can distribute on the streets that direct people to the website. In May, a card that acts in reverse was introduced: donors can present gift cards to their homeless neighbors who aren’t already on the HandUp platform. To be redeemed, the member must visit one of HandUp’s partner organizations.
Zordel purchased one of those cards and gave it to a man who had been camped outside her office for months. He (and his dog) had refused all offers of help. The $50 gift card did the trick. He came into the office to redeem the card. Soon, he was hooked up with the services he needed to start on the road out of homelessness.
“We’re in a really interesting time and space with this crowdfunding concept,” remarks Justin Steele, Google.org’s Bay Area director. “Most people are altruistic, but we’re not often asked to act upon it in a thoughtful way. Rose has been very thoughtful about how to empower people with dignity and self worth. It’s not a hand out, it’s a hand up.” He adds, “Rose won over a very skeptical provider community that’s been doing this a long time.”
Kara Zordel, a member of that skeptical provider community, concurs. “When Rose walked into our first meeting, she knew that she wanted to end homelessness. She knew she had the technology piece and then she learned the rest by really working with the ground floor—the social workers and the people on the streets—to understand what was really needed. That’s what inspired me to work with her.” Referring to a Housing and Urban Development study that found the number one way to end homelessness is engagement, not housing, Zordel adds, “This is one of the most effective tools for engagement I’ve ever seen. It gives a struggling person a voice and makes them a stakeholder in their success.”
Rose also impressed Julie Lein and her colleagues at Tumml, a local accelerator whose mission it is to support entrepreneurs solving urban problems. Early on, they gave her office space and advising for four months, as well as $20,000 in seed funding. She was part of Tumml’s inaugural class. Rose had deliberated carefully about how she wanted to incorporate. California had recently legislated to allow operation as a public benefit corporation (B Corps), which provides for a high-growth business model and a legally binding social mission. Rose and Zac had both worked at for-profit enterprises that were working for the common good, and they were intrigued by the opportunity to scale the business model as a B-Corp and the access to early-stage funding that isn’t found in the nonprofit sector. In the end, a TED talk by Harvard business school professor Michael Porter convinced her to incorporate as a B-Corp, so that she might be better able to solve some of the more intractable social problems that many nonprofits and government agencies have found difficult to surmount.
Soon, she received a further $850,000 from a host of Silicon Valley’s elite investors. And in 2014, Rose and HandUp were named Global Winners of the 1776 seed fund’s Challenge Festival, with a prize of $100,000. In early 2015, Google.org committed $500,000 for a gift-matching campaign that will double the contributions of donors to HandUp members. Other funding comes directly from the donors: 80% percent choose to donate $5 to HandUp to help fund operating costs when they contribute to its members.
With the same thoughtful approach Rose has taken with every step of HandUp’s development, they are looking at the long-term possibilities of creating systems that give the disenfranchised agency to help themselves. They are in talks, for instance, with pharmacies and hotels to create partnerships that would allow them to accept HandUp cards or points in lieu of hard cash. Another very real possibility is looking at how to integrate into civic and federal programs. “Beyond the next five years, we really want to be that platform to distribute funds to people facing inequality,” said Meghan Murphy. Their vision is for a more direct pass-through of funds than exists in the current system. That system has banks, which control electronic banking transfer contracts for the government (e.g., food stamps) making millions of dollars off the poor. According to the Government Accountability Institute, JP Morgan Chase, which controls EBT contracts in nearly half the states, made more than half a billion dollars in profit between 2004 and 2012.
Rose, who grew up in the Bay Area as the daughter of an AT&T systems engineer, is a native in San Francisco’s startup culture. From the beginning, she’s been in search of a way to use technology for the greater good. At Santa Clara University, she started a chapter of Food Not Bombs, to feed San Jose’s homeless. While it was important to feed the hungry, she was seeking something that could actually create change. HandUp is her vehicle.
Sammie Rayner, HandUp’s partnerships and strategy expert, explains who Rose is, “Being a good leader is about the way you show up every day. She shows up every day with optimism, energy, and dedication to create a solution. She brings a lens that is pretty unique. We think of the future as self-driving cars and robots, but the future we should all envision should be free of poverty. It’s a rallying call, a vision that ALL of society can get behind.”
Rose Broome is a 2015 recipient of the Elfenworks In Harmony With Hope Award.