N.H. crowdfunding site seeks to fill a fundraising gap

Dedicating Dollars aims to help people raise money to deal with unexpected expenses or a whole range of causes


What happens if you’re in a car accident that, even after insurance has covered its share, leaves you with $10,000 in unexpected medical costs?

Chris Wheeler hopes that you’ll turn to Dedicating Dollars, a New Hampshire-based crowdfunding website he recently launched that aims to help people raise money to deal with unexpected expenses. While he initially envisioned the site to be used to raise funds for medical emergencies, its scope has since broadened to allow people to raise funds for any number of causes, whether a funeral, school play, honeymoon or a new business venture.

What the site won’t do, however, is trudge into the decidedly murkier territory of equity crowdfunding, which, after a long delay, has finally moved one step closer to reality.

On Monday, the Securities and Exchange Commission officially lifted the longstanding ban on general advertising, allowing companies to publicly advertise their offerings to investors, including on social media sites.

The change came as part of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, which was signed into law in April 2012. The JOBS Act is best known for its provisions to make equity crowdfunding legal – meaning, for startups, it will offer a chance to raise money by selling stakes in their companies to non-accredited investors via online platforms – but the SEC has been slow to issue rules that will make the provisions effective.

With the government moving so slowly on equity crowdfunding regulations, Wheeler decided to model his Dedicating Dollars on the pledge model favored by such crowdfunding behemoths as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo.

Dedicating Dollars is one of the latest entrants in the crowded world of online crowdfunding sites, which allow people to post a campaign – say, asking for $3,000 to publish their latest book or develop a new tech gadget – and then solicit many small donations from friends, family and strangers alike, often for rewards at different pledge levels.

Kickstarter does not allow charity or cause fundraising, so a closer competitor to Dedicating Dollars is GoFundMe, which is aimed specifically at charity campaigns and says it has raised more than $110 million for more than 350,000 campaigns since it launched in 2010.

What Wheeler hopes will set his site apart from the others is that his is small, local and offers a personal touch: a marketing director who helps those starting campaigns to craft compelling copy.

“My hope is that being in New Hampshire, being a local small business in the state, that our residents will look to us first,” he said.

The fact that they were a local company is why Ray Brouillette, owner of Peaceworks Animal Sanctuary in Bedford, chose Dedicating Dollars to host a fundraising campaign of its own.

“It was a good fit, especially being both local out of New Hampshire,” said Brouillette. The 13-acre nonprofit animal sanctuary currently houses nine horses, most of them too injured or old to ride, 12 dogs, and five pigs. They just took in one dog -- that was abused for years, tied up to a tree -- whose medical bills alone total about $2,500.

“He has none of his teeth from trying to chew his chain for so many years,” said Brouillette.

So he and his girlfriend, Sheila Jacks, who run the sanctuary in addition to their own landscaping business, turned to Dedicating Dollars with a goal of raising $3,000 to help provide care for their dogs. So far, the campaign has only raised $20, but it still has 35 days remaining.

Wheeler was compelled to start the site because of his day job in medical sales for a specialty pharmacy and home infusion company. Seeing so many people burdened with medical bills after insurance only covered a portion of their treatments – if they had insurance at all – made him realize there was an opportunity there.

“I was thinking of what could I do or what could be done to help these types of patients or families to overcome some of these financial stresses caused by our health care crisis,” said Wheeler.

While that was the initial premise of the site, he ultimately decided to expand its scope beyond health care, concerned that it would be too much of a niche to be successful. So far, the biggest obstacle he’s faced has been proving the site’s legitimacy.

“My biggest hurdle or difficulty is trying to show folks that don’t know who we are that we’re a legitimate company here. My name is Chris Wheeler, I live in Hollis, this is not a scam – people are so nervous these days, but I don’t blame them.”

What he needs, said Wheeler, is one campaign to go viral, like the recent GoFundMe campaign that was launched to raise money for Glen James, a homeless Boston man who found a backpack that contained $40,000 and turned it in to police. The campaign has raised more than triple that amount for James – $143,000 – and is still collecting donations while also attracting national attention from media outlets around the country.

“Once people in our state see some campaigns going out that directly affect them, and they’re familiar with the people or organization, that will help us grow,” he said.

Dedicating Dollars takes an 8 percent cut of all funds raised, which includes the credit card processing fee. (That’s similar to GoFundMe, which also takes about 8 percent.)

Unlike some crowdfunding sites, which are premised on all-or-nothing funding – meaning campaigns only get money if they hit their goal amount – Dedicating Dollars will give fundraisers as much money as they raise.

“It’s my belief that these people should get whatever they raise, no matter what,” said Wheeler.

The site, which integrates social media platforms, was designed by Red Leaf Development of Portsmouth.

“We can be in this space too, we can take some market share from these big guys,” said Wheeler. “We are so young and eager we’re calling people directly – we’ll work with you one on one to get your campaign going.”

For more information, visit dedicatingdollars.com.

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