Buy Nothing meets GoFundMe: How a new website aims to 'revolutionize' philanthropy

Kelly Smith, Star Tribune on

Published in Business News

An Minnesota nonprofit leader hopes to "revolutionize" charitable giving with a new platform for people to trade household items they no longer need, resulting in a donation to a nonprofit.

Think Buy Nothing meets GoFundMe.

Joel Ackerman, a former UnitedHealth Group information technologies executive who's worked at numerous startups, was inspired by a Canadian man in 2005 who got international attention after trading a red paperclip for progressively more expensive items until he landed a house in a trade.

He "essentially created money out of nothing; out of a paperclip, he got a house," Ackerman said.

He mimics that concept in his new RedLadder platform — but with a charitable twist. RedLadder, which is being publicly unveiled May 1, is an online marketplace for people to trade items they no longer need — from a vintage guitar and jewelry to a refrigerator and foosball table. One person donates an item and another person can get it by trading in a higher-priced item, and so on. The trade sequence, or ladder, ends with RedLadder selling an item and donating the cash proceeds to a charity designated by the initial donor.

"Not only is it keeping stuff out of landfills ... it's helping build up charitable organizations," Ackerman said. "It is actually creating new money for philanthropy."


The platform taps into the growing sustainability movement of reducing waste like Buy Nothing groups, where people offer up their unneeded items for free, from furniture to knickknacks. It also comes at a critical time for nonprofits facing rising expenses and declining donations, struggling to find new ways to drum up revenue to fill the financial gaps.

Nonprofits are grappling with donor fatigue and decreasing corporate giving. In a survey last fall by the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, a third of respondents reported that donations and foundation grants have declined.

Individual giving decreased in 2022 by 6.4%, with Minnesotans donating $5.3 billion, falling closer to pre-pandemic levels, according to the Minnesota Council on Foundations.

"It seems to be a shrinking pool of money that doesn't have a solution in sight," said Ackerman, who has volunteered on several Twin Cities nonprofit boards. "Donors don't want to attend another gala. We need to find a way to energize and add fuel into the whole (philanthropic) ecosystem."


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