By Robert Digitale The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif.
When Janelle Rossi crashed her bike last summer on hilly Pine Flat Road outside Healdsburg, members of a local cycling club rallied to provide their injured friend with 30 gluten-free dinners.
However, the riders of Santa Rosa's NorCal Velo club didn't pop casseroles in the oven.
Instead, they donated $790 on Plumfund, a crowdfunding site that a Sebastopol couple created after first starting an alternative bridal registry for honeymooners.
The cyclers' contributions helped pay for seafood risotto, salmon and other delicious meals from Santa Rosa's Riviera Ristorante, Rossi said. Members even picked up the dinners and delivered them to her.
Recovery from the accident has been difficult, she said, but the actions of club members and the wider cycling community have greatly encouraged her.
"They're like my brothers and sisters," Rossi said. "They're wonderful."
The 9-month-old Plumfund is the brainchild of Sara and Josh Margulis.
The married couple first created Honeyfund, a bridal registry where wedding guests can pay for parts of a honeymoon rather than for silverware, towels, or an electric mixer.
The site was named one of the 50 best websites of 2012 by Time magazine.
Sara Margulis, 39 and an Analy High grad, said guests to her wedding contributed $8,000 to help send Josh and her on their honeymoon to Fiji in 2005.
Her husband, 36, at the time a software and systems engineer, set up a simple honeymoon gift system on their wedding website. It raised enough money that the couple even donated 10 percent of the total to charity.
"It was really surprising how much the guests latched onto the concept," Sara Margulis said.
The couple, who were introduced to each other by mutual friends in San Francisco, launched Honeyfund in 2006.
They moved to Sonoma County in 2007.
Crowdfunding allows entrepreneurs, artists and activists to raise funds online for all sorts of goals at sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Razoo.
Now brides and grooms are using similar technology at alternative registries to help pay for honeymoons, including meals, special outings and help with hotels and airfare.
Other sites even allow the bridal couple to raise money for a home downpayment or for such non-traditional gifts as purchasing a fire pit or taking horseback riding lessons.
Thirteen percent of brides and grooms registered at alternative sites to help pay for their honeymoons in 2012, according to TheKnot.com, a bridal news and trends site.
"It's steadily growing," said Jamie Miles, an editor at The Knot. In 2008, just 8 percent of bridal couples were using such registries.
Part of the appeal is explained by the makeup of today's brides and grooms. For one thing, they're older. The average age for brides is 29 years old. For grooms, it's 31.
Moreover, 74 percent of couples live together before marriage, according to the The Knot's Real Weddings Study.
As such, most couples already have established a home with everything they need, said Sara Margulis. "Maybe two of everything," added Josh Margulis.
Even so, some think the alternative bridal registries are in poor taste, akin to asking guests directly for cash.
"It has been a big etiquette question," said Sara Margulis.
Wedding planner Denise Kramer of Petaluma said she isn't familiar with Honeyfund, but brides occasionally do query her about asking for cash.
She encourages them instead to stick with traditional gift registries.
"I guess I'm very old-fashioned," Kramer said.
Miles acknowledged that the alternative registries have been "kind of a polarizing topic" on bridal forums.
But more couples are using them, she said, and it's even becoming more accepted to ask some wedding guests for cash.
Many guests believe that using a honeymoon registry is different that simply giving cash, Miles said.
For example, if a guest pays for a winetasting for the honeymoon, he or she later can ask the couple about the experience.
"It gives you a talking point ... rather than 'How did you spend that cash I gave you?'" Miles said.
Even so, Honeyfund encourages its users to also register at a traditional gift site for guests who prefer that option.
That's what Rob Dearth did when he and his wife Brandi were married last summer.
A few, older relatives preferred buying gifts at Bed, Bath & Beyond, but others gave a total of about $1,500 on Honeyfund to help the Rohnert Park couple take a 10-day trip to Maui last September.
When the Dearths ate a nice dinner in Lahaina or took a bike ride watching the sun rise over the Haleakala volcano, they took photos and sent them via mobile phones to the friends and relatives who had made possible the experiences.
"It's really nice, so that people can see that you're enjoying their gift," Dearth said.
Since it began, Honeyfund has received $172 million in contributions for more than 250,000 couples.
Of those gifts, $57 million came in just last year.
The average couple receives 13 gifts totaling $1,470.
The bridal couple pays 2.9 percent of the total raised, plus 30 cents per donation.
Honeyfund also earns money by offering brides and grooms a premium website for $39.95.
The paid site offers the chance to post slideshows, put up images of requested gifts and add such background themes as exotic beaches or mountain scenes.
The company doesn't reveal its bottom line, but Sara Margulis said revenue has grown by at least 150 percent each year for the last three years.
Along with the founders, the company has three employees and operates its business on Sebastopol's North Main Street.
Plumfund began last May.
Jeff Margulis said it branches out beyond weddings to other "life events" where a gift is appropriate, including birthdays, baby showers, graduations and anniversaries.
But Plumfund also can be used for a variety of fundraising efforts, including community projects, sports teams, medical expenses, memorial funds and goodwill trips abroad.
Sara Margulis noted that a Canadian cross country skier, Amanda Ammar, has been raising funds on the site in her bid to reach the Winter Olympics.
Those who place a request on the newer site pay 4.9 percent, plus 30 cents for each online contribution.
But as with Honeyfund, Plumfund notes that givers can make a donation offline to avoid any fees.
Setting up the web page is free.
Jeff Crouch, a member of the NorCal Velo cycling club, set up the Plumfund page to raise funds for Janelle Rossi.
Crouch, a financial advisor, knew Sara and Josh Margulis and remembered they had started the new website.
The cycling club reached its goal of $700 within 24 hours, he said, after which a few more donations came in.
Plumfund, said Crouch, "made things exceptionally simple."