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Friday, December 28, 2012

You’re Incredible

On the morning Christmas eve day, I put on a nice shirt and some makeup, asked the kids to excuse me for a little while, then sat in front of my computer for a TV interview accompanied by Benevolent supporter and believer Lisa Bloom (she was in a studio in LA). What happened next was nothing short of incredible.

If you haven’t been following Benevolent from its tiny inception this past year, here’s a recap. Benevolent started as an idea in February of 2011. By December of 2011 we were running a small pilot in the Chicago area. In September, we were ready to branch out and started working with just a few nonprofits in other cities to see if our systems stood up to the test. We were bolstered in that month when I was invited to speak to a gathering of philanthropy leaders at a White House Forum on Philanthropy Innovation. Benevolent began to get attention, and the opportunities started to flow.

In the weeks before that Christmas eve, a few wonderful grants were committed by some excellent foundations to help us expand into three to four new cities in the new year (stay tuned for those announcements next month). So on Christmas eve, the Benevolent office had been closed for the holidays. We had divvied up the responsibilities for responding to questions and managing the site through New Year’s, and then the interview ran on HLN – first live and then in one city after another across the country throughout the day.

Immediately, there was so much traffic on the Benevolent website that our servers had trouble keeping up. Within 33 minutes, 35 contributions came in, completing the funding needed for seven people. We filled all the needs that were posted, and people continued to reach out.

Since the 24th, almost 200 new people have liked our Facebook page, over 90 signed up for our email mailing list, dozens posted to and liked messages on our Facebook wall and twitter feed, and several more sent us emails of encouragement, offers of help, ideas for expansion and contributions to fuel our work. Here’s one staggering (for us) number: on and after December 24th, over 8,000 people – new people who had never heard of Benevolent before – visited our site.

What an amazing holiday gift. We’re thrilled to have helped so many people this year, and to have added so many members to the growing Benevolent community all in one day was breathtaking. We’re so pleased you’re all here.

There’s a flip side to this story, though. By the end of Christmas day, over 100 people had reached out directly to Benevolent asking for help. Homeless families, people with medical needs and debts too deep to tackle, seniors living without heat, students unable to continue their studies because of tuition burdens, and more.

So many stories of people sidelined by illness and injury, so many stymied in their efforts to reach sustainability for themselves and their families. They came in all at once and they’re still coming – like a flood, really. Each story tests my social worker mettle - my ability to continue to move forward and help, even when the stories and situations before me are painful and overwhelming.

In the middle of the flood of needs, on Christmas day, I took a breath and took a moment to focus on and read the outpouring from people wanting to help others in their communities, people eagerly awaiting new stories and new needs we’d put up on the site after the holidays, people asking how they could help bring Benevolent into their communities. I realized at that moment that this was it, this was the original idea I had woken with on February 13th, 2011 – not even two years ago – the certainty that there was a match to be made between those facing one-time challenges with those who want to help.

I believed that if we made it possible for low-income adults to tell their stories of striving and to invite others into their success, then we, their neighbors, would step up to the challenge, eager to know who we’re helping and how we’re helping; that the way we give can transform someone’s life at a critical moment.

I believed in you, and you came through. Thank you for that. Thank you for believing in people who need our help to reach their goals. Thank you for sharing your stories and your personal experiences with us. Thank you for proving in Benevolent s first year that this is a way we want to give and get help, and that the way we give really is transforming.

Happy New Year to each and every one of you. May this year prove to be one in which you get to be the person you want to be. May this be the year we bring light into one another’s lives and hearts.

- megan kashner, founder & ceo

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