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Artists and nonprofit groups seeking money for a cultural project can make their pitch directly to the community starting Wednesday with Dane County's new power2give.org website. The first 30 pleas for cash include $2,500 to help Art Cart, a joint program of Madison School and Community Recreation and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, take summer art activities to parks, playgrounds and beaches.

Giving is getting plugged in.

Starting Wednesday, creative thinkers and doers in Dane County will have a new way to raise money from the community, dollar by dollar, by using a website that could revolutionize the way small nonprofit projects here get funded.

Called power2give.org, the site features projects from around Dane County in need of cash — from $750 to host a concert for homeless families by Dimensions in Sound and The Studio Orchestra to $5,000 to re-vamp the popular "punch buggy" attraction at the Madison Children's Museum.

Online visitors can read about each project, judge its worthiness and, if so inclined, throw as little as a buck into the project cookie jar with just a few clicks.

"I have to say we're very excited about it, because we think this is another opportunity for people to be connected with what we're doing," said Lois Baseler, development officer for Children's Theater of Madison. Through power2give, the theater company hopes to raise $5,000 to build and mount an onstage "web" made of steel piping for its October production of "Charlotte's Web."

"We're hoping that the people we reach are in addition to our current donors," Baseler said. "These are not necessarily major gifts that we're looking at. The phrase 'power to give' (implies) that it all adds up and can really make a difference. Individual donors can participate in something that is bigger than what they could do on their own."

Launching the website cost $15,000, and 15 percent of every dollar donated goes to cover administrative costs for the nonprofit that will run it for Dane County.

But Dane County's power2give site also will match the public's donations with match grants from a pool of gifts from other sources. The exact amount of that pool will be announced Wednesday, but is expected to be between $20,000 and $30,000, said Karen Crossley, director of the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission, which is spearheading power2give for Dane County.

A growing trend

Dane County will be the fifth community to join power2give, which was created by the North Carolina-based Arts & Science Council and launched last August to help arts and cultural projects in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C. raise funds. By May, Miami, Fla.; Greensboro, N.C.; and the Louisville region of Kentucky/southern Indiana joined the website, and donations to power2give surpassed $1 million. Eight more communities are now in the pipeline.

"As we talked to Madison, there is just such an energy around the arts and culture, and a real grassroots support of those organizations," said ASC president Scott Provancher, explaining why the council threw its support behind Dane County's participation. "We think a crowdfunding platform will be really successful in a community like Madison."

Online "crowdfunding" for the arts is a trend in other parts of the country as well. The New York Foundation has the nonprofit Artspire.org, and United States Artists in Los Angeles, a nonprofit that supports American artists, runs USAprojects.org.

In Dane County, power2give can be used by not only individual artists, but anyone from Scout groups to school districts seeking funds for a cultural project.

For the Dane County power2give site, the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission will pay $15,000 to ASC over two years in start-up costs, covered in part by a grant from Electronic Theatre Controls in Middleton. The 15 percent administrative fee deducted from every dollar donated covers credit card and gift fees, financial transaction services, website hosting and development costs, marketing materials, coaching for project posters and efforts to raise the matching funds.

By contrast, Artspire charges an 8 percent administrative fee, plus a $100 contract fee and renewal and maintenance fees. USA Projects, which raised $15 million for artists over six years, charges a 19 percent fee, 10 percent of which covers administrative costs and 9 percent that goes to support its programs for artists.

The company Kickstarter.com, perhaps the best known crowdfunding platform that has raised more than $220 million for creative business and arts projects, takes five cents on every dollar for projects that reach their fundraising goal. Kickstarter's payments processor, Amazon, charges additional credit card processing fees that amount to 3 to 5 percent.

For Dane County, "We were drawn to power2give, and the fact that all of the services they offer associated with it are things that we would not have had the capability to create on our own," Crossley said. "We're not saying to anyone, 'Don't use Kickstarter, don't use another tool.' We're adding another tool to the mix."

A broader audience

The commission annually gives grants for programs and capital projects in Dane County, which amounted to about $319,000 in 2011. Those grants need to be matched by funds raised by the recipients, which they can now attempt to raise through power2give, said Crossley, who considers the website's start-up costs to be a long-term investment.

"We felt that if we could serve up a complementary tool as opposed to investing 15,000 more dollars in our grant program, we'd be leveraging in a huge way with a tool that has a great promise beyond what would have been, in our case, providing six or seven more of our grants this year," she said. The power2give site is meant to be an additional strategy that is part of a project's overall marketing and fundraising plan, she said.

While Kickstarter, for example, functions on an all-or-nothing concept — participants have to raise their entire goal amount, or they get nothing — power2give turns over any money raised for a project, even if it doesn't reach goal within the 90-day limit for a posting.

Other differences: power2give is intensely local, and donations are 100 percent tax-deductible. Supporters also can buy gift cards so their friends can go online and "spend" their gift dollars on any project that sparks their interest.

Donors' contact information will be forwarded to the project they make a gift to.

"I think through power2give you can reach a much broader and younger audience," said Judy Nolde, grant specialist at the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired, which expects to raise $2,543 to buy seven e-readers that will make literature more accessible to people with vision loss. "We thought this was a wonderful opportunity to let (people) know about the work that we do and the ways they can be supportive of our mission."

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