Impact Series

$1k Venture makes direct, nameless matches between sponsors and households immediately in want

The $1k Project matches donors and families in need from around the country. ($1k Project Image)

The coronavirus has left us awash in numbers about infections and deaths, layoffs and closed businesses. The recently launched $1k Project is a reminder of the people behind the statistics, and it provides a means of directly helping them.

The volunteer-led effort, started by venture capitalists in Seattle and New York, matches donors with families who suddenly find themselves in financial trouble due to the pandemic, providing them $1,000 a month for three months. Donors can also make smaller gifts, which are pooled with other contributions. Both the donors and recipients remain anonymous, but the families still share their gratitude.

“I’m not sure who you are but I want to personally let you know that your act of giving this gift has sparked up hope, more faith, and just overall joy. This will help my family in so many ways,” wrote Simone from New York, who said the gift would pay for food, her daughter’s homeschooling supplies, car insurance and the electric bill.

“So much has gone wrong for us over the past few years I tend to not get my hopes up. When I got the message I was sponsored I was in complete shock, and disbelief!” said Stephanie, a mother from Nevada who added that her husband has been battling cancer, taking a toll on their kids.

“We never imagined our entire industry would basically disintegrate in a matter of days on a national scale. Your generosity though, has truly helped keep us afloat,” said Colleen from Georgia, who worked in the restaurant sector with her partner.

The U.S. unemployment rate has reached 14.7%. And even those who file for unemployment insurance can find the benefits are delayed or insufficient, and not everyone is eligible to collect them.

Like many people, Seattle’s Minda Brusse, co-founder of the venture capital firm First Row Partners, was eager to lend a hand in the crisis, but couldn’t find the right option for doing so.

Yoko Okano and Minda Brusse helped create the $1k Project and are co-founders of the Seattle-based venture capital firm First Row Partners. (First Row Partners Photo)

She knew, “I want to help someone who really needs it, and I want to help them directly,” Brusse said. “The feeling is that help is not coming fast enough.”

Brusse connected with Alex Iskold, a like-minded, New York-based venture capitalist. In early April the duo launched $1k Project to provide direct assistance that felt more personal than donating to a fund or nonprofit. The group has helped 180 families in at least 30 states and aspires to support 10-times that number. The volunteer-led effort has grown from eight people to a team of 40, which includes Brusse’s business partner, Yoko Okano.

Recipients of the $3,000 are nominated by a third-party to receive the funding. That can include a former boss who refers employees who they had to lay off, a school principal who knows a family in need, or an organization helping low-income families.

The $1k Project has built a growing network of 700 of trusted sources to nominate people whom they vouch for being genuinely in need. The project has a handful of “curators” — including Brusse and Iskold — who review the nominees before sharing them with sponsors.

Shelley Brindle, mayor of the town of Westfield, New Jersey, and a $1k Project sponsor. (LinkedIn Photo)

Shelley Brindle, mayor of Westfield, N.J., is part the network. She’s connected to Iskold by way of a former colleague at her previous job at HBO. Brindle collaborated with others in Westfield to identify and refer four families in need, and she is also a sponsor of a family in a neighboring town.

Sponsors read short profiles of families, select a match, and then contribute to a GoFundMe account specifically established for that recipient. The profile includes a “referral chain” that tracks the people through which the family was nominated. The $1k Project does not handle the money itself and the donations are not tax deductible.

Brindle is sponsoring a family with children that includes teachers and graduate students who are supported by fellowships and close to graduating. The recipients don’t qualify for traditional federal and state assistance.

“It’s these stories of people who are incredibly working hard, well-intended, doing all that they can and just need something to sustain them through a path forward,” she said.

The $1k Project is particularly interested in helping people who are not already plugged into government, social safety-net programs. The typical recipient includes families with at least two dependents, particularly young children; single moms; families with no income and no savings; people who are unable to work because of health issues and those unable to get unemployment.

About 30 vetted families are currently waiting for sponsors.

While the families are buoyed by the financial aid, many of them also acknowledge the emotional boost the matches provide — a feeling of connection and community, and a sense of hope that has been dimmed by COVID-19.

Or as Grace from Oregon succinctly put it in her thank you: “Wonderful to know there are people that care.”

Editor’s Note: Funding for GeekWire’s Impact Series is provided by the Singh Family Foundation in support of public service journalism. GeekWire editors and reporters operate independently and maintain full editorial control over the content.

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