SafePlace will use power of Internet for fundraising effort

A Thurston County nonprofit is about to test the waters of Internet fundraising for its multi- million-dollar capital construction campaign.

If successful, it could be a fundraising model for other Thurston County nonprofits.

SafePlace, the provider of services and shelter for women surviving domestic and sexual violence in Thurston County, has already raised about $2.4 million of its $4.7 million goal to build a new Community Service Center.

The capital project, dubbed The Generation Project, is designed to consolidate many of SafePlace’s programs under one roof and provide the necessary additional space to meet the demand for support groups, free legal and health care clinics, and confidential spaces for its 12 advocates.

The new 13,000 square foot LEED Silver certified facility will be built on SafePlace’s current site and adjacent land, after a contractor purchases and moves the current building to a new location.

The nonprofit will use the innovative Kickstarter crowd-funding website to bring one of the nonprofit’s most successful programs, the Mujeres (women) Improving Job Abilities and Skills (MIJAS) Restaurant, into the new Community Service Center. It currently operates out of the Governor Hotel.

Mary Pontarolo, executive director of SafePlace, said the organization hopes to raise $250,000 through Kickstarter. The money will be used to create a new educational kitchen and restaurant serving area for MIJAS.

SafePlace’s Kickstarter project would easily be the largest South Sound project funded through the 2009 Internet phenomenom. The most successful projects in the Olympia area, as listed on the Kickstarter website, have raised less than $10,000, with the largest to date attracting just over $25,000 in donations.

Many Kickstarter projects have raised millions, however. Its top fundraiser brought in just over $10 million.

SafePlace has already raised half of its goal through traditional sources, including contributions from community banks, foundation grants and pledges from government jurisdictions. The state Department of Commerce has pledged $778,000, contingent on levels of community support.

The SafePlace board of directors, chaired this year by Jason Cain, is wise to pick the MIJAS program for the Kickstarter project. It’s an innovative program certain to attract interest beyond the South Sound’s physical geography.

MIJAS was founded in 2010 by a group of Latina women who had survived domestic violence, and wanted to help others still in crisis. It’s really a small business incubator, teaching job skills to women and providing them with a safe environment to earn money while pursuing education or other training to support themselves and their children.

MIJAS has won the national Spirit of Advocacy Award from the National Network to End Domestic Violence and was the key factor for SafePlace winning the Thurston County Economic Development Council’s Non Profit of the Year Award in 2010.

MIJAS is serving more than 100 Mexican meals from 3- 9 p.m. on the third Saturday of every month at the Governor Hotel on Capitol Way.

The Kickstarter trial will not only provide an easy method for local supporters to make monetary donations to The Generation Project. It will test whether people in other states, who may be as passionate as SafePlace’s community about bringing an end to sexual and domestic violence, will financially support a leader in the field located thousands of miles away.

There are many South Sound nonprofits on the cutting edge of creative programs to address common social issues. The SafePlace experiment might open doors for each of them.