Joe Schmidt, founder of ENDcrowd.com, Raleigh, N.C.
ENDCrowd.com is a new nonprofit crowdfunding site dedicated to ending human trafficking. How can a crowfunding site achieve such a grand goal? We spoke with the site's creator, Joe Schmidt, about this unusual mission.
Q: What was the inspiration behind ENDCrowd.com and was this the first time that you began a business?
Joe Schmidt: The idea to start ENDcrowd.com came after I attended a seminar about human trafficking. I have three young daughters and during the seminar, we were told that the average age of a child being forced into sex slavery was 12 to 14 years old. This was shocking to me and I felt really compelled to do something about it.
That’s when I decided to start ENDcrowd.com. The idea is to bring people together from all over the world to support real projects that are making tangible impacts to help survivors of human trafficking and prevent further trafficking. It’s devoted solely to combating human trafficking and making history as the first united online front dedicated to fighting these atrocities. Each ENDcrowd campaign is partnered with and supports an established nonprofit working to help survivors or prevent further trafficking, domestically and internationally.
Through our crowdfunding platform, similar in format to Kickstarter, visitors can learn more about these programs and select to support ones they feel passionately about, making donations in any dollar amount. Donors will receive updates on projects they support, and even get pictures of the final results.
Prior to ENDcrowd.com, I led numerous tech startups and in 2003 I co-founded Canvas on Demand. I sold Canvas on Demand to Cafepress.com in 2010 and continued my role as chief marketing officer until 2013 when I left to start Audacity Factory, a think-tank incubator that develops and drives initiatives to bring attention to underpublicized, underfunded – yet critical – domestic and global matters. Its first project is ENDcrowd.com.
Q: How long did it take to start ENDcrowd.com?
Joe Schmidt: We started with a dream in November 2013 and were able to launch our website on October 1, 2014. Our ENDcrowd team worked very hard for almost a year getting everything ready for the website. We will continue to improve the site daily as we near our six-month mark and beyond.
Q: How are you marketing ENDcrowd.com? And what is your current web traffic?
Joe Schmidt: We’ve been marketing ENDcrowd.com through public relations efforts; launch events in Raleigh and Charlotte where we spread the word about human trafficking and ENDcrowd.com; at hundreds of screenings of In Plain Sight across the nation; through social media efforts; and other ways. We also work closely with the nonprofits behind each campaign to network the projects to their volunteers, friends and family. Our current web traffic is about 2,000 visitors per week.
Q: What have been the challenges of running this endeavor? And what have been the triumphs?
Joe Schmidt: A big challenge is getting people past the fear of learning about human trafficking. When you research it online, you see horrific pictures and hear unsettling stories. You realize the product of this massive criminal industry is people. Understanding that, however, also helped me realize something else: the solution can be people, too.
It is also a challenge that people really don’t understand how widespread human trafficking is, even in the United States. For the start of 2015, we’ve partnered with the documentary film, In Plain Sight. The film debunks the common American belief that human trafficking happens somewhere else, far away. When in fact, it happens right here in the United States, “in plain sight.” It takes a while to understand how big of an issue this is at home, but In Plain Sight does a great job showing the severity of the issue while also giving hope to solving the problem – we can and will defeat this together.
A huge triumph has been seeing campaigns get funded. We fully funded nine campaigns within our first 90 days of the site being live. As an example, one of the campaigns raised money to purchase a van in Cambodia to take children to school safely, helping avoid the risk of being trafficked in a dangerous area. Photos of that van’s inaugural trip will be shared with the campaign donors who made it possible soon. We made a tangible step in the fight against human trafficking with this campaign and, to me, that’s as big of a triumph as any.
Q: What are your near-term and long-term goals for ENDcrowd.com?
Joe Schmidt: A near-term goal for ENDcrowd.com is to fund the current campaigns live on the website right now. The six aftercare homes seen in the documentary In Plain Sight are each hosting a campaign on ENDcrowd.com to support a variety of projects. One needs a van to get the survivors to and from appointments, events, etc. Another aftercare home is hoping to raise money to fund extended trauma therapy for the survivors.
We hope people know that even just $1 can make a big difference in the lives of these brave trafficking survivors. That’s the power of crowdfunding! In the long run, we hope to lift up and expand the ever-growing community of modern-day abolitionists. We are focused on finding them ways to get engaged with the movement to end slavery, using whatever skills, talents, or resources they may have. Everyone has a place in this fight, and ENDcrowd hopes to be a place where they can learn how to get involved.