Archive for Social Ventures

Why Idealist Matters (And How You Can Help)

We all know about “too big to fail” and its repercussions for the economy. But what about “too important to fade away?” To me, that’s the story of Idealist, the pioneering online community for the social sector- and its current fight to survive.

A week ago, Idealist founder Ami Dar sent a warning note to friends and supporters. After 15 years, the site and its incredible range of listings and services, was in trouble. Here’s what Ami wrote – and Tweeted:

Very briefly, here’s what happened. Over the past ten years, most of our funding has come from the small fees we charge organizations for posting their jobs on Idealist. By September 2008, after years of steady growth, these little drops were covering 70% of our budget.

Then, in October of that year, the financial crisis exploded, many organizations understandably froze their hiring, and from one week to the next our earned income was cut almost in half, leaving us with a hole of more than $100,000 each month.

That was 16 months ago, and since then we’ve survived on faith and fumes, by cutting expenses, and by getting a few large gifts from new and old friends. But now we are about to hit a wall, and that’s why we decided to ask.

To may way of thinking, Ami and Idealist saw the good cause in the early Web and pursued a path of service to nonprofits and causes. Its decade and a half of service should not be ignored with a pat on the head and a retirement certificate; indeed, the rest of the ‘CauseWired’ web stands – in large part – on Idealist’s shoulders.

Sure, the business model may need tweaking in a classified world dominated by Craigslist and a device-centric landscape of iPhones and Droids. But let’s chip in to give the Idealist crew that time to explore and grow and survive. I’m fond of telling corporate leaders than the social web – and by that, I mean the philanthropy sector – is actually ahead of consumer brands in using social media and building and supporting communities. Let’s prove that right by helping right now.


When Embedded Philanthropy Works (Hint: It’s All in the Story-telling)

Lucy Bernholz coined the term “embedded philanthropy” a couple of years ago to describe a growing phenomenon in the consumer marketplace – well, let’s let Lucy tell it:

Embedded giving is the (apparently) increasingly common practice of building a philanthropic gift into another, unrelated, financial transaction. For example, rounding up your phone bill to make a gift to charity. Or using your own grocery bag and donating the nickel that the store gives you to a local homeless shelter. Or using a specific search engine because it donates a small portion of its advertising revenue to charity.

This post is part of a series sponsored by Telecom for Charity, yet another “small percentage of charity” premise promising to divert a portion from the sale of something we’d buy anyway (in this case, telephone service) to charity. These offers suffuse our consumer lives nowadays – and despite the cynic in me, I do believe they represent the desire to “give something back” on the part of the entrepreneurs behind these efforts … in somewhat equal proportion to their just-as-strong desire to leverage the proven consumer interest in causes and “good brands.”

But I also think that the basic (and I might add, seemingly majority) reaction in social sector circles that embedded philanthropy just isn’t worth the effort – or worse, may divert real direct giving by giving people a cheap way to feel like they’ve done something good – misses one crucial point. And it’s a very typical one for those who work in nonprofitland to miss: causes should be using these opportunities to broaden the attention they get.

In other words, even if a lot of embedded philanthropy looks like an attempt to take advantage of nonprofits desperate to raise money by using them to hook into a consumer market hungry for causes, so what? If the cause can latch on to a marketing campaign to garner more attention, it may be worth it. Sure, the money is small – especially for organizations who don’t have exclusive fundraising partnerships with the consumer brands and start-ups plying these waters. And I do not believe the money ultimately raised will ever tilt the philanthropy scales by all that much.

That said, causes need exposure in our saturated consumer-dominated culture.

So the key is in the story-telling – in changing the value of perceived embedded philanthropy from raising tons of money to raising tons of attention (with a few dollars as a bonus). To me, the best of the embedded philanthropy schemes work to educate consumers about important causes – with the small-percentage offer serving as merely the hawker outside the door.  In his post for this series, Sean Stannard-Stockton gets at the root of it:

Maybe embedded giving will prove to increase the amount Americans donate to charity each year by presenting consumers with an option that makes them behaviorally more likely to donate. But for now, I have to say that I see embedded giving as an indicator that Americans have an increasing interest in philanthropy rather than as a driving force of that interest.

And just taking Sean’s observation a step further: if embedded philanthropy can be used to bring more attention to important causes, maybe its rise is more than an indicator – but a potentially important tool in recruiting a higher percentage of consumers to become more active philanthropists in general. Has RED increased attention for the African HIV/AIDS pandemic? Have the ads for Tom’s Shoes increased consumer empathy toward children living in poverty? To me, those are key questions to ask – in addition to counting the dollars raised.

This blog post is part of the Embedded Philanthropy Blog Series, sponsored by Telecom for Charity. The blog series was launched in May 2009 to highlight expert thinking and encourage discussions on the state of embedded philanthropy in today’s economy.

CauseWired Canadian

Later this week, I’m headed for Toronto to give the luncheon plenary at the AFP’s local Fundraising Day conference there. So in true crowd-sourcing style, I started pinging the network just a bit in order to hit reload on my knowledge of ‘CauseWired’ Canada – and the network responded with some great resources that has me totally jazzed about the action north of the border. Sometimes it’s great to put a request out there in the interest of continuing education in the sector … and the strong desire to be well-informed about my hosts!

