Craigslist founder launches venture to connect nonprofits


SAN JOSE, Calif. — Once upon a time, a guy named Craig started a list to keep his friends abreast of goings-on about San Francisco. Before long, Craigslist had spread like kudzu, opening online communities across the globe and forever changing the way people buy and sell things.

But then, eBay bought a big piece of Craig’s company without his say-so. Then, eBay sued him. Then, attorneys general across the United States were holding up Craigslist as a hotbed of online smut.

So, perhaps not coincidentally, founder Craig Newmark has decided it’s time for something new: Craigconnects, which he says
will help nonprofits build community, improve customer service and
better operate in cyberspace.

Newmark calls the site, which went live this month,
“the biggest thing in my life,” and he plans to spend the next 20 years
figuring it all out.

“I’ve decided to get much louder about good stuff
that I know about,” Newmark says, “because there are a lot of good,
small nonprofits that need help in specific areas.” He sits on the
boards or advisory boards of more than a dozen such agencies that do
everything from raise money for schools to support returning U.S.

Newmark wants to help these and other groups get the
word out, possibly with a well-crafted elevator pitch (“I’ve had to
suffer through so many bad ones”), or through an online giving
campaign, or by getting vetted to prove they’re legitimate. “Then, I
hope to get them supporting each other, and I’d like to get more
nonprofits involved.”

In fact, Newmark speaks of figuring out how “to
support thousands, millions and billions” — ultimately linking up
everybody on the planet to bear online witness to good works. He freely
admits he’s out of his depth, but then again, that was true when he
started Craigslist. He sees the new site as a sort of open beta test for charity.

“In the Craigslist pattern, we listen, and then we respond to people and do better after that,” he said. “Craigslist has gotten together maybe 100 million Americans, and that’s a good start.”

Newmark, who says he plans to stay involved in Craigslist,
declined to say whether the company’s legal travails have played a part
in his decision. But he notes that he still scrubs in on the site’s
customer service efforts, fielding email queries from users and routing
them to members of his staff. “It connects me to the grass roots, and
that’s valuable,” he says.

One Craigslist watcher offered reserved
applause for the fledgling effort, wondering why Newmark’s not putting
more of his fortune into it. Forbes last year estimated Newmark’s net
worth at $400 million.

“One of the things charities need even more than publicity is money,” said Peter Zollman, a classified advertising expert and founder of Orlando, Fla.-based AIM Group. “It’s not my place to tell Craig Newmark how to spend his money, but to me personally, it would’ve been more
impressive to say, ‘I kicked this off with an $X million donation to
each of these charities I believe in.’ “

Newmark notes that Craigconnects is not incorporated as a grant-making agency; nor is the Craigslist Foundation,
which he launched a decade ago to help nonprofits use social media and
better work with the government and each other. While he does make cash
grants personally, he argues that his celebrity offers a bully pulpit
for nonprofits..

Jonathan Zittrain, a Harvard professor and
Internet expert, said, “It’s heartening to see Craig put his most
valuable asset — his trusted name — behind an effort to help sift good
charities from bad ones.”

It was a conversation several months ago with Susan Nesbitt, a consultant and former deputy director of the Craigslist Foundation,
that set the wheels in motion for Craigconnects. Newmark asked her to
pull together a list of all the nonprofits he was supporting in ways
large and small.

“I thought she’d give me 20 or 30; it turned out to
be more like 100,” he said. “I thought, ‘That’s my tipping point. I’d
better get a team together and do something.’ “

Although the site is still in its infancy, Newmark
envisions donors being able to read testimonials about featured
nonprofits, view their ratings on sites like Charity Navigator and
Guidestar, and link to their pages on Facebook and Jumo, a
philanthropy-themed social network.

For instance, Newmark said, Tuesday was World Water Day, a global awareness effort that grew out of a United Nations
environmental conference. Newmark works with three organizations that
are tackling different aspects of bringing water and sanitation to the
developing world, so he promoted them on Craigconnects, invited them to
blog, and is highlighting them on Facebook and Twitter.

The site’s real muscle, Newmark hopes, will be
realized when users start utilizing the platform to tout their own
causes and weigh in on the performance of various nonprofits.

“By 2030, I think everyone will be connected on the
Net,” said Newmark, who will turn 60 in 2012. “We’ll all be working on
our own ideas for mutual good. And that’s what I what to do with the
rest of my life.”



—Born: Dec. 6, 1952, in Morristown, N.J.

—Home: San Francisco’s Cole Valley

—Education: Bachelor’s degree in computer science from Case Western Reserve University, 1975; master’s in 1977

—Work: Spent 17 years at IBM. In 1995, while working in programming for Charles Schwab, launched Craigslist.

—Blogs: At and


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