App Leverages the Crowd to Help Domestic Violence Victims in Crisis

A Dallas social venture group has created an app to harness crowdfunding to help domestic violence victims. And, now, after a year-long pilot in California, the company is bringing the app to North Texas.

Aidmatrix, which makes supply chain management software for humanitarian organizations, developed the SafeNight app, which allows users to donate money to pay for a hotel room for victims when shelters are full. It initially designed app for San Francisco-based Caravan Studios, a social venture-focused app development company.

The app was first available last year in San Francisco and Red Bluff, CA. Now, Caravan and Aidmatrix are expnding the app’s reach to include six Dallas area shelters by next spring. To help manage that footprint, Aidmatrix, which is based in the Dallas suburb of Irving, TX, has spun out a new social venture incubator called AdvanceNet Labs, which is where SafeNight will be housed. Organizers say they hope to continue to roll out the app nationwide after that.

SafeNight works this way. Interested donors download the app and register, inputting their contact information. Users are then prompted to pick a particular shelter and asked how often they would like to be contacted, i.e., daily, weekly, or monthly.

When shelters that have no available beds get calls from women in urgent situations seeking a placement, personnel can push out a request to donors to help pay for a hotel room. The funds are transferred through PayPal, with anonymity for both the donor and the victim.

On any given night, more than 5,000 urgent requests for shelter can’t be met, says Marnie Webb, CEO of Caravan Studios in San Francisco, citing data from the National Census of Domestic Violence Services census in 2010. (Caravan Studios is a subsidiary of Techsoup.)

“With the app, what do they do when somebody calls and there’s no place to put them, they can place them in a hotel room while they look for shelters,” she says. “We created this app so that we could help organizations connect to people who could help pay for those hotel rooms.”

The app’s development was funded through $500,000 in grants from Blue Shield of California, Microsoft, Vodafone, and United Way.

Keith Thode, CEO and chief scientist at AdvanceNet Labs, and formerly COO/CTO at Aidmatrix, says he and Webb want to leverage technological tools to help non-profits better reach clients. “There is more that can be done using the more nimble structure of the startup aegis,” he says.

So far, 158 people have downloaded the app, contributing just under $1,100. And while the media firestorm over former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and domestic violence against his wife have led to increased awareness, Webb and Thode say they are deliberately keeping SafeNight’s growth slow.

“This is a risk averse community,” Webb says. “We’re using lean startup approaches but we’ve been slow to ramp up, as we build confidence within the community.”

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