Collecting money from friends and acquaintances is not a task most people would approach with enthusiasm (it's even worse than organizing group travel). If you're trying to get people to pitch in on a gift for a friend, or collect money for rent, or raise a fund to make contribution to a charitable cause, the mechanics of collecting the money and tracking who's contributed can suck all the fun (if there was any to begin with) from the project. But there are two companies, one new and one not so new, that have solutions worth looking at.
First, there's Fundable, which launched almost a year ago. This company lets you set up pledge funds to which people contribute. For example, say you want to go in with some people on $800 worth of airline tickets to send your newly married friends on their honeymoon. With Fundable, you set up a group, define a deadline to raise the funds, and people pledge amounts to it, using either credit cards or PayPal. The money is not drawn from the contributors' credit cards or PayPal accounts until the pledge goal is reached. This means that if you come up short and can't buy the gift you are hoping to, you're not left holding money for a half-funded project. Fundable charges an 8.9 percent for its services. No fee is charged if a pledge expires without reaching its goal.
Competing with Fundable is the brand-new ChipIn, which also allows people to go in on a purchase together. The big difference with ChipIn is that it's free, at least for now. There are smaller differences as well: Fundable has a few features ChipIn doesn't yet, like the capability for users to offer products or services for sale to groups. But ChipIn doesn't require that a project reach its goal before it will disburse money; you can configure a project to send whatever is collected to the organizer after a certain amount of time. Fundable is all-or-nothing.
Either system can be used to set up purchases of any item, but Fundable's open pledge model seems to be more appropriate to raising funds for charities or projects. The language on the ChipIn site and the way it handles group memberships, makes it feel like a more appropriate service for buying things for friends. In fact, ChipIn may soon offer typical group-purchased items, such as gift certificates and gift baskets, for sale directly.
The logical next step for both companies is for them to insert themselves directly into online commerce. It would be brilliant if group-buy functionality were integrated into online gift registries on stores that sell a lot of wedding and baby shower gifts. The CEOs of both Fundable and ChipIn tell me they are working on partnerships to do this.
Extending the thinking of group purchases even further, ChipIn CEO Carnet Williams tells me that people are using his service in investing clubs. Ad-hoc mutual funds may not be far behind.