Not everything will make it into the 30 minutes I have to speak (plus a follow-up seminar for experienced fundraisers later in the day) but I wanted to share my notes with readers here, so as not to let any of the great projects and resources go to waste. All links recommended.

The Easter-time Orange Day organized by the United Gospel Mission of Vancouver hoped to raise $12,000 to feed and care for people in Metro Vancouver – but hit a total of $23,069.59. This gorgeous campaign blended a simple premise – get outdoors, buy an orange for someone in need (only 32 cents!), and get active in the community. Great photos, a Twitter feed, blogs, video and regular updates organized around the #orangeday tag with a reachable goal – and a really simple ask – made it go. And you just know that the Orange Day social media effort will pay long-term dividends for the UGM beyond the money raised this year. [Thanks to Joe Solomon for this one.]

A related effort unfolded on Twitter in the form of the TweetupHeatup campaign after a homeless woman’s body was found burning in a makeshift shelter built around a shopping cart, a victim of the long winter just past. Almost overnight, the tweets got folks into the streets with blankets, hot soup, and just the basic offer to help a neighbor – and bring attention to a serious issue.

Another winter/holiday effort was the widely-heralded HohoTO campaign, which used Twitter and other social media to unite Toronto’s sizable tech community and raise money for the The Daily Bread Food Bank. The site seems to be down now, but you can read about it at Adele McAlear’s excellent blog, check out the Twitter page, or watch the video. The effort raised $25,000 and more than a ton of food. [H/T to Stacey Monk.]

Not surprisingly, the great team at Social Actions sent me a buncha links – since it’s one of the great Canadian social start-ups ever! And three of the Social Actions’ aggregated platforms – CanadaHelps, GiveMeaning, and PincGiving hail from Canada. [Thx Peter Deitz.] Many of the social entrepreneurs who tend to gravitate to efforts like Social Actions will be attending Net Change next month in Toronto, “a week-long event designed to explore how social technology can bolster social change. Presented by the Social Innovation Generation team at MaRS (SiG@MaRS), Net Change Week will tap into the potential that exists when new methods of communicating, organizing and mobilizing are brought to bear on chronic social issues. ” One of the leading sponsors is the aforementioned CanadaHelps, which has facilitated more than $85 million in donations to Canada’s 83,000 charities since 2000. [Gracias, Christine Egger.]

TakingITGlobal is a wonderful social venture aimed at getting “youth everywhere actively engaged and connected in shaping a more inclusive, peaceful and sustainable world.” That’s a heck of a goal, but the Toronto-based organization has signed up 245,552 members in 261 countries at 1,154 schools in less than a decade – tremendous social impact. I’m also taking a look at BettertheWorld, a browser-based campaign to shift online ad revenues to the charity of your choice. [H/T to Romina Oliverio.]

More stuff to take a look at in the next few days: Global Agents for Change, Save Our Net (Canadian net neutrality), One Million Acts of Change, ChangeCamp, WarChild, and Urbantastic.

Obviously, these are just a small sampling of what’s going on in Canada – I’m hoping to hear more in Toronto on Thursday.

Guest Post: Citizen journalism, open government, status updates, community building, information sharing, crowdsourcing, and the election of a President

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Max Gladwell.

Our children will inherit a world profoundly changed by the combination of technology and humanity that is social media. They’ll take for granted that their voices can be heard and that a social movement can be launched from their laptop. They’ll take for granted that they are connected and interconnected with hundreds of millions of people at any given moment. And they’ll take for granted that a black man is or was President of the United States.

What’s most profound is that these represent parts of a greater whole. They represent a shift in power from centralized institutions and organizations to the People they represent. It is the evolution of democracy by way of technology, and we are all better for it.
Read the rest of this entry »

Our Skoll Panel

SKW_09_265 copy copy.jpg

Originally uploaded by Greg Smolonski/Photovibe

Great shot by Greg Smolonski of our panel at the Skoll World Forum in Oxford two weeks ago – that’s Premal Shah of (doing a great job working a certain book into the shot), yours truly, Mari Kuraishi of Global Giving and Mads Kjaer of MyC4. A smart, open group that encouraged a real dialogue with our audience in 90 minutes – I very much enjoyed it.

The CauseWired Roundup

Tanzania Twitterwall: Now That’s Donor Involvement!


Originally uploaded by Epic Change

Brilliant job by the folks at Epic Change in following up on their successful Tweetsgiving fundraising campaign to build a school classroom in Tanzania via Twitter. The Tweetsgiving team raised over $11,000 in just 48 hours from 336 contributors – and Epic Change found a great way to say “thanks” and keep donors interested in the cause. When the classroom was painted, students from the school in Arusha put the Twitter handles of all the donors on the wall – and then uploaded the pics to Flickr. And yeah, there I am. Kind of gives new meaning to the term Twitter “follower,” as I’ll be following the progress of this school. An authentic donor connection in the CauseWired world.