09/30/2013 01:15 pm ET Updated Nov 30, 2013

The Generosity of the Human Spirit

When we repeatedly hear news of violence or horrific crimes, it becomes harder and harder to believe that kindness and goodwill still serve as guideposts for humanity. Where are the heroes? Where are love and compassion? And really, where is there any good news? The answer lies beneath the surface, under the noise and drama that capture major headlines. Unobtrusive and resilient, the human spirit of kindness, caring and generosity is still thriving.

Through our Billions Rising Foundation, we have been privileged to highlight the efforts of people around the world who devote their lives to serving humanity and eradicating poverty. These are individuals whose entire focus is to assist others to thrive and succeed in life. Whether they are teaching young children to read or helping people who live in extreme poverty, each one of these people and organizations is making a difference and creating news that is worth reporting.

In my post, "Self-Reliance Is the Key to Eliminating Poverty," I discussed the new paradigm of philanthropy we have found which involves building sustainability by giving a "hand-up, not handout." Now in this article, I want to focus on one of the most powerful and heartwarming new forms of giving today: crowdfunding. Even the name itself suggests unifying and collectively caring.

Crowdfunding, sometimes called crowd financing or crowd-sourced fundraising, involves individuals pooling their money, usually through Internet sites, to support the endeavors of other people or organizations. Crowdfunding has gained tremendous popularity, ever since the economic recession eliminated much of the funding that had traditionally come from big financial institutions. It became clear that most charitable projects, as well as innovation and start-ups, would have to be supported in a different way -- through the generosity of people.

The old-fashioned telethons are a great example of the origins of crowdfunding. Back in the pre-Internet days, comedian Jerry Lewis could raise huge amounts of money during a televised weekend for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Viewers were treated to live entertainment, as well as a view of the bank of operators taking calls and donations. A tally board kept score of how much money was raised each hour, as the host encouraged viewers to head to the phone and help reach the desired goal. Thanks to social media, today's crowdfunding takes this concept to a new level.

Charitable crowdfunding sites now post thousands of projects from around the world. Some of these sites, like have become funding powerhouses. The GlobalGiving website states that they have now raised almost $92 million dollars for over 8,500 projects worldwide. When Warren Whitlock and I interviewed GlobalGiving co-founder Mari Kuraishi on our Self-Reliance Radio show, she let us know that GlobalGiving takes extreme care to vet the projects they list on their website and that they require a great deal of transparency from each organization. Many of their listings are current with world events, such as the Syrian Refugee Relief Fund. Scanning over the listings and photos can be a poignant experience: "help fund teacher training for 30 rural Afghan girls," "give to long-term infrastructure rebuilding in Haiti," or, "donate to teaching children with autism in D.C." All of these ventures, and thousands more, offer a much-needed catalyst for recipients to become more self-reliant.

Another crowdfunding site, is set up a bit differently. They let donors buy a monthly subscription and donate $5 per month. Each month CharitySub highlights one cause, and offers three small charities which fit in with that cause. Subscribers choose one of the three to receive their $5 donation that month. Recently CharitySub focused on the AIDS Pandemic and profiled three diverse organizations -- Black AIDS Institute, Metro TeenAIDS and Project Inform.

The well-known Indiegogo features many arts projects and start-ups. But a recent visit to Indiegogo's site showed a lot of interest in education -- in the U.S. and in developing nations. One listing caught my eye: a young high school dropout wanting to return to school. She stated her goal as $2,000 but thanks to her clever social media campaign had raised over $12,000. One hundred and eighty funders had donated money to her. As I stared at that number, that's when it hit me again -- there really is love and generosity in the world. Sure, some people might want to receive a t-shirt, or even attend her gala for their donation. But really, it seemed like 180 people simply wanted her to go to school, study computer science as she stated, then thrive and live the life she dreams of.

Crowdfunding empowers everyone to be an active participant in the world. It enables everybody to be involved in changing that world for the better. Every person's contribution is valued. So in the end, everyone is "given to." Those who receive and those do the giving. Each of us can be one of the heroes we seek. Each of us can make a difference. Every one of us has the power to help create a story that is beautiful... and just the sort of good news we are starving to hear.