New Detroit initiative offers fundraising help to budding philanthropists

From Detroit Free Press

After spending her December gathering donations for the Coalition on Temporary Shelter, Emily Alber, 28, decided to think bigger.

Through an initiative launched this week called Detroit4Detroit, Alber, from Grosse Pointe Farms, will have a virtual team of fundraising experts behind her as she tries to raise about $2,500 to replace 20 mattresses at COTS’ emergency shelter in Deteroit. Alber, who worked in hospitality management on the East Coast before returning to Detroit, is volunteer 12 of the 150 micro-fundraisers Detroit4Detroit is looking for to help non-profits raise $250,000 to complete small projects with huge potential in Detroit.

“I was helping the wrong people,” the Wayne State University graduate said Thursday night at the Detroit4Detroit launch event at the soon-to-open Green Dot Stables restaurant in Southwest Detroit. She said she came back to Detroit to aid social justice in her hometown rather than continue to help those with means do what they wanted.

Detroit4Detroit is a project of Citizen Effect, a Washington D.C.-based non-profit that helps people raise funds for causes they believe in through social media and networking support. In Detroit, Citizen Philanthropists will choose a project of interest that benefits one of a growing list of agencies such as the Brightmoor Alliance, the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, SER Metro Detroit, the Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program and Wellspring. Citizen Effect will help the philanthropist through personalized websites, marketing tools, fundraising support and event ideas.

“Detroit4Detroit is just another way to help Detroiters lead,” said Rishi Jaitly, program director in Detroit for the Knight Foundation, a key supporter of the initiative.

The Detroit non-profit gets 100% of funds raised, said Nicole Schniedman, who manages fund raising individuals for Citizen Effect, and things like mattresses get replaced, disadvantaged students get to spend the summer learning about math and science, job-seekers get computer skills, a neighborhood in need gets porch lights, and communities that rely on convenience stores will have gardens to feed them.

“We want to invest in these individuals,” she said at the Thursday event, attended by about 100 people. “People want to do more than just give $10. This is something that can stick.”

For the non-profit, said Trish Dewald, chief development officer for COTS, a needed project gets done and non-profits without huge staffs now know large numbers of young people who might continue to give, even if in smaller amounts.

“Most of the people in this room are not the typical donor,” she said on Thursday. “I may not be able to find one person in here who will write a $6,000 check, but I may be able to find 100 people to write a $60 check.”

Through June, Schniedman said they will train and support their 150 citizen philanthropists to raise funds for projects for 15 non-profits that meet their criteria of having mission statements or projects that meet basic human needs – for example, education, food, housing and jobs – and which will have a large ripple effect on their neighborhood, their community, or the city as a whole.

In some cases, the ripple effect has been national.

Clarence Wardell III, 29, in Washington D.C., attended DAPCEP engineering programs as a kid in Lathrup Village. Now a doctorate-level researcher that deals with social media and disaster response, he said his trajectory in life was a function of those weeks each summer at U-M tinkering in math and science. He’s trying to raise $2,300 from his network of ex-pat Detroiters in the D.C. area, some of whom are also DAPCEP alumni, to give Detroit kids the same exposure that has shaped his success.

“Not being in Michigan anymore, I still have a bunch of ties to the state and my hometown pride is strong,” he said.

Contact Megha Satyanarayana: 586-826-7267 or

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