Bright Idea

WEfficiency lets you support your favorite nonprofit and still get repaid

How many people does it take to change a light bulb? Ask David Aquino and he’ll say it often takes a crowd.

Aquino, the project director of Blue Planet Foundation’s WEfficiency program, says the program is part of the foundation’s plan to get Hawaii off fossil fuels and onto clean energy. “It all started with our light-bulb exchange program with schools and residents. We wanted to see how to move that into nonprofits,” he says.

WEfficiency uses the power of online crowd funding to generate loans for nonprofits who wish to save energy and money with LED lightbulbs, solar panels and other improvements. Aquino refers to the funding not as donations, but as “loanations,” because those who contribute eventually get repaid.

“It’s a way to leverage philanthropy,” Aquino said. “There are options to contribute a loan without risk or a donation that will allow them to get a receipt for a tax write off. We are finding that about 80 percent are choosing to make a loan. Many are young people who want to have a positive influence on their community – and eventually they get their money back.”

Pledge times for the crowd funding lasts 30 to 60 days. Aquino says that, once a campaign reaches its goal, all funders get their credit cards charged for their pledges. The money goes to the nonprofit, the energy retrofit is made and the nonprofit gradually repays donors’ accounts with its energy savings.

“When people get repayments in their WEfficiency accounts, they have an option to roll it over to help another nonprofit,” Aquino says. “In fact, they can roll it over again and again.”

Aquino says quite a few donors do that.

Hawaii Public Radio, Oahu’s YWCA and Damien Memorial School have had successful WEfficiency campaigns. Nearly 125 HPR supporters funded its goal of $11,769 for its LED electrical retrofit, which is expected to save $6,000 in annual energy expenses. Damien Memorial School, which raised $11,000 to replace standard lights with LED ones, will participate in two more loan phases to complete the transition campuswide.

Because there is a payback, Aquino says, the WEfficiency program allows nonprofits to tap existing benefactors – often without diminishing those people’s regular donations.

“We reached out to members and supporters through e-blasts, social media and special events,” says Wendy Chang, the YWCA of Oahu’s director of fund development. “A very large portion of our loanations came from our own supporters.

“Lots of our donors loved the idea that we were making our beautiful and historic Laniakea building on Richards Street more energy efficient,” Chang says. “Our building is such a large part of our organization and our community.”

 WEfficiency Participants Include:

  • YWCA of Oahu
  • Damien Memorial School
  • Hawaii Public Radio
  • The National Tropical Botanical Garden of Kauai
  • Shriners Hospital
  • Boys and Girls Clubs of Oahu’s Waianae Clubhouse, Hale Pono Clubhouse Ewa Beach and Charles C. Spalding Clubhouse in Honolulu
Categories: Business & Industry, Innovation, Nonprofit