By Heather Somerville

SAN FRANCISCO -- -- Crowdfunding site Razoo landed in San Francisco last year not to ask for money, but to give it.

CEO Lesley Mansford says that's just one way the social online fundraising company is unique. Founded in 2007 in Washington, D.C., Razoo is a Web platform that helps individuals, organizations, cities and states raise money using social and online tools. It helps nonprofits find donors and rallies people around causes like breast cancer awareness and advancing the education of girls in Africa. It charges a 2.9 percent transaction fee.

Razoo is coming off a record year of fundraising, and Mansford credits the new San Francisco office, which opened in August, for hitting that milestone. Mansford has crammed about 20 employees into an office on Fremont Street, where she is leveraging the area's tech and brain power to raise money for, as she puts it, "sound ideas that are really going to change the world." She recently sat down with this newspaper for an interview, which has been edited for length and clarity.

Q With your move to San Francisco, how have you been able to take advantage of the Bay Area's resources and technology?

A The major thing that we've achieved being here is just bringing in really bright, smart people from different environments. Last year, we had our biggest year yet. A record-breaking year. And I think part of that has been building a team that's much more tapped into the tech world. We went from about five engineers to now about 13 engineers.

Q So do you feel like 2012 was the debut year for Razoo?

A That was a major milestone for us. We hit $100 million raised on the platform. We brought on a marketing team, we brought on an outreach team that could really get the message out there. Of the $135 million that's been raised on the platform since 2007, over half of that was last year.

Q What nonprofits have you helped raised money for here in the Bay Area?

A Razoo is about nonprofits using our tools, but also individuals who care about causes using our tools, and we're actually seeing real growth in grass-roots fundraising over the last year.

There's an interesting fundraiser right now for Philip Hodges. His fundraiser is entitled "Minimum Wage January." He's a director at BlackRock investment firm and he's living through January on minimum wage to support the Larkin Street Youth Services, a group that helps teens. The money he's saving doing that he's injecting into that cause, but he's also doing a fundraiser to get others to support that cause. His goal was to achieve $10,000, and he's over $13,000.

Q What is one of the strangest or most outlandish fundraisers you've seen?

A One of the theater companies in Minnesota was raising money and put their executive director in a cage. As more and more money was raised, he was allowed to drink and then eat. And then ultimately when the money that they wanted was raised, he was released from the cage.

Q Why did you join Razoo in 2011?

A I was coming from the games business -- so gaming to giving. I've really spent my whole life in video games and casual online games. Then 12 years ago, I was diagnosed with leukemia, out of the blue. A very slow-growing form of leukemia. It sort of jump-started my career as a very active fundraiser. I became extremely involved in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and raised about a quarter of a million dollars as a fundraiser. I also started running triathlons, which I never in my whole life would ever have imagined I would do. And I went from a little triathlon to running an Ironman, and I'm doing my second Ironman this year, hopefully, in Lake Tahoe.

It was really just my "aha" moment. It's very common that people get diagnosed with cancer, and they're like, what am I doing? I'm creating video games. I had amazing fun in that world, but was starting to think about what else. I was thinking about going to work for a nonprofit, and I was actually recruited for this position, which is really the marriage of technology and philanthropy. And I felt that was a gift that came my way, so I jumped at it.

Q This idea that people still give, no matter what economic uncertainty is going on around us. Why is that?

A One thing that is really a core belief at Razoo, and it's a scientific fact as well, is that giving actually makes you feel good. I generally believe that even if you're having a hard time, the act of giving will make you feel better about yourself. In a survey that we did, it showed that basically half the folks who were unemployed were planning to give, because it does make you feel good.

Contact Heather Somerville at 925-977-8418. Follow her at Twitter.com/heathersomervil.

LESLEY MANSFORD
Age: 50
Birthplace: London, England
Position: CEO of Razoo
Previous jobs: Gaming companies Electronic Arts and Pogo.com (founder)
Education: University of Bristol, United Kingdom
Residence: Occidental (Sonoma County)
Family: Nick, partner of seven years
SOURCE: Razoo/Lesley Mansford


5 Things you didn't know about Lesley Mansford
1. Ironman triathlon competitor who is training for her second race this fall in Lake Tahoe
2. Left her job at Electronic Arts to found gaming company Pogo.com, and then sold it to Electronic Arts
3. Took time off to attend culinary school
4. Has a 2-year-old goldendoodle dog named Jack
5. Raised $250,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society

What's with the name?
By Heather Somerville
hsomerville@bayareanewsgroup.com
Crowdfunding platform Razoo is pretty clear about its mission -- to raise money, give it to good ideas and noble causes, and change the world. What's more of a mystery, though, is why the company's name sounds like it could also belong to a teen pop band or a nightclub.
What on Earth does "razoo" mean?
Razoo is a term used in Australia and New Zealand for a coin of small or no value. To not have a razoo to your name is to be completely broke, and in Australia, if you don't give a brass razoo, then you really couldn't care less.
A razoo is actually a mock coin, and so far as any of the folks at the crowdfunding company can tell, no real currency has been printed.
Razoo made its way to the U.S. and the San Francisco fundraising site by way of one of company's founders, an investor from New Zealand. According to Razoo CEO Lesley Mansford, it represents the company's belief that even small donations, which may seem worth little on their own, when combined effectively can make a huge contribution to the lives of others.
Said Mansford: "It's lots and lots of small amounts that are really making a huge difference."
Contact Heather Somerville at 925-977-8418. Follow her at Twitter.com/heathersomervil.